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William F. Meggers Award

This award was established in 1970 to honor William F. Meggers for his notable contributions to the field of spectroscopy and metrology.

Society Connection

William F. Meggers was an early member of the Society and served as President from 1949 to 1951. An Honorary Member, he also received the Frederic Ives Medal / Jarus W. Quinn Prize and C.E.K. Mees Medal.

William F. Meggers Family

About William F. Meggers

Meggers was born 13 July, 1888 on a farm in Wisconsin. He attended Ripon College, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1910. He spent the following year as a graduate assistant. He moved on to the University of Wisconsin then became a physics instructor at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, PA.

After reading Niels Bohr’s paper "On the Constitution of Atoms and Molecules" during his second year at Carnegie, Meggers decided to become a spectroscopist.  Shortly thereafter, in 1914, he received an appointment as laboratory assistant to Kelvin Burns, who was at the time the sole spectroscopist at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), in Washington, DC. Meggers would stay at NBS for more than half a century, advancing the disciplines of spectroscopy, photography and atomic physics. He officially retired in 1958 as chief of the Spectroscopy Section but continued working until shortly before his death.

During World War I, he continued his spectroscopic work at NBS and earned a PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1917. Some of his important projects covered the measuring of standard wavelengths with interferometers, photographing spectra beyond visible red, demonstration of the use of red-sensitized emulsions for photography from airplanes, other pioneer spectrochemical analyses, and measuring many indexes of refraction of the atmosphere.

As an active member of the International Astronomical Union's Commission on Standard Wavelengths, Meggers was the main contributor to secondary standards of wavelength from an iron arc measured relative to the primary standard (red radiation from cadmium). He provided an improved primary standard (Meggers Mercury 198 Lamp) and superior secondary standards emitted by an electrodeless lamp containing thorium iodide.

Meggers pioneered new techniques in spectrochemistry. A paper on "Practical Spectrographic Analysis" published in 1922 is generally credited with reviving interest in chemical spectroscopy. He spent much of his career improving not only standard wavelengths but also descriptions of atomic and ionic spectra. His work led to the calibration of intensity and spectral number as well as the energy levels responsible for each spectral line.

Meggers was honored for his many accomplishments over his lifetime. Among those honors: the Frederic Ives Medal / Jarus W. Quinn Prize in 1947, Honorary Member in 1958, C.E.K. Mees Medal in 1964, the US Department of Commerce’s Exceptional Service Gold Medal, the Franklin Institute’s Eliot Cresson Medal, and membership in the National Academy of Science. He died in 1966.

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