2-41. Albert A. Michelson

Born in Strelno, Prussia, Albert A. Michelson (1852–1931) was raised in the United States, attending high school in San Francisco. He obtained a presidential appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1869, and was commissioned as an ensign in 1873. After a two-year cruise, Michelson was assigned to teach physics and chemistry to midshipmen until 1879, when he joined the office of the Nautical Almanac under Simon Newcomb. The following year, Michelson left Washington to pursue postgraduate studies in Germany, at the University of Berlin, and the University of Heidelberg, and in France, at the Collège de France and the École polytechnique. He resigned his commission in 1883 to join the physics faculty of the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland. Michelson joined Clark University in 1890 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in 1892, directed the department of physics at the University of Chicago. During World War I, Michelson returned to active duty in the Navy, coming back to Chicago in 1918, where he remained until retirement in 1929.

While at Case, Michelson carried out an experiment in collaboration with Edward W. Morley (1838–1923), a professor at nearby Western Reserve University, to test the isotropy of light propagation. They found that, contrary to all optical theories except that of Stokes, optical phenomena are independent of the translatory velocity of the Earth with respect to the ether to the second order of approximation in velocity over the speed of light (Michelson & Morley 1887). Along with the isotropy of light propagation, the experiment demonstrated mastery of physical optics, and firmly established Michelson’s authority in this domain. Twenty years later, for his work in precision optics Michelson was awarded the Nobel prize in physics, becoming the first American to be so honored. Michelson went on to nominate Poincaré for the 1910 Nobel prize in physics (§ 2-62-26).11On Michelson’s life, see Livingston (1973); extracts of Michelson’s correspondence have been edited by Reingold (1964). On Michelson’s work see Swenson (1974), Goldberg (1988), Haubold & Pyenson (1988), and Staley (2002).

Michelson’s surviving correspondence with Poincaré concerns a polemical debate over the adequacy of Fourier-series expansions of discontinuous periodic functions at the point of discontinuity. The controversy began with a letter from Michelson to the editor of Nature in the fall of 1898. Michelson’s account of the problem drew criticism from the Cambridge mathematician A.E.H. Love (1898a), who deplored Michelson’s apparent ignorance of elementary mathematics.22Augustus Edward Hough Love (1863–1940) was Sedleian professor of natural philosophy at Oxford from 1899&3n0bs K2heleyear">

21988), a4H. Love (tural phiE=.m="" class="ltxn→vltea="Sx clmal">∞⁡⁢∑k=n-k+⁢sin⁡k⁢xk://tdf/l. Twent“limit>tural phiE2.m="" class="ltx⁢∑k=n-k+⁢sin⁡k⁢xk://tdf/tural phip4.m="" class="ltxx:-axis. professor of natural phil5sophy at Oxford from 1899&3n0bs K2helGibbslasodic funl. Tltx_cf the problem drew criticism from the Cambridge mathematician A.E4H. Love (Auosit nea professor of natural phil6ltx_ref">2002).

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