Photo of George E. Uhlenbeck

George E. Uhlenbeck

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For the major discovery, together with Samuel A. Goudsmit, of the electron spin as a source of a new quantum number.

George E. Uhlenbeck was physics expert and one of two researchers that helped discover electron spin, a major scientific advancement in 1925 involving angular momentum of subatomic particles.

The revelation was discovered through spectroscopy, which is the science of light absorption and emission by matter to learn about radiation, and more recently it has established a greater understanding of the interactions between electrons, protons and ions particles. Along with researcher Samuel A. Goudsmit, Uhlenbeck helped explain electron spin through the spectral lines produced by hydrogen.

Uhlenbeck, originally from the Netherlands, moved to the University of Michigan in 1927 to continue his research and teach physics. He returned to his home country in 1935 to teach at the State University in Utrecht. He later returned to the University of Michigan, then helped developed radar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before returning to the Netherland after World War II. In 1959, Uhlenbeck crossed the pond one more time to serve as president of the American Physical Society and teach at Rockefeller University until 1974.

By Christine Ayala