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Rabi, Isidor Isaac


RABI, ISIDOR ISAAC (1898–1988), U.S. physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Rabi was born at Rymanow, Austro-Hungary, and taken to the United States when he was a year old. He became a tutor in physics at City College, New York, and won fellowships to various European universities. In 1937 he returned to lecture at Columbia, where he was appointed a full professor in 1950. Meanwhile, he continued his own researches in nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and magnetism. He realized that the essential step was to determine the nature of the force that holds together the protons within the nucleus of the atom, overcoming the mutual repulsion that must exist between them, as all are positively charged. When Otto *Stern discovered how to measure this force by means of a "molecular beam," Rabi followed up the discovery, which he found more effective than fission for elucidating the structure of the atom. His most distinguished work was the development of a method of receiving and interpreting such beams, and it was this that won him the Nobel Prize for physics in 1944, four years after he had become associate director of the radiation laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the remainder of World War ii Rabi served as a civilian investigator for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. From 1953 he was chairman of the general advisory committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, but he was active among those opposing the strict military control of atomic energy proposed by Congress, and he deplored what he saw as a tendency for pure science to be subordinated to industrial needs. He was involved with building the cyclotron as well as with other work at the Brookhaven National Laboratory for Atomic Research. Rabi was a member of the un Science Committee and on the Atomic Energy agency, among other international agencies. He was a member of the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute in Israel. Two autobiographical lectures, published under the title My Lifeand Times as a Physicist, appeared in 1960.


T. Levitan, Laureates, Jewish Winners of the Nobel Prize (1960), 89–92; Current Biography Yearbook 1948 (1949), 509–10.

[J. Edwin Holmstrom]

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