Photo of Nicolaas Bloembergen

Nicolaas Bloembergen

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For pioneering applications of magnetic resonance to the study of condensed matter and for subsequent scientific investigations and inventions concerning the interaction of matter with coherent radiation.

For Nicolaas Bloembergen, timing was everything. The Dutch scientist finished his degree in physics in 1943 – just before his school was shut down by the Nazis.

To continue his studies, Bloembergen started at Harvard in 1945, six weeks after a team of the school’s researchers detected nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

As a graduate assistant, he was tasked with developing the early technique of NMR spectroscopy, used to reveal radio frequency signals by exposing atoms to an external magnetic field. In the process, the molecular properties of a compound can be identified.

In the 1960s, Bloembergen used lasers to study changes in atoms exposed to high-intensity light, inventing the field of “nonlinear optics.” The research won his team the Nobel Prize in 1981.

“The search for increased knowledge is a noble human pursuit,” he said in his Nobel address. “It will enrich our lives, although at times it will also make life more complicated.”