Purcell, Edward Mills

Purcell, Edward Mills,

1912–97, American physicist, b. Taylorville, Ill., Ph.D. Harvard, 1938. During World War II, Purcell was a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory. After the war, he joined the faculty at Harvard, where he taught until he retired in 1980. Purcell shared the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics with Felix BlochBloch, Felix,
1905–83, American physicist, b. Zürich, Switzerland, Ph.D. Univ. of Leipzig, Germany, 1928. He was a professor at Stanford from 1934 until his retirement in 1971.
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 for their development in 1946 of a new method for determining the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. Known as nuclear magnetic resonance absorption, the nondestructive technique enabled researchers to place any material in an electromagnetic field, expose it to radio waves, and characterize its atomic makeup. Working independently, the two researchers made the breakthrough at about the same time, providing the basis for magnetic resonance imagingmagnetic resonance imaging
(MRI), noninvasive diagnostic technique that uses nuclear magnetic resonance to produce cross-sectional images of organs and other internal body structures.
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 (MRI), an important medical diagnostic tool.

Purcell, Edward Mills


Born Aug. 30, 1912, in Taylorville, 111. American physicist.

Purcell studied at Purdue and Harvard universities. From 1941 to 1945 he worked at the radiation laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since 1938 he has taught at Harvard University, where he has been a professor since 1949. In 1952, Purcell shared a Nobel Prize with F. Bloch for the discovery in 1946 of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in solids. He showed that NMR can be used to detect the nuclear magnetic moment. This work laid the foundation for NMR spectroscopy. In 1951, Purcell and H. I. Ewen detected the 21-cm line of interstellar hydrogen.


“Observation of a Line in the Galactic Radio Spectrum.” Nature. 1951, vol. 168, no. 4270, p. 356.
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