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Nobel Laureate Physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi Dead at 89

January 13, 1988
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Isidor Isaac Rabi, a Nobel Laureate physicist, died here Monday at the age of 89 after a long illness.

Rabi, won the Nobel Prize in 1944 for his work on magnetic properties of atoms, molecules and atomic nuclei. His discoveries were instrumental in the development of the atomic clock, the laser and diagnostic scanning of the human body by nuclear magnetic resonance.

Rabi was born to an Orthodox Jewish family on July 29, 1898, in Rymanow, Galicia, which was then part of Austria-Hungary. He immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 2, and had lived here the rest of his life. His father was a tailor.

Rabi had a 63-year association with Columbia University in New York, which in 1985 accorded him the rare honor of creating a professorial chair in his name. Rabi received his doctorate from Columbia in 1927, taught there and established a center for physics and was named a professor emeritus in 1967.

He remained until a few months ago a familiar figure on Columbia’s campus, meeting with students, attending seminars and working in his office almost daily.

A proud Jew and an admirer of Israel, Rabi was a member of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University’s Science Advisory Committee. He received an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University last June.

In what may have been his last interview, Rabi told this correspondent last May that he found it “wonderful” to be an American and very comfortable to be an American Jew.

“I am not suggesting that there is no anti-Semitism here, but I think it is natural,” Rabi said. “We (the human race) are so built that we do not like strangers. We, the Jews, are different, and no matter how much we imitate the others, we are still Jews.”

Asked if he ever encountered anti-Semitism during his long academic career, he replied: “Yes and no. I had a feeling that I would be admitted to many elements of society if I were not Jewish. But once I was in the academic world I did not really encounter anti-Semitism. I always made it clear I am a Jew. I found it an advantage to be a Jew, to be part of a great history.”

He said he was “very happy about Israel, that the Jews were able to establish a state and to prevail against their many enemies, and that the Jews were able to create state that makes such significant contribution to any element of civilization and culture.”

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