Edward L. Nichols

Edward L. Nichols

OSA Honorary Member Edward L. Nichols was born on 14 September 1854 in Leamington, England. The Nichols family returned to America a few years later and settled in Peekskill, N. J. Nichols went to school first in Orange, N. J. and prepared for college at Peekskill Military Academy. He entered Cornell University in 1871 and graduated in 1875.

After graduation, Nichols spent four years in Germany, studying in Leipzig with Gustav Wiedemann, then with Herman von Helmholtz and Gustav Kirchhoff  in Berlin, and finally at Gottingen, where he received a Ph.D in 1879.

Tough economic times in the U.S. resulting from the panic of 1873 made it difficult for Nichols to find a job when he returned to the U.S. Undaunted he applied for a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University and upon receiving an appointment devoted the year 1879-1880 to repeating Rowland’s experiment on the magnetic effect of a moving charge. The following year Nichols joined Thomas Edison Menlo Park Laboratory and developed photometric methods for use with the incandescent lamp, which was just coming into practical form.

 Nichols first experience in teaching occurred at Central University, Kentucky, where he held the chair of physics and chemistry from 1881 to 1883. He was called to the University of Kansas in 1883 and remained there as a professor of physics and astronomy until he returned to Cornell as head of the department of physics in 1887. He became professor emeritus in 1919.

Next to the results of his own research work and the stimulus of his enthusiasm, Nichols’ most outstanding contribution to American physics as the establishment of the Physical Review in 1893. With the financial support of Cornell University, Nichols established the journal six years before the American Physical Society was organized. He remained editor-in-chief for 20 years. He also was one of the founding members of the American Physical Society.

Nichols was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. He also served as a member of the visiting committee of the National Bureau of Standards. He received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College. He received the Franklin Institute's Elliott Cresson Medal and OSA’s Frederic Ives Medal.

In 1916, he was named an Honorary Member of the Optical Society in recognition of his preeminent service in the advancement of optics.

 Nichols died in 1937.