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Isidor Rabi

Born Isidor Isaac Rabi
29 July 1898(1898-07-29)
Rymanów, Galicia, Austria-Hungary
Died 11 January 1988 (aged 89)
New York City, New York, USA
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions Columbia University
Alma mater Cornell University
Columbia University
Doctoral advisor Albert Potter Wills
Doctoral students Julian Schwinger
Norman F. Ramsey
Martin L. Perl
Known for Nuclear magnetic resonance
Notable awards Nobel Prize for Physics (1944)

Isidor Isaac Rabi (pronounced /rɑːbi/; 29 July 1898 – 11 January 1988) was a Galician-born American physicist and Nobel laureate recognised in 1944 for his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance.




Early years

Rabi was born into a traditional Jewish family in Rymanów, Galicia , Austrian Empire (now Poland), and was brought to the United States as a child the following year. He achieved a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry degree from Cornell University in 1919, continuing his studies at Columbia University and received his Ph.D. in 1927. A fellowship enabled him to spend the next two years in Europe working with such eminent physicists as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli and Otto Stern. He then joined the Columbia faculty and never left.


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 for Physics in 1944.

In 1940 he 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.[1] Some say that he reluctantly agreed to serve as a visiting consultant who would come and go from Los Alamos, where he was one of the very few exceptions to the strict security rules there. 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. The scientists working on Trinity set up a betting pool for the results of the test, with predictions ranging from total dud to incineration of the planet. Rabi's guess of 18 kilotons of TNT yield proved to be the closest to the actual yield of 20 kilotons and he won the pool.[2]

After the war he continued his research, which contributed to the inventions of the laser and the atomic clock. He was also one of the founders of both Brookhaven National Laboratory and CERN, and served as U.S. President Harry S. Truman's second Science Advisor.

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).[3] When Columbia created the rank of University Professor in 1964, Rabi was the first to receive such a chair. 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 on 11 January 1988.

He famously remarked that "the world would be better without an Edward Teller." He is also known for asking regarding the muon, "Who ordered that?"

Rabi is the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence as well as the 1967 Atoms for Peace Award.

Personal life

  • Father: David Rabi
  • Mother: Janet Teig
  • Wife: Helen Newmark (m. 1926, two daughters)


  • Rabi, Isidor Isaac (1960). My life and times as a physicist;. Claremont College. pp. 55.  
  • Rabi, Isidor Isaac (1970). Science: The Center of Culture. New York: World Publishing Co..  
  • Rabi, Isidor Isaac; Robert Serber, Victor F. Weisskopf, Abraham Pais, Glenn T. Seaborg (1969). Oppenheimer: The Story of One of the Most Remarkable Personalities of the 20th Century.. Scribner's.  

See also


  1. ^ Isidor Isaac Rabi - Biography
  2. ^ James Hershberg (1993), James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age. 948 pp. ISBN 0-394-57966-6 p. 233
  3. ^ Nobel winners associated with Columbia physics department
  • Rabi, scientist and citizen by John S. Rigden (Sloan Foundation Series; Basic Books, 1987). A biography that is close to an autobiography, as it was based on extensive interviews with Rabi.
  • Rabi, I I; Zacharias, J R; Millman, S; Kusch, P, "Milestones in magnetic resonance: 'a new method of measuring nuclear magnetic moment' . 1938.", Journal of magnetic resonance imaging : JMRI 2 (2): 131–3, PMID 1562763  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Isidor Isaac Rabi (July 29, 1898January 11, 1988) was a Galician-born physicist, and Nobel laureate.


  • My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist.
    • Quoted in “Great Minds Start With Questions,” Parents Magazine (September 1993)

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