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John Hasbrouck Van Vleck
Born March 13, 1899
Middletown, Connecticut
Died October 27, 1980
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Minnesota
University of Wisconsin‚ÄďMadison
Harvard University
University of Oxford
Balliol College
Alma mater University of Wisconsin-Madison,Harvard
Doctoral advisor Edwin C. Kemble
Doctoral students Robert Serber
Edward Mills Purcell
Philip Anderson
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1977)

John Hasbrouck Van Vleck (March 13, 1899 ‚Äď 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.


Life and work

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, received A.B. degree from the University of Wisconsin‚ÄďMadison in 1920. Then he went to Harvard for graduate studies and got Ph.D degree in 1922. He joined the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor in 1923, then moved to the University of Wisconsin‚ÄďMadison before settling at Harvard. He also earned Honorary D. Sc., or D. Honoris Causa, degree from Wesleyan University in 1936. [1]

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. [2] [3] [4]

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. [5] [6] [7] [8] 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. [9] [10] [11] J. H. van Vleck's theoretical work led to establish 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 and Fat Man bomb. This concept eliminated additional design-weight and sped up production of the bomb for its eventual release over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. [12] [13]

In the year 1961-62 he was George Eastman Visiting Professor at University of Oxford[14] and Professorship of Balliol College[15]. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1966 [16] and the Lorentz Medal in 1974.[17] 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.[18] Van Vleck transformations and Van Vleck paramagnetism[19] are also named after him.

Dr. Van Vleck died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged 81. [20]


Japanese art collector

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. [21]


  1. ^ Autobiography, John H. van Vleck, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1977
  2. ^ John H. van Vleck, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science
  3. ^ On the verge of Umdeutung in Minnesota: Van Vleck and the correspondence principle. Part One., Anthony Duncan, Michel Janssen; Elsevier Science, 8 May 2007
  4. ^ On the verge of Umdeutung in Minnesota: Van Vleck and the correspondence principle. Part Two., Anthony Duncan, Michel Janssen; Elsevier Science, 8 May 2007
  5. ^ Norman F. Ramsey Oral History (1991), NORMAN F. RAMSEY: An Interview Conducted by John Bryant, IEEE History Center, 20 June 1991
  6. ^ Oral History Transcript, Interview with John H. Van Vleck by Katherine Sopka at Lyman Laboratory of Physics, 28 January 1977
  7. ^ A radar history of World War II, By Louis Brown, Page 442 and Page 521
  8. ^ On the Shape of Collision-Broadened Lines, J. H. Van Vleck and V. F. Weisskopf; Reviews of Modern Physics, Volume 17, Number 2 and 3, April-July, 1945
  9. ^ New Weapons Laboratory Gives Birth to the "Gadget", 50th Anniversary Article, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  10. ^ Berkeley Summer Study Group, The Atomic Heritage Foundation
  11. ^ Atomic History Timeline 1900- 1942 , The Atomic Heritage Foundation
  12. ^ Oversight Committee Formed as Lab Begins Research, 50th Anniversary Article, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  13. ^ Now It Can Be Told: Leslie R. Groves, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Retired; Harper, 1962, pp. 162-63.
  14. ^ Nobel Laureates, University of Oxford
  15. ^ Inspiring minds: the Eastman Professors, Floreat Domus, Balliol College News, Issue 12, June 2006
  16. ^ The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details, National Science Foundation
  17. ^ The Lorents medal
  18. ^ The Nobel Prize in Physics 1977
  19. ^ Van Vleck paramagnetism,
  20. ^ John Van Vleck, Nobel Laureate Known for Work on Magnetism; Earned Three Degree, The New York Times, October 28, 1980, Tuesday Page A32
  21. ^ E. B. Van Vleck Collection, Chazen Museum of Art

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