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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “UA faculty, students remember Nobel laureate Lamb”

    His colleagues describe Nobel laureate Willis E. Lamb as a perfectionist who loved working with students.

    On May 15, the former UA faculty member died at the age of 94 from complications of a gallstone disorder while at University Medical Center. Lamb leaves behind a wide-reaching legacy that continues to affect the university to this day.

    Before his time as UA Regents professor emeritus of optics and physics, Lamb won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1955 for his work in optics and the quantum theory of matter and his discovery of the phenomena known as the Lamb Shift.

    A Los Angeles native born in 1913, Lamb received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1934 and his doctorate from Berkeley in 1938. Lamb worked at universities such as Columbia, Stanford, Harvard, Oxford and Yale before joining the University of Arizona in 1974.

    During his time in Arizona, Lamb helped to put the UA on the map for optics.

    “”He really founded the laser physics activity here at the university just by coming,”” said UA physics professor William H. Wing. Wing had a post-doctoral position under Lamb at Yale and then came to the UA with Lamb in 1974.

    Lamb also attracted other top physicists to the UA with his presence, such as Roy J. Glauber, UA adjunct professor and 2005 Nobel Laureate. Glauber is currently a professor of physics at Harvard University.

    It was Lamb’s strive for perfection that led him to become one of the top physicists in the world.

    “”Some people have said he was what you would call a physicist’s physicist,”” Wing said. “”He was really interested, of course, in physical sciences, but, more importantly, he was interested in doing things correctly.””

    This drive for ultimate accuracy allowed Lamb to delve into areas few yet understood, he said.

    “”He would always want to go deeper and figure out more precisely how things worked,”” Wing said. “”I would say that instinct was what led him to lots of the achievements he made,”” Wing said.

    Lamb was known to be quite reserved and a rigorous teacher. “”I had had a fair amount of writing experience as an undergraduate at Yale, but it wasn’t merely good enough for him!”” said Murray Sargent III, UA professor emeritus of optical sciences. “”So I learned a lot more about writing from him.””

    Sargent received his doctorate under Lamb at Yale and later helped to recruit him to the UA from Yale.

    Lamb’s dedication to his work helped the professor to form valuable relationships with his students, Sargent said.

    “”When it came to collaborating, he really just enjoyed working with students, and I think that the reverse is also true – the students really enjoyed working with him,”” he said. “”It was an excellent relationship. It was just exciting working for him.””

    Lamb will continue to inspire UA students through the Willis Lamb Jr. Scholarship in Optical Sciences. The inaugural honor was awarded to Amber Young, an optical sciences graduate student, shortly before Lamb’s death. The scholarship was established by Lamb and friends to support graduate students pursuing a masters degree in the College of Optical Sciences.

    “”They did a lot for him and he did a lot for them,”” said Lamb’s brother Perry of his relationships with his students.

    Lamb retired from the UA in 2002 but remained active until 2006.

    “”He was a real pioneer in the field. And he was certainly a role model for both faculty members and students,”” said James C. Wyant, dean of the College of Optical Sciences. “”He certainly was one of the top physicists in the world, and people studying physics and optics (are learning) about the discoveries that he had made over the years.””

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