Leo James Rainwater

Leo James Rainwater (December 9, 1917 - May 31, 1986) was an American physicist who won a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1975 for his part in determining the asymmetrical shapes of certain atomic nuclei.

Leo James Rainwater (December 9, 1917 - May 31, 1986) was an American physicist. He obtained the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1975 for his part in determining the asymmetrical shapes of certain atomic nuclei together 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.

Rainwater was born in Council, Idaho but later moved to Hanford, California after the death of his father to the great influenza epidemic of 1918. He received his bachelor’s degree from California Institute of Technology in 1939 as a physics major, then went on to earn a PhD at Columbia University in 1946. During World War II, he worked on the atomic bomb project. In 1949, he began developing his theory that, contrary to what was then believed, not all atomic nuclei are spherical. His ideas were later tested and confirmed by Bohr’s and Mottelson’s experiments. Rainwater also contributed to the scientific understanding of x-rays and participated in Atomic Energy Commission and naval research projects. He joined the physics faculty at Columbia in 1952, where he was named Pupin Professor of Physics in 1982.

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