John Hasbrouck Van Vleck

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John Hasbrouck Van Vleck
JH van Vleck 1974.jpg
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, 1974
Born March 13, 1899
Middletown, Connecticut
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Minnesota
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Harvard University
University of Oxford
Balliol College, Oxford
Alma mater University of Wisconsin-Madison
Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Edwin C. Kemble
Doctoral students Robert Serber
Edward Mills Purcell
Philip Anderson
Thomas Kuhn
John Atanasoff
Notable awards

John Hasbrouck Van Vleck (March 13, 1899 – October 27, 1980) was an American physicist and mathematician, co-awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics, for his contributions to the understanding of the behavior of electrons in magnetic solids.

Education and early life

Born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of mathematician Edward Burr Van Vleck and grandson of astronomer John Monroe Van Vleck, he grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and received an A.B. degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1920. Then he went to Harvard for graduate studies and earned a Ph.D degree in 1922.

Career and research

He joined the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor in 1923, then moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison before settling at Harvard. He also earned Honorary D. Sc., or D. Honoris Causa, degree from Wesleyan University in 1936. [2]

J. H. van Vleck established the fundamentals of the quantum mechanical theory of magnetism and the crystal field theory (chemical bonding in metal complexes). He is regarded as the Father of Modern Magnetism.[3][4][5]

During World War II, J. H. van Vleck worked on radar at the MIT Radiation Lab. He was half time at the Radiation Lab and half time on the staff at Harvard. He showed that at about 1.25-centimeter wavelength water molecules in the atmosphere would lead to troublesome absorption and that at 0.5-centimeter wavelength there would be a similar absorption by oxygen molecules.[6][7][8][9] This was to have important consequences not just for military (and civil) radar systems but later for the new science of radioastronomy.

J. H. van Vleck participated in the Manhattan Project. In June 1942, J. Robert Oppenheimer held a summer study for confirming the concept and feasibility of nuclear weapon at the University of California, Berkeley. Eight theoretical scientists, including J. H. van Vleck, attended it. From July to September, the theoretical study group examined and developed the principles of atomic bomb design.[10][11][12]

J. H. van Vleck's theoretical work led to the establishment of the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Laboratory. He also served on the Los Alamos Review committee in 1943. The committee, established by General Leslie Groves, also consisted of W.K. Lewis of MIT, Chairman; E.L. Rose, of Jones & Lamson; E.B. Wilson of Harvard; and Richard C. Tolman, Vice Chairman of NDRC. The committee's important contribution (originating with Rose) was a reduction in the size of the firing gun for the Little Boy atomic bomb, a concept that eliminated additional design-weight and sped up production of the bomb for its eventual release over Hiroshima. However it was not employed for the Fat Man bomb at Nagasaki, which relied on implosion of a plutonium shell to reach critical mass.[13][14]

In 1961/62 he was George Eastman Visiting Professor at University of Oxford[15] and Professorship of Balliol College.[16]

In 1950 he became foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[17] He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1966[18] and the Lorentz Medal in 1974.[19] For his contributions to the understanding of the behavior of electrons in magnetic solids, van Vleck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1977, along with Philip W. Anderson and Sir Nevill Mott.[20] Van Vleck transformations and Van Vleck paramagnetism[21] are also named after him.

Van Vleck died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged 81.[22]


Awards and honors

He awarded the Irving Langmuir Award in 1965, the National Medal of Science in 1966 and elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1967.[1] He was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1971, the Lorentz Medal in 1974 and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1977.

Personal life

J. H. Van Vleck and his wife Abigail were also important art collectors, particularly in the medium of Japanese woodblock prints (principally Ukiyo-e), known as Van Vleck Collection. It was inherited from his father Edward Burr Van Vleck. They donated it to the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin in 1980s.[23]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bleaney, B. (1982). "John Hasbrouck Van Vleck. 13 March 1899-27 October 1980". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 28: 627–626. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1982.0024. JSTOR 769913.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Autobiography, John H. van Vleck, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1977
  3. John H. van Vleck, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science
  4. On the verge of Umdeutung in Minnesota: Van Vleck and the correspondence principle. Part One., Anthony Duncan, Michel Janssen; Elsevier Science, 8 May 2007
  5. On the verge of Umdeutung in Minnesota: Van Vleck and the correspondence principle. Part Two., Anthony Duncan, Michel Janssen; Elsevier Science, 8 May 2007
  6. Norman F. Ramsey Oral History (1991), NORMAN F. RAMSEY: An Interview Conducted by John Bryant, IEEE History Center, 20 June 1991
  7. Oral History Transcript, Interview with John H. Van Vleck by Katherine Sopka at Lyman Laboratory of Physics, 28 January 1977
  8. Louis Brown, A radar history of World War II, Institute of Physics Pub., 1999, ISBN 0750306599, pp. 442, 521
  9. Van Vleck, J.; Weisskopf, V. (1945). "On the Shape of Collision-Broadened Lines" (PDF). Reviews of Modern Physics. 17 (2–3): 227. Bibcode:1945RvMP...17..227V. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.17.227.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. New Weapons Laboratory Gives Birth to the "Gadget", 50th Anniversary Article, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  11. Berkeley Summer Study Group, The Atomic Heritage Foundation
  12. Atomic History Timeline 1900– 1942 , The Atomic Heritage Foundation
  13. "Oversight Committee Formed as Lab Begins Research - 50th Anniversary Article, Los Alamos National Laboratory".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Leslie R. Groves, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Retired; Now It Can Be Told, Harper, 1962, pp. 162–63.
  15. Nobel Laureates, University of Oxford
  16. Inspiring minds: the Eastman Professors, Floreat Domus, Balliol College News, Issue 12, June 2006
  17. "John Hasbrouck van Vleck (1899 - 1980)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details". National Science Foundation.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "The Lorents medal". Retrieved 2012-07-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1977". Retrieved 2012-07-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Van Vleck paramagnetism".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "John Van Vleck, Nobel Laureate Known for Work on Magnetism; Earned Three Degree". The New York Times. October 28, 1980. p. A32.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. E. B. Van Vleck Collection, Chazen Museum of Art

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Percy Williams Bridgman
Hollis Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy
Succeeded by
Andrew Gleason