My grandfather came to the US as a baby. He grew up and spent most of his life in New York City, but lived elsewhere off and on, including various locations in Europe and Cambridge, MA, in the US. He lived with my grandmother in the same apartment near Columbia University on the Upper West Side of New York for over 40 years, until the end of his life in 1988.
He basically abandoned his Orthodox Jewish heritage in favor of science as his God, but then requested an Orthodox burial, so you never know what people believe at any given time.
He was a somewhat distant grandfather, rarely talking about personal matters – he seemed far more interested in world events. But one occasionally got glimpses of his sense of humor and he and my grandmother had many friends and threw great parties.
He was a physicist, teaching at Columbia University and working with magnetic resonance. His work led to the development of the CAT scan and he helped develop the atom bomb at Los Alamos. He also defended Oppenheimer during his security clearance trial, and yet was never called before a panel himself, even though he had been a card-carrying Marxist in his youth. These are some of the complexities of his life.
The images on the panel are icons of my memories of him:
- The central drawing is the functional diagram for his original magnetic resonance experiment.
- A martini glass – My brother and I used to serve hors d’oeuvres and cocktails at parties at their apartment; martinis were abundant.
- His glasses – He was never without them.
- A mushroom cloud – He worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, NM, (but refused to live there during the project) and famously defended Oppenheimer during his security hearing in 1952. He sat on the first Atomic Energy Commission General Advisory Commission starting in 1946, recommending against the development of the hydrogen bomb, and was Science Advisor to President Eisenhower. He was involved in the founding of both Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US and CERN in Switzerland.
- A comb – Always in his jacket pocket: He used to wrap the cellophane from cigarette packs over it and hum “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” through it like a kazoo.
- A vest – He always wore a suit and rarely without a vest.
- LiCl – Lithium chloride: one of the compounds he used in the experiment that led to the creation of the molecular-beam magnetic-resonance detection method that earned him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944.
- NMR – Nucleomagnetic resonance, the theory that led to magnetic resonance imaging (the CAT scan).