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 Bloch 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 imaging (MRI), an important medical diagnostic tool.

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