I.I. Rabi (1898 - 1988)

Isidor Isaac Rabi was born in Rymanov, Austria (now in Poland), on July 29, 1898. He was brought to the U.S. as a child the following year. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Cornell University in 1919 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1927. His doctorate was earned for work on the magnetic properties of crystals.

Aided by fellowships, Rabi spent two years in Europe, working at different times with Sommerfield, Bohr, Pauli, Stern and Heisenberg. On his return to the U.S. in 1929, he was appointed lecturer of Theoretical Physics at Columbia University, and after promotion through the various grades became professor in 1937.

In 1930, Rabi conducted investigations into the nature of the force binding protons to atomic nuclei. This research eventually led to the creation of the molecular-beam magnetic-resonance detection method, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944.

In 1940, Rabi was granted leave from Columbia to work as Associate Director of the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the development of radar and the atomic bomb. He reluctantly agreed to serve as a visiting consultant who would come and go from Los Alamos. In this unusual capacity, he was one of the very few exceptions to the strict security rules. General Groves made a special effort to bring Rabi, who had been a student with Oppenheimer and maintained a close and mutually respectful relationship, out to Los Alamos for the days leading up to the Trinity test so that he could help Oppenheimer maintain his sanity under such intense pressure.

In 1945, Rabi returned to Columbia as executive office of the Physics Department. He was also one of the founders of the Brookhaven National Laboratory for Atomic Research, Long Island, an organization devoted to research into the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and the organization known as CERN. His post-war research contributed to the inventions of the laser and the atomic clock.

In 1959, Rabi was appointed a member of the Board of Governers of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovoth, Israel. He held foreign memberships to the Japanese and Brazilian Academies and was a member of the General Advisory Committee to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the United States National Commission for UNESCO. In 1955, at the International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, he was the U.S. delegate and vice president. He was also a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rabi married Helen Newmark in 1926, and they had two daughters. He died on January 11, 1988.