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Zeeman, Pieter

magnetic field lines effect

[ zay man] (1865–1943) Dutch physicist: discovered the splitting of spectral lines by magnetic fields.

Zeeman’s experiment of 1896 proved to be an early crucial link between light and magnetism, which also gave further identification of the electron and a basis on which to test the quantum mechanical theories of atomic structure. It was performed soon after Zeeman had graduated at Leiden and had become a Privatdozent at Amsterdam. He first observed that, when a magnetic field was applied to sodium or lithium flames, the lines in the emission spectrum of the flame were apparently broadened; and this on inspection was due to splitting of the lines into two or three. Zeeman’s observation agreed with results from Lorentz’s classical theory of light as being due to vibrating electrons in atoms.

The normal Zeeman effect is shown when a spectral line splits into two with a strong magnetic field applied parallel to the light path or into three if the field is perpendicular. The old quantum theory and model of the atom could explain this. However, in general, atoms show the anomalous Zeeman effect, which involves splitting into several closely spaced lines. The explanation of this required the full quantum mechanics (of 1925) and the concept of electron spin, due to and (1926). Zeeman and Lorentz shared the 1902 Nobel Prize for physics for their work on the magneto-optical properties of atoms.

Had experimented in 1862 on the application of a magnetic field to emission spectra, but failed to find an effect; Zeeman succeeded and the explanation of his results was a major step for theoretical physics.

The Zeeman effect has been used (first by in 1908) to examine the Sun’s magnetic field and (with much greater difficulty) that of other stars.

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