I. I. Rabi, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), and Radar

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I.I. Rabi
Courtesy of Brookhaven
National Laboratory

'Isidor Isaac Rabi [was] a pioneer in exploring the atom and a major force in 20th-century physics.'1 He won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei". 'His work in turn made possible the precise measurements necessary for the development of the atomic clock, the laser and the diagnostic scanning of the human body by nuclear magnetic resonance. '1

In 1929, Dr. Rabi started working at Columbia University, where he conducted molecular beam research. However, 'Rabi did not relish the task of coaxing from a departmental chairman or dean even the relatively modest funds needed for molecular beam equipment.'2 When Harold Urey, a professor at Columbia, won the 1934 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of deuterium, he also received 'an award from the Carnegie Foundation of about $8,000 to assist his research. Urey had no immediate need of this munificence'2 and gave part of it to Dr. Rabi 'so he could continue his research. By 1937 that research had led him to the technique for which he won his Nobel Prize. '1

'Due to the United States’ involvement in World War II, Rabi left Columbia for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], where critical radar research was taking place at the Radiation Laboratory. Rabi initially headed the research division and later became the associate director of the lab. Despite an invitation to serve as associate director of the Manhattan Project …, Rabi remained at the “Rad Lab” until the end of the war because he firmly believed in the importance of radar research. Nevertheless, he often served as a consultant on the Manhattan Project and frequently visited Los Alamos. …

He played key roles in the foundation and organization of a number of prestigious research institutions, including Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Nevis Laboratory in Columbia physics department and the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN). He also held several important advisory and committee positions. The NATO Science Committee, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy and the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission [AEC] were just a few of the groups that benefited from Rabi’s service. '3

'Of his many honors, Dr. Rabi was especially proud of one from the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Hans Christian Oersted award for his notable contribution to the teaching of physics. '1

1 Edited excerpts from In Memoriam I.I. Rabi, The New York Times, January 12, 1988
2 Edited excerpt from I.I. Rabi, Living Legacies (a little less than halfway down the Web page)
3 Edited excerpt from Isidor Isaac Rabi (1898 - 1988)

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