American Physical Society commemorates work of Stanford Nobel laureates Felix Bloch and Robert Hofstadter

Laura Greene, president of the American Physical Society, and Stanford Provost Persis Drell signed the register acknowledging the plaque commemorating Felix Bloch’s and Robert Hofstadter’s Nobel Prize-winning work in physics. (Photo: Vicky Stein)

In recognition of FELIX BLOCH’s and ROBERT HOFSTADTER’s Nobel Award-winning work in physics, the American Physical Society presented Stanford University with a commemorative plaque on Nov. 8. The plaque is now located at the courtyard of the Varian Physics Building, midway between the laboratories where the two men performed their groundbreaking research.

Speakers praised the two men not only for their strong emphasis on foundational physics research, but also for their geniality, endless curiosity, and supportive and productive relationships with their students, some of whom were present at the plaque ceremony.

Bloch joined the Stanford faculty in 1934 as the university’s first theoretical physics professor, and was Stanford’s first Nobel Prize winner. Some of his most famous work described nuclear magnetic resonance, which enabled scientists to study the structure and composition of different materials. His nuclear induction work is the underlying principle for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Hofstadter joined the faculty in 1950 and won the Nobel Prize for his research on electron scattering in atomic nuclei and consequent discoveries about the structure and composition of protons and neutrons. The Physics Department at Stanford holds an annual Robert Hofstadter Memorial Lecture each spring.

Although the two physicists worked in different areas of the field, they were close; in an emotional biographical obituary of his friend Bloch, Hofstadter wrote, “He rode the crest of the waves of this great new science. … It can truly be said that he was the father of solid-state physics and one of the great physicists of the 20th century.”

“This plaque and the dedication ceremony is a wonderful recognition of very important work that was done here at Stanford,” said PETER MICHELSON, professor and chair of physics, and former student and colleague of both Bloch’s and Hofstadter’s. He recalls Bloch as being extremely dedicated to his students; Hofstadter invited Michelson to work on the Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope (EGRET).

Another speaker, physicist and Stanford Provost PERSIS DRELL, recalled a childhood at Stanford during Hofstadter’s and Bloch’s tenure. “You cannot overstate the impact these men had on making Stanford what it is today,” she said.

The plaque commemorating physics discoveries by Felix Bloch and Robert Hofstadter is located in the courtyard of the Varian Physics Building, halfway between the two men’s former laboratories. (Photo: Vicky Stein)

The plaque honoring Bloch and Hofstadter is located in the courtyard of the Varian Physics building and reads:

In laboratories near this site, several significant events in the history of physics took place. In 1946, Felix Bloch and his collaborators discovered nuclear magnetic resonance, a crucial tool of modern medicine and science. During 1954-7, Robert Hofstadter and his collaborators conducted nuclear structure experiments that established the size of the proton and neutron for the first time.