Photo of Samuel A. Goudsmit

Samuel A. Goudsmit

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For the major discovery, together with George E. Uhlenbeck, of the electron spin as the source of a new quantum number.

Samuel A. Goudsmit was a leader in the field of physics and helped discover electron spin, a groundbreaking 1925 revelation involving angular momentum of subatomic particles.

Goudsmit, from The Hague in the Netherlands, was first enchanted by physics reading about spectroscopy in a his older sister’s textbook. Spectroscopy 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. His fascination with spectroscopy and research of the spectral lines produced by hydrogen, led him and George E. Uhlenbeck to explain electron spin.

Goudsmit moved to the United States in 1927 and famously worked as the scientific director of Alsos, the U.S. secret mission during World War II that gathered scientific intelligence and research in the wake of the Allied troops movements. The team tracked and tested any evidence that could point to German development of an atomic bomb, including testing water radioactivity that might indicate bomb making activities upstream.

By Christine Ayala