He was born on July 12, 1913 in Los Angeles, joint winner, with Polykarp Kusch, also of the U.S., of the 1955 Nobel Prize for Physics for experimental work that spurred refinements in the quantum theories of electromagnetic phenomena. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1938 and worked in the radiation laboratory there during World War II.
The lines that appear in the spectrum (dispersed light, as by a prism) of hydrogen are not simply single dark lines, as they appear, but actually are composed of many lines that are extremely close together. This hyperfine structure was predicted by the quantum mechanics of the noted English physicist Paul A.M. Dirac, but Lamb applied new methods to be slightly different from what had been predicted. This necessitated a revision in the theory to fit the facts.
While a professor of physics at Stanford University, California (1951-56), lamb devised microwave techniques for examining the hyperfine structure of the spectral lines of helium. In 1956 he became professor of theoretical physics at Oxford University and in 1962 was appointed professor of physics at Yale University.