Harry George Drickamer

National Medal of Science

Engineering

For his discovery of the pressure tuning of electronic energy levels as a way to obtain new and unique information on the electronic structure of solids.

For his discovery of the pressure tuning of electronic energy levels as a way to obtain new and unique information on the electronic structure of solids.

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Birth
November 19, 1918
Age Awarded
71
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Pressure Tuning Spectroscopy
Awarded by
George H. W. Bush
Education
University of Michigan
Areas of Impact
Theory & Foundations
Affiliations
University of Illinois
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Not every world-renowned scientist has the makings of a professional athlete, but such was the case with Harry George Drickamer, who in the 1930s briefly played in the Cleveland Indians’ minor league farm system before trading in his cleats for a microscope. Well, sort of — he went to Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship before an injury sidelined him.

Thankfully, Drickamer was destined for a longer-lasting legacy. His research on the use of pressure in studying the molecular and electronic properties of matter led to a cascade of scientific breakthroughs. Specifically, he is known for pioneering the method of pressure tuning spectroscopy, which uses compression on the fixed outer orbit of an atom’s electrons, where the atom’s physical and chemical properties are concentrated, to experiment with properties of matter. Drickamer’s research was eventually used to test a number of chemical theories, and to engineer materials such as catalysts, lasers, polymers and semiconductors. The method opened the floodgates on the basic understanding of the atom and solidified Drickamer’s stance as legend at the University of Illinois, where he taught for 56 years. 

By Lauren Clason

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