US physicist, who discovered the Lamb shift, for which he was awarded the 1955 Nobel Prize for Physics.
The son of a telephone engineer, Lamb was educated at the University of California, where he gained his PhD in 1938 under the supervision of J. R. Oppenheimer. He subsequently held chairs of physics at Columbia (1948–51), Stanford (1951–56), Oxford (1956–62), Yale (1962–74), and the University of Arizona (1974–90).
In 1947 Lamb used radiofrequency resonance techniques to examine the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum. In particular he was checking Paul Dirac's prediction that the hydrogen atom could exist in either of two equal energy states. Lamb's work revealed that in fact the states were not of exactly equal energy and the small Lamb shift, as it came to be called, led to a fundamental revision of quantum theory at the hands of Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger (1918–94) and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga (1906–79).
Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).