In 1869, Michelson entered the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland and graduated in 1873. Early on, Michelson was fascinated with the sciences and the problem of measuring the speed of light, in particular. After two years of studies in Europe he resigned from the navy in 1881 and set out to determine the speed of light with an unprecedented accuracy using his interferometer. His value remained the best for a generation and when it was improved, Michelson was the one who did it.
In 1883 he accepted a position as professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio and concentrated on improving his interferometer. By 1887 with the help of his colleague Edward Williams Morley he conducted what was to be known as the Michelson-Morley experiment. Their experiment showed that there was no significant motion of the Earth relative to the aether, the hypothetical medium in which light was supposed to travel. This result later became the foundation of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
After serving as professor at Clark University at Worcester, Massachusetts from 1889, in 1892 Michelson was appointed professor and the first head of the department of physics at the newly organized University of Chicago. In 1907, Michelson became the first American to receive a Nobel prize in physics.
Michelson died on May 9th, 1931 in Pasadena, California.