Isidor Isaac Rabi, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1944

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Isidor Isaac Rabi, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1944

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Rymanów, Galicia, Austria-Hungary Empire
Death: Died in New York, New York, NY, USA
Cause of death: Cancer
Immediate Family:

Son of David Rabi and Janet Rabi
Husband of Helen Rabi
Father of <private> Rabi and <private> Rabi

Occupation: Physicist, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1944
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About Isidor Isaac Rabi, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1944

Isidor Isaac Rabi (29 July 1898 – 11 January 1988) was a Galician-born American physicist and Nobel laureate recognized in 1944 "for his resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei".

Born into a traditional Jewish family in Rymanów, Galicia, in what was then part of Austria-Hungary, Rabi came to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York's Lower East Side. He entered Cornell University as an electrical engineering student in 1916, but soon switched to chemistry. Later, he became interested in physics. He continued his studies at Columbia University, where he was awarded his doctorate for a thesis on the magnetic susceptibility of certain crystals. In 1927, he headed for Europe, where he met and worked with many of the finest physicists of the time.

In 1929 he returned to the United States, where Columbia offered him a faculty position. In collaboration with Gregory Breit, he developed the Breit-Rabi equation, and predicted that the Stern-Gerlach experiment could be modified to confirm the properties of the atomic nucleus. He developed techniques to use nuclear magnetic resonance to discern the magnetic moment and nuclear spin of atoms. This work led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1944. Nuclear magnetic resonance not only became an important tool for nuclear physics and chemistry, but the subsequent development of magnetic resonance imaging from it made it important to medicine as well.

During World War II he worked on radar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory, and on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he served on the General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Atomic Energy Commission, of which he was chairman from 1952 to 1956, on the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Office of Defense Mobilization, and was Science Advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was involved with the establishment of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1946, and later, as United States delegate to UNESCO, with the creation of CERN in 1952.

When Columbia created the rank of University Professor in 1964, Rabi was the first to receive such a chair. A special chair was named after him in 1985. He retired from teaching in 1967 but remained active in the department and held the title of University Professor Emeritus and Special Lecturer until his death in 1988.

Early years

Israel Isaac Rabi was born on 29 July 1898 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Rymanów, Galicia, in what was then part of Austria-Hungary and now part of Poland. Soon after he was born, his father, David Rabi, emigrated to the United States. Rabi and his mother, Sheindel Rabi, joined him there a few months later, and the family moved into an two-room apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At home the family spoke Yiddish. When Rabi was enrolled in school, Sheindel said his name was Izzy, and a school official, thinking it was short for Isidor, put that down as his name. Henceforth, that became his official name. Later, in response to anti-Semitism, he started writing his name as Isidor Isaac Rabi, and was known professionally as I.I. Rabi. To host of his friends and family, including his sister Gertrude, who was born in 1903, he was known simply as "Rabi", which was pronounced "Robby". In 1907, the family moved to Brownsville, Brooklyn, where they ran a grocery store.

As a boy, Rabi was interested in science. He read science books borrowed from the public library, and built his own radio set. His first scientific paper was published in Modern Electrics when he was in elementary school. He became an atheist. For his Bar Mitzvah, which was held at home, he gave a speech in Yiddish about how an electric light works. He attended the Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, from which he graduated in 1916. Later that year, he entered Cornell University as an electrical engineering student, but soon switched to chemistry. After the American entry into World War I in 1917, he joined the Students Army Training Corps at Cornell. For his senior thesis, he investigated the oxidation states of manganese. He was awarded his Bachelor of Science degree in June 1919, but neither he nor any of his Jewish classmates received any job offers. He worked briefly at the Lederle Laboratories, and then as a bookkeeper.

Later life

Rabi chaired Columbia's physics department from 1945 to 1949, a period during which it was home to two Nobel Laureates (Rabi and Enrico Fermi) and eleven future laureates, including seven faculty (Polykarp Kusch, Willis Lamb, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, James Rainwater, Norman Ramsey, Charles Townes and Hideki Yukawa), a research scientist (Aage Bohr), a visiting professor (Hans Bethe), a doctoral student (Leon Lederman) and an undergrad (Leon Cooper).

Rabi was appointed a member of the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Office of Defense Mobilization in 1952, serving as its chairman from 1956 to 1957. This coincided with the Sputnik crisis. President Dwight Eisenhower met with the SAC on October 15, 1957 to seek advice on what could be done. Rabi, who knew Eisenhower from the latter's time as president of Columbia University, was the first to speak, and put forward a series of proposals, one of which was to strengthen the committee so it could provide the President with timely advice. This was done, and the SAC became the President's Science Advisory Committee a few weeks later. He also became Eisenhower's Science Advisor. Rabi served as the U.S. Representative to the NATO Science Committee at the time that the term "software engineering" was coined. While serving in that capacity, he bemoaned the fact that many large software projects were delayed. This prompted discussions that led to the formation of a study group that organized the first conference on software engineering.

He was an honorary D. Sc. of Princeton, Harvard, and Birmingham Universities. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society (was its President in 1950) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1959 he was appointed a member of the Board of Governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovoth, Israel. He held foreign memberships of the Japanese and Brazilian Academies, and was a member of the General Advisory Committee to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and of the United States National Commission for UNESCO. At the International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy (Geneva, 1955) he was the United States delegate and Vice-President. He was also a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rabi was appointed a member of the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Office of Defense Mobilization in 1952, serving as its chairman from 1956 to 1957. This coincided with the Sputnik crisis. President Dwight Eisenhower met with the SAC on October 15, 1957 to seek advice on what could be done. Rabi, who knew Eisenhower from the latter's time as president of Columbia University, was the first to speak, and put forward a series of proposals, one of which was to strengthen the committee so it could provide the President with timely advice. This was done, and the SAC became the President's Science Advisory Committee a few weeks later. He also became Eisenhower's Science Advisor. Rabi served as the U.S. Representative to the NATO Science Committee at the time that the term "software engineering" was coined. While serving in that capacity, he bemoaned the fact that many large software projects were delayed. This prompted discussions that led to the formation of a study group that organized the first conference on software engineering.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Rabi received the King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom from Great Britain, the Legion of Honor from France, the Medal for Merit, the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal, the Atoms for Peace Award, the Oersted Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Four Freedoms Award from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, and the Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Foundation.

Rabi died at his home in Riverside Drive from cancer on January 11, 1988. In his last days, he was reminded of his greatest achievement in a poignant fashion when his physicians examined him using magnetic resonance imaging, a technology developed from his ground-breaking research on magnetic resonance. "I saw myself in that machine", he remarked, "I never thought my work would come to this."

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Isidor Isaac Rabi, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1944's Timeline

1898
July 29, 1898
Rymanów, Galicia, Austria-Hungary Empire
1926
July 17, 1926
Age 27
New York, New York, New York, United States
1988
January 11, 1988
Age 89
New York, New York, NY, USA