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Isidor Isaac Rabi

(1898—1988)


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(1898–1988)

Austrian-born US physicist who invented magnetic resonance spectroscopy. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1944.

Rabi was born in Rymanow in Austria-Hungary (now in Poland). His parents emigrated to America when he was young and he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking community in New York, where his father ran a grocery store. He was educated at Cornell University, graduating in chemistry in 1919, and at the University of Columbia, where he gained his PhD in physics in 1927.

Rabi then moved to Germany, where he worked for Otto Stern. He had been impressed by the famous experiment by Stern and Walter Gerlach (1920–21), which showed that some atoms have a magnetic moment. When he returned to Columbia two years later he began a research program that led to the development of molecular-beam magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

This is an extremely precise method of measuring the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. It opened up a number of subsequent applications, including the atomic clock for precise measurement of time, the maser, the laser, and the use of magnetic resonance for studies of molecules and nuclei and, more recently, for medical tomography.

Rabi became Professor of Physics at Columbia in 1937. During World War II he led a group working on the development of radar in the US. From 1946 to 1956 he was a member of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, succeeding J. Robert Oppenheimer as its chairman in 1952. Rabi also helped set up the CERN centre for high-energy physics in Geneva and the Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York. He remained at Columbia until his retirement in 1967.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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