Norman Ramsey, Nobel Prize Winning Physicist, Dies at 96

Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former Harvard professor Norman Ramsey has died at the age of 96 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, his wife Ellie has confirmed.

Ramsey died Friday, leaving behind a wide-reaching legacy of work that led to many advancements in physics that still remain relevant today. In addition to innovations in magnetic resonance that paved the way for the development of devices like MRI machines, Ramsey’s work in atomic spectroscopy was pivotal in the field:

In 1949, when he was at Harvard, Dr. Ramsey discovered a way to improve the technique’s accuracy: exposing the atoms and molecules to the magnetic fields only briefly as they entered and left the apparatus. His new approach — which Dr. Ramsey called the separated oscillatory fields method, but which is often simply referred to as the Ramsey method — is widely used today.

Ramsey- who, true facts, developed what is now known as the Ramsey method- is also well-known for his work in developing highly accurate atomic clocks. Since 1967, the clocks have been used to “define the exact span of a second, not as a fraction of the time it takes Earth to revolve around the Sun, but as 9,192,631,770 radiation cycles of a cesium atom.”

Harvard Physics professor Howard M. Georgi spoke to the school newspaper’s website about the year Ramsey won his Nobel Prize, saying:

“Each year, after the Nobel Prize in physics was announced, he would gather with [students in] the Senior Common Room and explain what the prize was about,” Georgi wrote in an email. “In 1989, he had to cancel—because he had received the Nobel Prize himself.”

Another colleague at Harvard said Ramsey had a “messianic quality when talking about his work.”