John H. Van Vleck

On September 18, 2009 the new three-part exhibit on the life of 1977 Physics Nobel Prize winner, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck officially opened. The exhibit is now open in the main lobby of Chamberlin Hall (University Avenue entrance). This exhibit on the “Founder of the Modern Theory of Magnetism” was created to showcase three different eras. The exhibit brochure is available.

The first exhibit contains memorabilia from “The Early Years – 1899-1922” showing Van Vleck as a youth in Madison, Wisconsin during the time he attended grade school, high school and completed his undergraduate work in physics at UW-Madison, followed by graduate school at Harvard University.

The second exhibit, entitled "The Research Years -- 1923-1945" shows a young Van Vleck working at the University of Minnesota (1923-1928), then at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1928-1934), where he wrote his classic monograph /The Theory of Electric and Magnetic Susceptibilities/, and finally at Harvard (1934-69, Emeritus 1969-80). This exhibit includes his wedding photo, a personal copy of his first book, /Quantum Principles and Line Spectra/, plus title pages from many of the important research papers he completed while at Wisconsin.

The third exhibit includes photos of his notification of winning the Nobel Prize, photos of the awards ceremony in Stockholm, plus his receipt of the National Medal of Science in 1967 from then President Lyndon Johnson. Also included in this exhibit is his original "graduation gown" which he wore when he received his many honorary degrees.

To complement the day’s activities, the prestigious Julian E. Mack Lecture for the year was presented at 4:00 p.m., featuring special guest, Prof. Michel Janssen from the History of Science and Technology program at the University of Minnesota.

Van Vleck recieving the Nobel Prize

His talk was entitled, “On the Verge of Umdeutung in Minnesota: John H. Van Vleck and the Transition from the Old Quantum Theory to Matrix Mechanics.”

This exhibit was made possible by gifts from John Comstock, nephew of John and Abigail Van Vleck.

A partial finding aid of the Van Vleck Archive is available. When the collection is completed all of the archival material will be housed at the University Archives in Steenbock Library. The finding aid will also be updated.

Additional Information about John Van Vleck

(1) Photographs from the exhibit
(2) Slides from the J. E. Mack Lecture by Professor Michel Janssen, University of Minnesota, on September 18, 2009 (view)
(3) Slides from Michel Janssen’s lecture to the History of Science Society on November 21, 2009 (view)
(4) Nobel Prize web site with Van Vleck’s autobiography, Nobel lecture, and banquet speech
(5) National Academy of Sciences web site and Van Vleck's biographical memoir (view)
(6) Unfinished Second Edition of The Theory of Electric and Magnetic Susceptibilities (view)

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