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Six Degrees of Physics Nobel Laureates

  • Six Degrees of Separation

    "Chain-Links," a short story by Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, explored the idea that just a handful of friends, friends of friends or acquaintances could connect any two people in the entire world. The "six degrees of separation" concept introduced in the short story, and popularized by John Guare in his play of the same name, posits that only five people (or fewer) stand between you and, say, the Queen of England, or her driver. If this theory works with any two people, why not Nobel Laureates in Physics? Here are six degrees of separation between the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics recipient, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, and the most recent, David J. Wineland.

    All images courtesy of the AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives [W.F. Meggers Gallery of Nobel Laureates].

  • Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

    Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was a German physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him, namely: Röntgen radiation, or, the X-ray.

    Röntgen did not spend a lot of time attending conferences or writing papers to publicize or explain his discoveries. But the X-ray made him an instant celebrity. Thomas Mann, a Nobel Laureate in Literature (1929), devoted an entire chapter of his novel The Magic Mountain to a detailed account of an X-ray examination.

    Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize in Physics ever awarded.

  • Marie Curie

    Marie Curie was a French-Polish physicist and chemist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, along with her husband Pierre Curie in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel. Becquerel also shared the Nobel Prize in Physics that year.

    Connection to Röntgen: During World War I, Curie established the first military field radiology centers, which used Röntgen's newly-discovered X-rays to examine the wounded soldiers.

    Curie's doctoral advisor at the University of Paris was Gabriel Lippmann, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1908.

  • Niels Henrik David Bohr

    Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them.

    Connection to Curie: In October 1927, both Marie Curie and Niels Bohr attended the Fifth Solvay International Conference on Physics, where the brightest minds in physics hashed out the newly formulated quantum theory. At this particular conference, no less than 17 attendees were Nobel Laureates or would later become Nobel Laureates.

    Bohr worked extensively with many other Nobel Laureates including J.J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford. His son, Aage Niels Bohr, won the Physics Nobel in 1975.

  • Isidor Isaac Rabi

    Isidor Isaac Rabi was an Austrian-Hungarian physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944 for his resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. He also helped to develop the cavity magnetron, which is used in microwave radar and microwave ovens.

    After graduating with a Bachelor of Chemistry from Cornell University, he spent three years in a non-science profession until he went back to Cornell to study physics in 1921.

    Connection to Bohr: Rabi spent two years in Europe between 1927 and 1929 working with several Nobel Laureates including Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Otto Stern, and Werner Heisenberg.

  • Norman Foster Ramsey Jr.

    Norman Foster Ramsey was an American physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1989 for the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method and its use in the hydrogen maser and other atomic clocks.

    During World War II, Ramsey worked at the MIT Radiation Laboratory to develop radar and serve as a consultant to the Secretary of War. In 1943, he went to Los Alamos, New Mexico to work on the Manhattan Project.

    Connection to Rabi: Rabi was Ramsey's doctoral advisor at Columbia University. After finishing his doctorate, Ramsey and Rabi studied magnetic resonance and established the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York.

  • David J. Wineland

    David J. Wineland is an American physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2012, along with Serge Haroche for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.

    Wineland is currently a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is a fellow of the American Physical Society and The Optical Society.

    Connection to Ramsey: Wineland wrote his doctoral dissertation, "The Atomic Deuterium Maser," under Ramsey at Harvard University.