Photo of E. Bright Wilson Jr.

E. Bright Wilson Jr.

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

In recognition of his fundamental theoretical and experimental contribution to our understanding of the structure of molecules.

Greatness is contagious.” There is perhaps no better way to describe the relationship between E. Bright Wilson Jr. and his two-time Nobel Prize winning mentor Linus Pauling.

Under Pauling, Wilson, a doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology, helped the world understand the structure and dynamics of matter using molecular spectroscopy, the study of light absorption in molecules.

The duo published “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics,” which served as required reading for physical chemists for the next 35 years.

In 1934, Wilson started as a junior fellow at Harvard University, where he remained for the rest of his career. Independently, he published about 80 scientific papers on a broad range of topics, from molecule symmetry to microwave spectroscopy, which measures energy transitions between molecules. At the height of the Vietnam War, Wilson joined a group of scientists who met in secret with President Lyndon Johnson, urging the U.S. to end the bombing in North Vietnam.