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“Albert Michelson was a Polish immigrant who grew up in the hard-scrabble atmosphere of the California gold rush. He relied on an appeal to then-President Ulysses Grant to gain admission to the Naval Academy, where he became a championship boxer.

In his physics career, Michelson also measured the speed of light to an unprecedented degree of accuracy, and designed one of the most elegant physics experiments in the 19th century, to detect something that ultimately didn’t even exist: the “luminiferous ether.”

Science historian David Kaiser tells the story of how that idea rose and fell in this interview with Undiscovered’s Annie Minoff and Ira Flatow.”