Nobel Physics Prize Lectures Related to Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is a notoriously difficult field to fathom, but the various Nobel physics prize lectures related to quantum mechanics are remarkably easy to read, being light on math and heavy on historical perspective. This informal paper provides a comprehensive list of those lectures.

They provide a decent broad survey of the field based on a solid foundation of the actual work needed to achieve the field’s accomplishment. Almost literally, they show you how each brick of the edifice was put in place, by whom, and why each brick is where it is, not at the detail level of the dense math, but from a broad perspective. They actually contain an amazing amount of plain language for such a complex field.

They are well worth reading, whether you intend to become intimately knowledgeable about the field or merely want to comprehend the vital importance of quantum mechanics and its relationship to all of the rest of physics, as well as the many technological advances which are critically dependent on physics and on the quantum mechanics on which that physics is based.

My personal interest is really quantum computing, in particular the details of what it can and cannot do — its limits, and that’s where I need a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the principles and nuances of quantum mechanics, both at the detail level and the broader picture — the latter is where these lectures come in.

As best as I can tell, Planck’s prize in 1918 was the first point at which the Nobel prize committee recognized the value of quantum mechanics — for the paper he published in 1900.

  1. 1913 — Heike Onnes — “Investigations into the Properties of Substances at Low Temperatures, which Have Led, amongst Other Things, to the Preparation of Liquid Helium”. And the discovery of superconductivity. Only three references to quantum mechanics here and only in passing since it was so new back then, but liquid helium and superconductivity have such an important role in a lot of physics and in quantum computing in particular.
  2. 1918 — Max Planck — “The Genesis and Present State of Development of the Quantum Theory”. Lecture given in 1920.
  3. 1921 — Albert Einstein — discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect. No Nobel lecture given. But read the Award ceremony speech from 1922 given in Einstein’s absence, which notes that “Being too remote from Sweden, Professor Einstein could not attend the ceremony.” Also read Einstein’s lecture to the Nordic Assembly of Naturalists at Gothenburg on July 11, 1923 — “Fundamental ideas and problems of the theory of relativity”, which is sometimes billed as being his “Nobel lecture”, but as the footnote on the first page states, “The Lecture was not delivered on the occasion of the Nobel Prize award, and did not, therefore, concern the discovery of the photoelectric effect.” It is indeed odd that Einstein was never given a second Nobel physics prize for his work on General Relativity.
  4. 1922 — Niels Bohr — “The structure of the atom”.
  5. 1923 — Robert A. Millikan — “The Electron and the Light-Quant from the Experimental Point of View”. Lecture given in 1924.
  6. 1924 — Manne Siegbahn — “The X-ray Spectra and the Structure of the Atoms”. Lecture given in 1925.
  7. 1925 — James Franck — “Transformation of Kinetic Energy of Free Electrons into Excitation Energy of Atoms by Impacts”. Lecture given in 1926.
  8. 1925 Gustav Hertz — “The results of the electron-impact tests in the light of Bohr’s theory of atoms”. Lecture given in 1926.
  9. 1927 — Arthur Compton — “X-rays as a branch of optics”.
  10. 1929 — Louis de Broglie — “The wave nature of the electron”.
  11. 1932 — Werner Heisenberg — “The development of quantum mechanics”. Lecture given in 1933.
  12. 1933 — Erwin Schrödinger — “The fundamental idea of wave mechanics”.
  13. 1933 — Paul Dirac — “Theory of electrons and positrons”.
  14. 1935 — James Chadwick — “The neutron and its properties”.
  15. 1937 — Clinton Davisson — “The Discovery of Electron Waves”.
  16. 1937 — George Paget Thomson — “Electronic Waves”. Lecture given in 1938.
  17. 1943 — Otto Stern — “The Method of Molecular Rays” — “and his discovery of the magnetic moment of the proton”. Lecture given in 1946.
  18. 1944 — Isidor Rabi — “for his resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei” (nuclear magnetic resonance, used in MRI.) No lecture given.
  19. 1945 — Wolfgang Pauli — “Exclusion principle and quantum mechanics”. Lecture given in 1946.
  20. 1952 — Felix Bloch — “The Principle of Nuclear Induction
  21. 1952 — Edward Purcell — “Research in Nuclear Magnetism
  22. 1954 — Max Born — “The statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics”.
  23. 1955 — Willis Lamb — “Fine structure of the hydrogen atom”.
  24. 1955 — Polykarp Kusch — “The magnetic moment of the electron
  25. 1956 — William Shockley — “Transistor technology evokes new physics”.
  26. 1956 — John Bardeen — “Semiconductor research leading to the point contact transistor”.
  27. 1956 — Walter Brattain — “Surface properties of semiconductors”.
  28. 1964 — Charles Townes — “Production of coherent radiation by atoms and molecules”. MASERs and LASERs.
  29. 1964 — Nicolay G. Basov — “Semiconductor Lasers”.
  30. 1964 — Aleksandr M. Prokhorov — “Quantum Electronics”.
  31. 1965 — Sin-Itiro Tomonaga — “Development of Quantum Electrodynamics — Personal recollections”. Lecture given in 1966.
  32. 1965 — Julian Schwinger — “Relativistic Quantum Field Theory”.
  33. 1965 — Richard Feynman — “The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics”.
  34. 1966 — Alfred Kastler — “Optical methods for studying Hertzian resonances
  35. 1972 — John Bardeen — “Electron-Phonon Interactions and Superconductivity
  36. 1972 — Leon Cooper — “Microscopic Quantum Interference Effects in the Theory of Superconductivity
  37. 1972 — John Schrieffer — “Macroscopic Quantum Phenomena from Pairing in Superconductors
  38. 1973 — Leo Esaki — “Long Journey into Tunneling
  39. 1973 — Ivar Giaever — “Electron Tunneling and Superconductivity
  40. 1973 — Brian Josephson — “The Discovery of Tunnelling Supercurrents
  41. 1977 — J.H. van Vleck — “Quantum Mechanics — The Key to Understanding Magnetism”.
  42. 1989 — Norman Ramsey — “Experiments with Separated Oscillatory Fields and Hydrogen Masers
  43. 1989 — Hans Dehmelt — “Experiments with an Isolated Subatomic Particle at Rest
  44. 1989 — Wolfgang Paul — “Electromagnetic Traps for Charged and Neutral Particles
  45. 1997 — Steven Chu — “The Manipulation of Neutral Particles
  46. 1997 — Claude Cohen-Tannoudji — “Manipulating Atoms with Photons
  47. 1997 — William Phillips — “Laser Cooling and Trapping of Neutral Atoms
  48. 1998 — Robert Laughlin — “Fractional Quantization
  49. 1998 — Horst Störmer — “The Fractional Quantum Hall Effect
  50. 1998 — Daniel Tsui — “Interplay of Disorder and Interaction in Two-Dimensional Electron Gas in Intense Magnetic Fields
  51. 2000 — Zhores Alferov — “Double Heterostructure Concept and its Applications in Physics, Electronics and Technology”. Invention of the injection laser enabled communications with fiber optics.
  52. 2000 — Herbert Kroemer — “Quasi-Electric Fields and Band Offsets: Teaching Electrons New Tricks”. Work in high-performance transistors and semiconductor lasers.
  53. 2000 — Jack Kilby — “Turning Potential into Reality: The Invention of the Integrated Circuit
  54. 2001 — Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman — “Bose-Einstein Condensation in a Dilute Gas; The First 70 Years and Some Recent Experiments
  55. 2001 — Wolfgang Ketterle — “When Atoms Behave as Waves: Bose-Einstein Condensation and the Atom Laser
  56. 2003 — Alexei Abrikosov — “Type II Superconductors and the Vortex Lattice
  57. 2003 — Vitaly Ginzburg — “On Superconductivity and Superfluidity
  58. 2003 — Anthony Leggett — “Superfluid 3-He: The Early Days as Seen by a Theorist
  59. 2005 — Roy Glauber — “One Hundred Years of Light Quanta
    Video, summary, and slides.
  60. 2005 — John Hall — “Defining and Measuring Optical Frequencies: The Optical Clock Opportunity — and More
    Video, summary, and slides.
  61. 2005 — Theodor Hänsch — “Passion for Precision
    Video, summary, and slides.
  62. 2012 — Serge Haroche — “Controlling Photons in a Box and Exploring the Quantum to Classical Boundary”. Including technical basis for quantum computing. See also: Lecture slides.
  63. 2012 — David Wineland — “Superposition, Entanglement, and Raising Schrödinger’s Cat”. Measurement and control of individual quantum systems, particularly trapped ions, which are now one of the approaches to quantum computers.

There may be other Nobel lectures which relate to quantum mechanics, but these are the ones that stood out on my cursory search.

In truth, it’s getting difficult to find any modern physics at the atomic level which does not directly hinge on quantum mechanical effects. My purpose here was to focus on lectures which help to enlighten the reader about quantum mechanics itself, more than particular applications of quantum mechanics, although there is admittedly a wide gray area between the two.

Quite a few applications of quantum mechanics are included here, when I thought they would shed light on quantum mechanics itself. Generally, I opted to leave out lectures which merely mentioned quantum mechanics in passing rather than placing a significant emphasis on it.

Full list of Nobel physics prizes awarded.

Full list of Nobel prizes awarded.

Freelance Consultant