Dec. 15 memorial planned for Bruno Rossi


A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 4pm in the Little Theater for Dr. Bruno B. Rossi, Institute Professor emeritus and professor emeritus of physics.

Dr. Rossi died November 21 at his home in Cambridge at the age of 88. One of the nation's most honored scientists, he played a leading role in the study of cosmic rays and in the development of space physics.

Dr. Rossi, who had not been well for several years, died of cardiac arrest.

In the 1930s, Dr. Rossi's experimental investigations of cosmic rays and their interactions with matter laid the foundation for high energy particle physics. Cosmic rays are atomic particles that enter earth's atmosphere from outer space at speeds approaching that of light, bombarding atmospheric atoms to produce mesons as well as secondary particles possessing some of the original energy.

He was the author or coauthor of seven books, including his autobiography, Moments in the Life of a Scientist (Cambridge Univerity Press, 1990), and more than 100 technical articles. He also was known as an inspiring teacher who numbered among his pupils many leading scientists in universities and industry.

During World War II, he made major contributions to the work of the Los Alamos Laboratory, where the atom bomb was developed. Following the war he was active in the work of a committee of scientists that developed new materials for the teaching of high school physics.

As a member of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences and other advisory groups, he contributed to the formulation of public policy in the scientific exploration of space. In his space research he led the efforts that resulted in the discovery of cosmic X-rays and was a key participant in pioneering investigations of the interplanetary medium.

Professor Claude R. Canizares, director of MIT's Center for Space Research, described Dr. Rossi in a statement as "one of the giants of modern physics and astrophysics.

"Prior to his arrival at MIT, he made seminal contributions to cosmic ray and elementary particle physics, inventing many of the basic experimental techniques that are still in use in every major laboratory. At MIT, his cosmic ray work continued, but much of his energy was devoted to opening new windows on the universe," Professor Canizares continued.

"He is rightfully called the grandfather of high energy astrophysics, being largely responsible for starting X-ray astronomy, as well as the study of interplanetary plasma. Each of these is now a rich and exciting enterprise. His textbooks, models of clarity, have been used by generations of physics students. Not least, he was a model of scientific integrity and personal warmth who touched deeply all those privileged to work with and know him. He will be sorely missed."

Bruno Benedetto Rossi was born in Venice, Italy, in 1905. He studied at the University of Padova and later at the University of Bologna, from which he received the degree of Doctor of Physics in 1927. Four years later he became a professor of physics at the University of Padova, a position he held until he was dismissed by the Fascists. He left Italy in 1938.

After a period in Denmark and England, Dr. Rossi came to the United States in 1939 to work as a research associate at the University of Chicago. The following year he was appointed an associate professor of physics at Cornell University where he stayed until 1943, when he joined the staff of the Los Alamos laboratory. He was appointed a professor of physics at MIT in 1946 and became an Institute Professor, a rank reserved for scholars of special distinction, in 1966. He retired in 1970.

Dr. Rossi was a member of many international scientific academies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the Accademia dei Lincei.

His honors included the US Medal of Science, the Gold Medal of the Italian Physical Society, the International Feltrinelli Prize of the Accademia dei Lincei, the Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Elliott Cresson Gold Medal awarded by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, and the Wolf Prize in Physics.

Dr. Rossi began working on cosmic rays in 1929 when only a few scientists were interested in the subject. In that year he invented the first electronic circuit for recording the simultaneous occurrence of three or more electrical pulses. This circuit, widely known as the "Rossi coincidence circuit," proved not only to be one of the fundamental electronic devices for experimental high energy nuclear physics, but also to be a basic element of modern computers.

In 1958 Dr. Rossi focused attention on the potential value of direct measurements by space probes of the ionized interplanetary gas. He and his collaborators developed a new detector for such measurements, and in an experiment conducted aboard the Explorer X satellite in 1961 they discovered the magnetopause, the boundary of the region of space dominated by the earth's far magnetic field.

In 1960 Dr. Rossi initiated an exploratory search for cosmic X-rays. This led to the discovery in 1962 of the great Scorpio X-ray source, the first nonsolar source of cosmic x-rays to be observed.

Dr. Rossi leaves his wife, Nora (Lombroso) of Cambridge; three children, Florence Moloney of Sunnyvale, Calif., Frank Rossi of Boston, and Linda Rossi of New York City; and two grandchildren, Nina Yager of Austin, Tex., and Thomas Moloney of Sunnyvale.

A scholarship fund in his memory is being established in the Department of Physics at MIT.

A version of this
article appeared in the
December 1, 1993

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
38, Number
16).


Topics: Obituaries

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