American physicist who shared, with Felix Bloch of the United States,
the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1952 for his independent discovery (1946)
of nuclear magnetic resonance in liquids and in solids. Nuclear magnetic
resonance (NMR) has become widely used to study the molecular structure
of pure materials and the composition of mixtures.
Purcell became professor of physics at Harvard University in 1949 and
in 1952 detected the 21-centimetre-wavelength radiation emitted by neutral
atomic hydrogen in interstellar space. Such radio waves had been predicted
by the Dutch astronomer H.C. van de Hulst in 1944, and their study enabled
astronomers to determine the distribution and location of hydrogen clouds
in galaxies and to measure the rotation of the Milky Way. In 1960 Purcell
became Gerhard Gade professor at Harvard, and in 1980 he became professor
emeritus. The same year he received the National Medal of Science.
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