@Physicists, Family and Childhood
Norman Foster Ramsey Jr. born at
He married Elinor Jameson in 1940 and had four daughters. Elinor succumbed to cancer in 1983.
Later he married Ellie Welch of Brookline, Massachusetts.
Ramsey died on November 4, 2011 and was survived by his wife Ellie, his four daughters from his first marriage, and his stepdaughter and stepson from his second marriage.
Born on August 27, 1915 in Washington, DC, Norman Foster Ramsey Jr. was the son of Norman Foster Ramsey, a West Point educated military officer, and Minna Bauer Ramsey, a mathematics instructor.
Norman’s education was frequently interrupted when the family moved to new locations in the United States and abroad. At 15 he graduated from the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, high school as class president and at the top of his class.
After his schooling, he entered Columbia University in 1931, graduating at the top of his class, with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1935. This led to a scholarship to attend Cambridge University in England, where he earned a second bachelor’s degree, this time in physics.
During his years at Cambridge, he attended lectures by Ernest Rutherford, Paul Durac, and J.J. Thomson among others and was tutored by Maurice Gold Haber, who later became a close friend and director of Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The lectures at Cambridge, especially Rutherford’s, kindled in Norman an enthusiasm for experimental physics, particularly the study of molecular beams and he applied to do research for Ph.D. under Isidor Isaac Rabi in Columbia.
In 1940, Ramsey accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
During World War II, his research and development efforts on electromagnetic radiation and radar made vital contributions to navigation and to the detection of enemy aircraft and submarines. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the atomic bomb laboratory at Los Alamos during the war, recruited him to work there. In a Nobel autobiographical sketch, Dr. Ramsey wrote that he was chief of “the Delivery Group,” which was responsible for, among other things, the ballistics of the bomb and modifying airplanes to accommodate the bomb.
Ramsey left Los Alamos in October 1945 and resumed his academic career by returning to Columbia as an associate professor of physics. Here, he helped found the Brookhaven Laboratory on January 1, 1947. Ramsey agreed to serve as the head of its physics department, splitting his time with his duties at Columbia.
Norman later joined Harvard in 1947. While working at Harvard he invented the separated oscillatory fields method, also known as the Ramsey method.
His research helped lay the groundwork for nuclear magnetic resonance, whose applications include the M.R.I. technique now widely used for medical diagnosis.
Ramsey was honored by the Nobel committee in 1989 for his work leading to the ultra- precise cesium atomic clock and the hydrogen maser.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Ramsey received a number of awards such as the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1960 for his contribution to physics.
He received the Oersted Medal and the National Medal of Science in 1988.
He served as the president of the Universities Research Association during the 1960s and was involved in the design and construction of the Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois.
He served as the president of the American Physical Society in 1978.