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January 28, 2019

The One Hundredth Anniversary of the Michelson-Morley Experiment

In 1987, CWRU celebrated the centennial of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Albert A. Michelson was a physicist at the Case School of Applied Science and Edward W. Morley was a chemist at Western Reserve University. In their revolutionary 1887 experiment, Michelson and Morley used a device called an interferometer to measure the interference properties of light waves. Their goal was to determine how the speed of light would be affected by the directional flow of “luminiferous aether,” which was a substance that was believed to transmit light throughout space. Albert A. Michelson designed the interferometer to measure the difference between the speed of light traveling in the direction of the “aether wind,” and the speed of light traveling in the opposite direction. The Michelson-Morley experiment found that there was no substantial difference in the measurements of the speed of light, which ultimately proved that “luminiferous aether” does not exist. This groundbreaking discovery has been described as marking the birth of modern physics, and led to the development of other scientific theories, including Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which transformed our understanding of space and time.

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Model of the Michelson-Morley Interferometer, circa 1975

The Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration, entitled “Light, Space, and Time – A Cleveland Festival,” took place at CWRU and in the surrounding area from April to December 1987. The celebration kicked off with the opening ceremonies at Severance Hall on 04/24/1987, in which the annual Michelson-Morley Award was presented to internationally renowned scientists, Robert H. Dicke and George A. Olah. From 04/24/1987 to 04/25/1987, a symposium was held on campus, entitled “The Legacy of Edward W. Morley: 100 Years of Chemistry at Case Western Reserve University.” It included lectures on chemical research given by twelve distinguished alumni, former faculty, and current faculty from CWRU.

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, several exhibits, lectures, musical performances, and other symposia in honor of the centennial of the Michelson-Morley experiment took place on campus and in the greater Cleveland area:

From 04/25/1987 to 12/31/1987, an exhibit entitled “The Atom: Peril and Promise,” was available to the public at the Cleveland Health Education Museum. The exhibit examined the beneficial and harmful aspects of radiation. It included photographs of color drawings and paintings by survivors of the nuclear blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that took place at the end of World War II. Another exhibit, entitled “The Michelson-Morley Experiment of 1887: American Science Comes of Age,” was presented at the Western Reserve Historical Society from 04/26/1987 to 09/30/1987. It included photographs, monographs, drawings, and notes by Albert A. Michelson, letters from Edward W. Morley and Albert Einstein, and a full-scale replica of the Michelson-Morley experiment constructed by CWRU students.

As part of the Frontiers in Chemistry lecture series on campus, several Nobel Laureates were invited to give guest lectures in honor of the centennial of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Manfred Eigen delivered a lecture entitled, “Evolutionary Biotechnology” on 08/27/1987, Herbert C. Brown conducted a lecture called, “A General Asymmetric Synthesis via Chiral Organoboranes” on 10/01/1987, and Derek Barton spoke about “The Invention of Organic Chemical Reactions” on 10/15/1987.

The one hundredth anniversary of the Michelson-Morley experiment was also commemorated through art. During the centennial celebration, a light sculpture entitled “Light Path Crossing,” by artist Dale Eldred, was installed on the roof of Crawford Hall. The sculpture has a large diffraction grating that separates and exhibits vibrant colors, in honor of the experiment. On 10/28/1987, the Cleveland Institute of Music Chamber Orchestra performed two works commissioned especially for the Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration at the Cleveland Museum of Art. A musical piece for solo violin with synthesizer, harp, and percussion was performed in honor of Albert A. Michelson. In honor of Edward W. Morley, a piece for organ and chamber orchestra was performed. In addition, from 10/29/1987 to 10/31/1987, the Cleveland Orchestra presented a symphonic work by Philip Glass, that was commissioned especially for the Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration, at Severance Hall.

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Poster for the Modern Physics in America Symposium, 1987

Several scientific symposia took place on campus in October 1987, beginning with a Symposium on Science, Arts, and Humanities on 10/10/1987, in which Philip Morrison of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other renowned speakers discussed the interrelationships among these different fields of study. From 10/21/1987 to 10/23/1987, the “Harland G. Wood Symposium in Biomedical Sciences” took place, and included a Merton F. Utter Memorial Lecture by Nobel Laureate David Baltimore. A symposium on “The Michelson Era in American Science, 1870-1930,” took place from 10/28/1987 to 10/29/1987, and included presentations on the history and philosophy of science by America’s leading historians in science and technology, as well as a keynote address by author Daniel Kevles. To round out the month of October, the last symposium of the Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration, entitled “Modern Physics in America,” took place from 10/30/1987 to 10/31/1987. More than 1,000 people attended this symposium, and it included lectures by several Nobel Laureates: Hans A. Bethe, Philip W. Anderson, Arthur L. Schawlow, Ivar Giaever, Murray Gell-Mann, and Kenneth G. Wilson.

For more information about the Michelson-Morley experiment, and the Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration, please consult the University Archives. In addition, the blog post, Namesakes – Morley Chemical Laboratory and Edward W. Morley, provides a brief biography of Edward W. Morley, and includes a link to more information about the Michelson-Morley experiment.

Written by Julia Teran

Posted by hxy2 at January 28, 2019 05:00 PM

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