UW Professor Hans G. Dehmelt (along with Wolfgang Paul) is named recipient of Nobel Prize for Physics on October 12, 1989.

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 12/27/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3658

On October 12, 1989, University of Washington Professor Hans G. Dehmelt (1922-2017) and Wolfgang Paul (1913-1993) of Bonn University are named recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on isolating individual electrons and ions and making exact measurements of them. Dehmelt has been a UW professor since 1955 and is the first sitting UW faculty member to be recognized with a Nobel. Due to Dehmelt's discovery, physicists had to revise their estimate of the size of an electron by a factor of 10,000.

The German-born Dehmelt commented, "I'm elated. I wish to dance" (The Seattle Times). He was notified by telephone at 4:00 a.m. from Stockholm. Dehmelt said his interest in atomic particles goes back to the age of 10, when he was an amateur radio operator. "One sets one's goals very early," he said. "When I was a graduate student, my teacher drew a dot on the blackboard and said, 'Here's an electron,' but nobody had ever isolated one" (The Seattle Times).

Dehmelt became a University of Washington professor in 1955 and a U.S. citizen in 1961.

Dehmelt and Bonn University Professor Wolfgang Paul (1913-1993) together received one-half of the $469,000 prize at an awards ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 11, 1989. Harvard Professor Norman F. Ramsey (b. 1915) received the other half. The Nobel Prize was established in the will of Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) for annual awards to men and women who confer the greatest benefit on humankind in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.


Jack Broom, "UW Professor Wins Nobel Prize," The Seattle Times, October 12, 1989, p. A-1; Hill Williams, "A Prized Professsor," Ibid., October 23, 1989, p. E-1; "People," Ibid., December 11, 1989, p. A-3; Katherine Long, "First UW Professor to Win Nobel Prize," Ibid., March 24, 2017, p. B-1; Richard Saltus and Alison Bass, "Nobel Prize Winner At Harvard," The Boston Globe, October 13, 1989, p. 1.
Note: This essay was slightly revised on October 12, 2014, and updated on March 26, 2017.

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