The Nobel Prize in Physics 1902
Born: 25 May 1865, Zonnemaire, the Netherlands
Died: 9 October 1943, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Affiliation at the time of the award: Amsterdam University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Prize motivation: “in recognition of the extraordinary service they rendered by their researches into the influence of magnetism upon radiation phenomena”
Prize share: 1/2
The Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman was educated at the Leiden University. His instructors included Kammerlingh Heike Onnes (Physics 1913) and HA Lorentz (Physics 1902). Zeeman became a professor in Amsterdam, where he worked until his retirement. In 1923 he became director of a laboratory named after him. Early in life, he developed an interest in physics, especially astronomy. As a 18-year-old, he submitted an article on his observations of the aurora borealis to Nature, which published them.
During the 19th century important connections between electricity, magnetism and light were clarified by Hendrik Lorentz. It also became apparent that different substances emit and absorb light having certain fixed wavelengths. Every substance has a characteristic spectrum of lines. In 1896 Pieter Zeeman studied how light was affected by magnetic fields. It turned out that under the influence of a magnetic field, the lines in a spectrum split up into several lines. The phenomenon could be explained by the electron theory formulated by Zeeman’s mentor, Hendrik Lorentz.