James Rainwater Biography


Birthday: December 9, 1917 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Council

Leo James Rainwater was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics 1975 for his work in determining the asymmetrical shapes of certain atomic nuclei. He also worked on the Manhattan Project that led to the development of first atomic bombs. He preferred to be called by his middle name and throughout his life he was referred as such. He lost his father when he was barely a year old and thereafter his mother moved to California. At school, he displayed his talents as an extremely gifted student of science and was particularly good at mathematics, chemistry and physics. Due to his natural gifts in science, he fared well in a chemistry competition run by the California Institute of Technology and was admitted to the institute on the basis of the competition. He graduated in physics and then went on to complete his masters’ degree at Columbia University, where he worked for the rest of his life. Apart from his work on the atomic nuclei, his studies also contributed to the scientific understanding of X-rays.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Leo James Rainwater

Died At Age: 68

Physicists American Men

Died on: May 31, 1986

place of death: New York City

U.S. State: Idaho

More Facts

education: Columbia University, California Institute of Technology

awards: Nobel Prize in Physics

Childhood & Early Life
Leo James Rainwater was born in Council, Idaho, United States, on 9 December 1917, to Leo Jaspar Rainwater and Edna Eliza. His father was a civil engineer by training but moved to Council from California in order run a general store.
His father passed away during the influenza epidemic of 1918. His mother decided to leave Council and move to California. They went to Hanford located in California where his mother remarried after the passage of some years. James Rainwater was a gifted science student throughout his school days.
Following his performance at a chemistry competition conducted by the prestigious California Institute of Technology, he got admission in the institute. He studied physics at the institute and in 1939; he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. Subsequently, he joined Columbia University for his post graduate education and two years later received his Master of Arts degree.
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At Columbia University, he studied under such luminaries of the world of physics like Enrico Fermi, John Dunning and Edward Teller. During his time at Columbia University, he was also the part of the Manhattan Project that was launched in 1942 in order to build nuclear weapons.
During the Manhattan Project, he worked at the Substitute Alloy Materials Laboratories and the neutron spectrometer that he had created was used for research on neutron cross sections. After the end of the war, his work during at the Manhattan Projects was declassified.
He completed his doctorate in 1946 and his doctoral thesis was titled ‘neutron beam spectrometer studies of boron, cadmium, and the energy distribution from paraffin’.
Following the end of the Second World War, he went back to academics and continued to work in the capacity of an instructor at Columbia University. He started working on his most important project in 1949 when he started research on his theory that the nuclei of all atoms are not spherical in shape. Danish scientist Aage Bohr confirmed his theories through experiments and subsequently, Ben Mottelson helped him in publishing his findings. There were three papers in total.
The Office of Naval Research funded his research to build the particle accelerating instrument Synchroton at Nevis Laboratories. The instrument was built in 1950 and the following year he was appointed as the director of Nevis Laboratories. He served as the director of Nevis Laboratories from 1951 to 1954 and again from 1957 to 1961. In 1952, he was made a full professor at Columbia University. He was also involved in research on muonic atoms, which became one of his most important projects. He continued to work at Columbia University and in 1983, he was appointed as the Michael I. Pupin Professor of Physics.
Major Works
Rainwater’s most significant work was his theory on the shape of the nuclei of different atoms since it managed to dispel the idea that all atomic nuclei were spherical in shape. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for that.
Awards & Achievements
He won the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Awards in 1963.
In 1975, James Rainwater shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Aage Bohr and Ben Mottelson "for the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection".
Personal Life & Legacy
James Rainwater married Emma Louise Smith in March 1942. The couple had three sons and a daughter.
He died on 31 May 1986, in New York, at the age of 68, due to cardiopulmonary arrest.

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