Bruno B. RossiBruno B. Rossi, Institute professor emeritus and professor of physics emeritus, died Sunday at his home in Cambridge. He played a leading role in the study of cosmic rays and in the development of space physics.
Rossi, who had not been well for several years, died of cardiac arrest.
Professor Claude R. Canizares, director of the Center for Space Research, said, "He is rightfully known as the grandfather of high energy astrophysics, being largely responsible for starting X-ray astronomy, as well as the study of interplanetary plasma."
In the 1930s, Rossi's experimental investigations of cosmic rays and their interactions with matter laid the foundation for high energy particle physics. He also authored or co-authored seven books, including his autobiography, Moments in the Life of a Scientist, and more than 100 technical papers.
In addition, Rossi was known as an inspiring teacher, who numbered among his pupils many leading scientists in universities and industry. "His textbooks, models of clarity, have been used by generations of physics students. ... He was a model of scientific integrity and personal warmth who touched deeply all those privileged to work with and know him," Canizares said.
During World War II, Rossi made major contributions to the work of the Los Alamos Laboratory. Following the war, he worked with a committee of scientists who developed new materials for teaching high school physics.
As a member of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences and other advisory groups, he contributed to the formulation of public policy in the scientific exploration of space. In his space research he led efforts that resulted in the discovery of cosmic X-rays and was a key participant in pioneering investigations of the interplanetary medium.
Canizares said, "Prior to his arrival at MIT, he made seminal contributions to cosmic ray and elementary particle physics, inventing many of the basic experimental techniques that are still in use in every major laboratory."
"At MIT, his cosmic ray work continued, but much of his energy was devoted to opening new windows on the universe. Each of these is now a rich and exciting enterprise," Canizares continued.
Rossi was born in Venice, Italy in 1905. He studied at the University of Padova and at the University of Bologna, where he received his doctorate in 1927. He was appointed professor of physics at Padova four years later and taught there until he was dismissed by the Fascists. He left Italy in 1938.
Rossi came to the United States in 1939 to work as a research associate at the University of Chicago. The following year he was appointed an associate professor at Cornell University; he left Cornell in 1943 to work at Los Alamos.
In 1946, Rossi became a professor of physics at MIT. He was named Institute professor in 1966. He retired in 1970.
Rossi's honors included the Medal of Science, the Gold Medal of the Italian Physical Society, the International Feltrinelli Prize of the Accademia dei Lincei, the Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Elliott Cresson Gold Medal awarded by the Franklin Institute, and the Wolf Prize in physics.
Rossi is survived by his wife Nora (Lombroso), three children, and two grandchildren. A viewing will be held today from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Donald J. MacDonald and Son Funeral Home in Watertown.
A memorial service will be held at MIT on a date to be announced. A scholarship in his name is being established in the Department of Physics.