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Robert Millikan

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Robert Andrews Millikan (March 22, 1868 - December 19, 1953) was an American physicist who won the 1923 Nobel Prize for Physics primarily for his work in determining the value of the charge on the electron and the photoelectric effect. He later worked on cosmic rays.

His oil-drop experiment to measure the electronic charge (since repeated by generations of physics students) measured the force on tiny charged droplets of oil suspended against gravity between two metal electrodes. Knowing the electric field the charge on the droplet could be determined. Repeating the experiment for many droplets, this was found always to be one or a few units of a common value. This was taken to be the charge on a single electron.

There is now controversy over Millikan's experimental methods and reporting of his results.

A version of the oil drop experment has subsequently been used to search for free quarks (which would have a charge of 1/3 e), without success.

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