APS News

Nobel APS Presidents

By Michael Scanlan, APS Meetings Manager

Eighty-two people have served as president of APS, and there are 147 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. There have been 21 APS presidents who have also won a Nobel Prize, before, during, and after their tenure. Thirteen received the prize before serving, seven after serving, and one was awarded the Nobel Prize while serving as APS President. The latter was Arthur Schawlow in 1981. Since the prize is announced in October, and the APS presidential term ends in December, it must have been doubly satisfying to win the Nobel and escape APS servitude at roughly the same time. What an exit! Bill Havens, then APS Executive Secretary, said "He arranged to have the 'President of the APS' send Schawlow a congratulatory letter.

John Bardeen won the Nobel Prize, served as APS President, and then won the Nobel Prize again, so obviously we didn't wear him out. We counted him as having won the prize before serving, since the second prize was obviously lagniappe.

Other Nobel Prize Facts:

  • Firsts. The first APS President to receive the prize was Albert A. Michaelson, who served as APS president 1901-1902, and received the prize in 1907. The first Laureate elected APS president was Arthur H. Compton in 1934 (Nobel in 1927).
  • Longest Wait. J.H. Van Vleck served as APS president in 1952. He won the prize in 1977.
  • Most Impressive Entrance. Luis W. Alvarez won the prize in 1968 and became APS president in 1969.
  • Best Line-up. In 1968, Charles H. Townes (Nobel in 1964) was immediate past-president, John Bardeen (1956 and 1972) was president, Alvarez (1968) was vice-president, and E.M. Purcell (1952) was vice-president-elect.
  • Brightest Future. In 1954 Hans Bethe (1967) was president, and Eugene Wigner (1963) was vice-president-elect.
  • My Country 'Tis of Thee. US-62, Germany-21, England-16, France-10, Russia-7, Netherlands-6, Sweden-4, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland-3 each, Austria and India-2 each, Canada, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales-1 each.
  • The List. The first date is the prize, the second is APS presidency.
Albert A. Michaelson
R.A. Millikan
Arthur H. Compton
P.W. Bridgman
J.H. Van Vleck
Enrico Fermi
H.A. Bethe
E.P. Wigner
Felix Bloch
C.H. Townes
John Bardeen
L.W. Alvarez
E.M. Purcell
W.A. Fowler
N.F. Ramsey
A.L. Schawlow
R.R. Wilson
V.L. Fitch
N. Bloembergen
B. Richter
J. Robert Schrieffer
1907
1923
1927
1946
1977
1938
1967
1963
1952
1964
1956,1972
1968
1952
1983
1989
1981
1978
1980
1981
1976
1972
1901-1902
1916-1917
1934
1942
1952
1953
1954
1956
1965
1967
1968
1969
1970
1976
1978
1981
1985
1987, 1988
1991
1994
1996

©1995 - 2016, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin