Leo James Rainwater (1917 - 1986)

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Nicknames: "James Rainwater"
Death: Died
Managed by: Doug Robinson
Last Updated:
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About Leo James Rainwater


Leo James Rainwater (December 9, 1917 – May 31, 1986) was an American physicist who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1975 for his part in determining the asymmetrical shapes of certain atomic nuclei.


Rainwater was born on December 9, 1917 in Council, Idaho, but later moved to Hanford, California, after the death of his father to the great influenza epidemic of 1918. He received his bachelor's degree from California Institute of Technology in 1939 as a physics major, then went on to earn a PhD at Columbia University in 1946, working with Enrico Fermi.

During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, which was the nickname given to underground research conducted to invent the first usable atomic bomb. In 1949, he began developing his theory that, contrary to what was then believed, not all atomic nuclei are spherical. His ideas were later tested and confirmed by Bohr's and Mottelson's experiments. Rainwater also contributed to the scientific understanding of X-rays and participated in the United States Atomic Energy Commission and naval research projects. He joined the physics faculty at Columbia in 1946, where he reached the rank of full professor in 1952. He was named Pupin Professor of Physics in 1982. Rainwater also received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for Physics in 1963. In 1975 Rainwater was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection".

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James Rainwater, Nobel Prize in Physics's Timeline

Age 69