Charles Townes recalls why Professor Rabi supported his work at Columbia

Interviewed by Finn Aaserud, 1987

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Townes:

Rabi has very strong ideas. Rabi is a very wise man in many ways and I admire him, but he also — he has very strong opinions. And I know perfectly well what Rabi's thinking was. I believe I know perfectly well what his thinking was. He felt molecules were really not very interesting, and not really physics; that's chemistry, and it's not really physics. Real physics is nuclei, high energy physics. And solid state even he felt wasn't very interesting. Columbia never had very much solid state physics. But Columbia had a microwave lab, being well-supported by the armed services and the Signal Corps, and he felt he needed some notable research going on in the microwave lab. This was an active field and interesting a lot of people, but I think he kind of looked down on it as kind of dirty stuff, that molecules are too complicated, and not fundamental and so on. But it's OK, it's pretty good, and so, he needed a person like me. So that's the reason I got hired. Now, it was a good opportunity in that they already had equipment there and a big laboratory and it was well run and well financed, and I could go ahead and work.