Edward Mills Purcell (30 August 1912 – 7 March 1997) was an American physicist. He won the 1952 Nobel Prize for Physics for his independent discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance in liquids and in solids.

Life and Career

He was born on 30 August 1912, in Illinois, United States. He earned his undergraduate degree from Purdue University and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1938.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard, Purcell worked as a physics instructor for two years.

He later joined the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He became Head of the Fundamental Developments Group in the Radiation Laboratory, where he explored new frequency bands and developed new microwave techniques.

During World War II, he lived in Massachusetts and then went to Harvard.

In December 1946, he discovered nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) with his colleagues Robert Pound and Henry Torrey. NMR spectroscopy uses the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei to study the structure and dynamics of molecules. This technique has numerous applications in chemistry, physics, and biology, and has led to the development of important medical imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Their pioneering work on NMR spectroscopy laid the foundation for the development of MRI, which has become an important diagnostic tool in medicine.

In addition to his contributions to NMR spectroscopy, Purcell made important contributions to the study of cosmic rays, the measurement of the fine structure constant, and the development of high-power microwave generators.

He was the president of the ‘’American Physical Society, and a member of the ‘American Philosophical Society’, the ‘National Academy of Sciences, and the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’.

He died on 7 March 1997, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


He won the 1952 Nobel Prize for Physics along with Felix Bloch for his independent discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance in liquids and in solids.

In 1967, he won the Oersted Medal of the ‘American Association of Physics Teachers’.

He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1979, and the Jansky Lectureship before the ‘National Radio Astronomy Observatory’.

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