Norman Ramsey and the
Separated Oscillatory Fields Method

Resources with Additional Information

Norman F. Ramsey
Photo Credit:
Courtesy of Fermilab

Norman F. Ramsey was born in Washington, D.C. and 'was educated in the United States and England; he earned five degrees in physics including the Ph.D. (Columbia 1940) and the D.Sc. (Cambridge, 1964).

Ramsey's scientific research focused on the properties of molecules, atoms, nuclei and elementary particles and includes key contributions to the knowledge of magnetic moments, the structural shape of nuclear particles, the nature of nuclear forces, the thermodynamics of energized populations of atoms and molecules (e.g. those in masers and lasers) and spectroscopy.

Ramsey not only contributed basic advances in the theoretical understanding of the physics involved in his research, he also made pioneering advances in the methods of investigation; in particular, he contributed many refinements of the molecular beam method for the study of atomic and molecular properties, he invented the separated oscillatory field method of exciting resonances and, with the collaboration of his students, he was the principal inventor of the atomic hydrogen maser. The separated oscillatory field method provides extremely high resolution in atomic and molecular spectroscopy and it is the practical basis for the most precise atomic clocks; likewise the atomic hydrogen maser made even higher levels of spectroscopic resolution possible and it also functions as the basis for atomic clocks having the highest levels of stability for periods extending to several hours.'1

'During World War II his involvement with MIT's Radiation Laboratory led to the development of 3 cm radar and later he was leader of the Delivery Group of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. In 1947 he moved to Harvard University where he continues research and writing as the Higgins Professor of Physics, Emeritus. His research has ranged from atomic beams to particle physics.

Ramsey participated in the founding of Brookhaven National Laboratory and served as the first Chairman of its Physics Department. He was Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel in 1963 when the recommendation was made to build a 200 GeV accelerator. Ramsey was then instrumental in the creation of Fermilab as Founding President of the Universities Research Association (URA), the Laboratory's management organization, from 1966 until 1981. He smoothly oversaw the operation of the Laboratory from his URA offices in Washington when he was not personally visiting the site to be involved with Fermilab's successful development. …

Ramsey has also served as Chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission … . He has won many awards, including the Rabi Prize, the Rumford Premium of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 1988 National Medal of Science. In 1989 he received the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research leading to the development of the hydrogen maser and the cesium atomic clock.'2

1 Edited excerpt from Norman F. Ramsey
2 Edited excerpt from Early History of URA and Fermilab


Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about Norman F. Ramsey, magnetic moments, and the separated oscillatory fields method is available in electronic documents and on the Web.


A Molecular Beam Resonance Method with Separated Oscillating Fields; Physical Review, Vol. 78, Issue 6: 695-699; June 15, 1950

Proton-Proton Scattering at 105 Mev and 75 Mev, DOE Technical Report, January 1951

Theory of the Hydrogen Maser; Physical Review, Vol. 126, Issue 2: 603-615; April 15, 1962

Hydrogen-Maser Principles and Techniques; Physical Review, Vol. 128, Issue 4A: A972-A983; May 17, 1965

Inelastic Scattering Of Electrons By Protons, DOE Technical Report, December 1966

Determination of the Neutron Magnetic Moment, DOE Technical Report, June 1981

Experiments with Separated Oscillatory Fields and Hydrogen Masers; Review of Modern Physics, Vol. 62, Issue 3: 541-552; July 1990


Additional Web Pages:

First-Hand Account

1960 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award

Norman F. Ramsey, Fermilab

IEEE History Center: Norman Ramsey, a 1991 interview with John Bryant about Ramsey's early years

IEEE History Center: Norman Ramsey, a 1995 interview with Andrew Goldstein about Ramsey's professional career

Interview with Norman F. Ramsey, (video)

1998 National Medal of Science

In Memoriam:  Norman Ramsey - Nov. 5


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