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Felix Bloch

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Felix Bloch
Born(1905-10-23)23 October 1905
Zürich, Switzerland
Died10 September 1983(1983-09-10) (aged 77)
Zürich, Switzerland
  • Swiss
  • American
Alma mater
Known for
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorWerner Heisenberg
Doctoral studentsCarson D. Jeffries

Felix Bloch (23 October 1905 – 10 September 1983) was a Swiss-American physicist and Nobel physics laureate who worked mainly in the U.S.[1] He and Edward Mills Purcell were awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize for Physics for "their development of new ways and methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements."[2] In 1954–1955, he served for one year as the first director-general of CERN. Felix Bloch made fundamental theoretical contributions to the understanding of ferromagnetism and electron behavior in crystal lattices. He is also considered one of the developers of nuclear magnetic resonance.


Felix Bloch in the lab, 1950s

Early life, education, and family[edit]

Bloch was born in Zürich, Switzerland to Jewish[3] parents Gustav and Agnes Bloch. Gustav Bloch, his father, was financially unable to attend University and worked as a wholesale grain dealer in Zürich.[4] Gustav moved to Zürich from Moravia in 1890 to become a Swiss citizen. Their first child was a girl born in 1902 while Felix was born three years later.[4]

Bloch entered public elementary school at the age of six and is said to have been teased, in part because he "spoke Swiss German with a somewhat different accent than most members of the class".[4] He received support from his older sister during much of this time, but she died at the age of twelve, devastating Felix, who is said to have lived a "depressed and isolated life" in the following years.[4] Bloch learned to play the piano by the age of eight and was drawn to arithmetic for its "clarity and beauty".[4] Bloch graduated from elementary school at twelve and enrolled in the Cantonal Gymnasium in Zürich for secondary school in 1918. He was placed on a six-year curriculum here to prepare him for University. He continued his curriculum through 1924, even through his study of engineering and physics in other schools, though it was limited to mathematics and languages after the first three years. After these first three years at the Gymnasium, at age fifteen Bloch began to study at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETHZ), also in Zürich. Although he initially studied engineering he soon changed to physics. During this time he attended lectures and seminars given by Peter Debye and Hermann Weyl at ETH Zürich and Erwin Schrödinger at the neighboring University of Zürich. A fellow student in these seminars was John von Neumann.

Bloch graduated in 1927, and was encouraged by Debye to go to Leipzig to study with Werner Heisenberg.[5] Bloch became Heisenberg's first graduate student, and gained his doctorate in 1928.[5] His doctoral thesis established the quantum theory of solids, using waves to describe electrons in periodic lattices.

On March 14, 1940, Bloch married Lore Clara Misch (1911–1996), a fellow physicist working on X-ray crystallography, whom he had met at an American Physical Society meeting.[6] They had four children, twins George Jacob Bloch and Daniel Arthur Bloch (born January 15, 1941), son Frank Samuel Bloch (born January 16, 1945), and daughter Ruth Hedy Bloch (born September 15, 1949).[5][7]


Bloch remained in European academia, working on superconductivity with Wolfgang Pauli in Zürich; with Hans Kramers and Adriaan Fokker in Holland; with Heisenberg on ferromagnetism, where he developed a description of boundaries between magnetic domains, now known as "Bloch walls", and theoretically proposed a concept of spin waves, excitations of magnetic structure; with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, where he worked on a theoretical description of the stopping of charged particles traveling through matter; and with Enrico Fermi in Rome.[5] In 1932, Bloch returned to Leipzig to assume a position as "Privatdozent" (lecturer).[5] In 1933, immediately after Hitler came to power, he left Germany because he was Jewish, returning to Zürich, before traveling to Paris to lecture at the Institut Henri Poincaré.[8]

In 1934, the chairman of Stanford Physics invited Bloch to join the faculty.[5] Bloch accepted the offer and emigrated to the United States. In the fall of 1938, Bloch began working with the 37 inch cyclotron at the University of California, Berkeley to determine the magnetic moment of the neutron. Bloch went on to become the first professor for theoretical physics at Stanford. In 1939, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

During WWII, Bloch briefly worked on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos. Disliking the military atmosphere of the laboratory and uninterested in the theoretical work there, Bloch left to join the radar project at Harvard University.[9]

After the war, he concentrated on investigations into nuclear induction and nuclear magnetic resonance, which are the underlying principles of MRI.[10][11][12] In 1946 he proposed the Bloch equations which determine the time evolution of nuclear magnetization. He was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1948.[13] Along with Edward Purcell, Bloch was awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on nuclear magnetic induction.

When CERN was being set up in the early 1950s, its founders were searching for someone of stature and international prestige to head the fledgling international laboratory, and in 1954 Professor Bloch became CERN's first director-general,[14] at the time when construction was getting under way on the present Meyrin site and plans for the first machines were being drawn up. After leaving CERN, he returned to Stanford University, where he in 1961 was made Max Stein Professor of Physics.

In 1964, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[15] He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.[16][17]

Bloch died in Zürich in 1983.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hofstadter, Robert (March 1984). "Obituary: Felix Bloch". Physics Today. 37 (3): 115–116. Bibcode:1984PhT....37c.115H. doi:10.1063/1.2916128. Archived from the original on 30 September 2013.
  2. ^ Sohlman, M (Ed.) Nobel Foundation directory 2003. Vastervik, Sweden: AB CO Ekblad; 2003.
  3. ^ Fraser, Gordon (2012). "Chapter 7". The Quantum Exodus. Oxford University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-19-959215-9.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hofstadter, Richard (1994). "3". Read "Biographical Memoirs: V.64" at NAP.edu. doi:10.17226/4547. ISBN 978-0-309-04978-8.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Hofstadter, Robert; Chodorow, Marvin; Schawlow, Arthur; Walecka, Dirk. "Memorial Resolution: Felix Bloch (1905 - 1983)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 March 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  6. ^ a b Former Fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783 – 2002 Archived 19 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine. royalsoced.org.uk
  7. ^ "Guide to the Felix Bloch Papers".
  8. ^ "Bloch, Felix", Current Biography, H. W. Wilson Company, 1954. Accessed 24 February 2013. "Because of his Jewish faith, his position soon became uncomfortable and he went to Paris, where he lectured at the Institut Henri Poincaré."
  9. ^ Charles, Weiner (15 August 1968). "Oral Histories: Felix Bloch". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  10. ^ Alvarez, Luis W.; Bloch, F. (1940). "A Quantitative Determination of the Neutron Moment in Absolute Nuclear Magnetons". Physical Review. 57 (2): 111–122. Bibcode:1940PhRv...57..111A. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.57.111.
  11. ^ Bloch, F.; Hansen, W. W.; Packard, Martin (1 February 1946). "Nuclear Induction". Physical Review. 69 (3–4): 127. Bibcode:1946PhRv...69..127B. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.69.127.
  12. ^ Shampo, M A; Kyle R A (September 1995). "Felix Bloch—developer of magnetic resonance imaging". Mayo Clin. Proc. 70 (9): 889. doi:10.4065/70.9.889. PMID 7643644.
  13. ^ "Felix Bloch". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  14. ^ "People and things : Felix Bloch". CERN Courier. CERN. 1983. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  15. ^ "F. Bloch (1905 - 1983)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  16. ^ "Felix Bloch". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  17. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 5 October 2022.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Position created
First Director-General of CERN
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the American Physical Society
Succeeded by