Samuel Goudsmit

Samuel Abraham Goudsmit (July 11, 1902 December 4, 1978) was a Dutch-American physicist famous for jointly proposing the concept of electron spin with George Eugene Uhlenbeck in 1925.[1][2]

Samuel Goudsmit
Samuel Goudsmit around 1928
Samuel Abraham Goudsmit

(1902-07-11)July 11, 1902
DiedDecember 4, 1978(1978-12-04) (aged 76)
Alma materUniversity of Leiden (Ph.D) (1927)
Known for
AwardsNational Medal of Science (1976)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Michigan
Doctoral studentsRobert Bacher

Life and career

Goudsmit was born in The Hague, Netherlands, of Dutch Jewish descent. He was the son of Isaac Goudsmit, a manufacturer of water-closets, and Marianne Goudsmit-Gompers, who ran a millinery shop. In 1943 his parents were deported to a concentration camp by the German occupiers of the Netherlands and were murdered there.[3]

Goudsmit studied physics at the University of Leiden under Paul Ehrenfest,[4] where he obtained his PhD in 1927.[5] After receiving his PhD, Goudsmit served as a Professor at the University of Michigan between 1927 and 1946. In 1930 he co-authored a text with Linus Pauling titled The Structure of Line Spectra.

During World War II he worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[6] He was also the scientific head of the Alsos Mission and successfully reached the German group of nuclear physicists around Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn at Hechingen (then French zone) in advance of the French physicist Yves Rocard, who had previously succeeded in recruiting German scientists to come to France.

Alsos, part of the Manhattan Project, was designed to assess the progress of the Nazi atomic bomb project. In the book Alsos, published in 1947, Goudsmit concludes that the Germans did not get close to creating a weapon. He attributed this to the inability of science to function under a totalitarian state and to nazi scientists' lack of understanding of how to engineer an atomic bomb. Both of these conclusions have been disputed by later historians (see Heisenberg) and contradicted by the fact that the totalitarian Soviet state produced the bomb shortly after the book's release[7].

After the war he was briefly a professor at Northwestern University, and from 1948-1970 was a senior scientist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, chairing the Physics Department 1952-1960. He meanwhile became well known as the Editor-in-chief of the leading physics journal Physical Review, published by the American Physical Society. In July 1958 he started the journal Physical Review Letters.[8] On his retirement as editor in 1974, Goudsmit moved to the faculty of the University of Nevada in Reno, where he remained until his death four years later.

He also made some scholarly contributions to Egyptology published in Expedition, Summer 1972, pp. 13–16 ; American Journal of Archaeology 78, 1974 p. 78; and Journal of Near Eastern Studies 40, 1981 pp. 43–46. The Samuel A. Goudsmit Collection of Egyptian Antiquities resides at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[9]

Goudsmit became a corresponding member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1939, though he resigned the next year. He was readmitted in 1950.[10]


  • Goudsmit, Samuel A. (1947). Alsos.
  • Goudsmit, Samuel A.; Claiborne, Robert (1966). Time. Time-Life Science Library.
  • Goudsmit, S.; Saunderson, J. L. (1940). "Multiple Scattering of Electrons". Phys. Rev. 57 (1): 24–29. Bibcode:1940PhRv...57...24G. doi:10.1103/physrev.57.24.


  1. G.E. Uhlenbeck and S. Goudsmit, Naturwissenschaften 13(47) (1925) 953.
  2. Goldhaber, Maurice (April 1979). "Obituary: Samuel A. Goudsmit". Physics Today. 32 (4): 71–72. Bibcode:1979PhT....32d..71G. doi:10.1063/1.2995511. Archived from the original on 2013-09-27.
  3. Benjamin Bederson, 2008, Samuel Abraham Goudsmit 1902 — 1978, Biographical Memoir, National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, 29 pp
  4. Samuel Goudsmit at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  5. Samuel Goudsmit (1927). "Atoommodel en structuur der spectra" (PDF).
  6. Asimov. Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (2nd revised ed.).
  7. Koeth, Tim (May 2019). "Tracking the journey of a uranium cube". Physics Today. 72 (5): 36–43. Bibcode:2019PhT....72e..36K. doi:10.1063/PT.3.4202.
  8. "Samuel A. Goudsmit Papers, 1921-1979". Archived from the original on October 31, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2014.
  9. Description of Goudsmit's contribution to the museum
  10. "S.A. Goudsmit (1902 - 1978)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
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