Robert A. Millikan


Robert Andrews Millikan

Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.

Robert Andrews Millikan
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1923

Born: 22 March 1868, Morrison, IL, USA

Died: 19 December 1953, San Marino, CA, USA

Affiliation at the time of the award: California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, CA, USA

Prize motivation: “for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect”

Prize share: 1/1


Robert Andrews Millikan was born in Morrison, Illinois. He received his doctorate in physics from Columbia and then became a professor at the University of Chicago. In 1921, he was recruited to the California Institute of Technology, where he was important for making it into one of the world's foremost physics institutions. Millikan was an accomplished scholar, a successful organizer of research, but also good at getting publicity for the institute's research.


During the 1890s the theory that electricity was conveyed by a miniscule unit, the electron, gained acceptance. In 1910 Robert Millikan succeeded in precisely determining the magnitude of the electron’s charge. Small electrically charged drops of oil were suspended between two metal plates where they were subjected to the downward force of gravity and the upward attraction of an electrical field. By measuring how the various drops of oil moved about, Millikan showed that their charge always was a multiple of a precisely determined charge—the electron’s charge.

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