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Lasers & Sources

Physics Nobel laureate Lamb dies in Arizona

Nobel laureate Willis E. Lamb Jr., 94, University of Arizona Regents' Professor emeritus of physics and optical sciences, died of complications arising from a gallstone disorder on May 15.

Lamb joined The University of Arizona in 1974. He received a 1955 Nobel Prize in physics for his experimental work on the fine structure of the hydrogen atom and for the discovery of the phenomenon known as the Lamb Shift, which revolutionized the quantum theory of matter.

Prior to Lamb's discovery, physicists knew that some states of the hydrogen atom had well defined energy levels. The accepted theories predicted that certain distinct states would have precisely the same energies when the atom was activated. But physicists were puzzled when other calculations suggested that these energies might differ by tiny amounts, while the experimental evidence was unclear.

Lamb's discovery of the quantum effect that became known as the "Lamb shift" led physicists to rethink the basic concepts behind the application of quantum theory to electromagnetism. His work became one of the foundations of quantum electrodynamics, a key aspect of modern elementary particle physics.

Press release from University of Arizona.
Article from Arizona Star.