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Harrison M. Randall

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Harrison M. Randall

Harrison McAllister Randall (1870–1969) was an American physicist whose leadership from 1915 to 1941 brought the University of Michigan to international prominence in experimental and theoretical physics.

Prior to 1910, the Michigan Physics Department had focused on precision metrology. Dr. Randall, who took all of his degrees at Michigan, initially specialized in that subject. In 1902, his PhD thesis measured the coefficient of expansion of quartz. During his 1910-11 sabbatical year in Tübingen, Germany he met Friedrich Paschen and became an expert in infrared spectroscopy. Randall then introduced these techniques to the University of Michigan.

Theoretical physics

Randall and his Michigan collaborators produced molecular spectra of unprecedented quality and detail. At that time Walter Colby was the only resident theorist, so, with Randall’s encouragement, Colby recruited conference provided short courses from prominent theorists, including Bohr, Dirac, Fermi, Heisenberg, Pauli and others, to audiences that sometimes exceeded 100.


Randall oversaw Michigan’s substantial growth in atomic physics and nuclear physics. In the mid-1930s he secured funding to build what was then the world's most energetic cyclotron.

Randall was elected to the presidency of the American Physical Society in 1937. He remained as chairman of the Michigan physics department until his retirement in 1941,[1] but continued for another 25 years to explore the use of infrared spectroscopy in biophysics.


  1. ^ "Harrison McAllister Randall | Faculty History Project". Retrieved 2013-05-15. 


  • Harrison M. Randall, On the Coefficient of Expansion of Quartz, Phys Rev 20. pp 1–37. (1905) (this is a refinement of his 1902 thesis experiment)
  • H. M. Randall, Infrared Spectroscopy at Michigan, Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol. 44, pp 97–103 (1954) (overview of work in Ann Arbor)
  • H. H. Nielsen, A Half-Century of Infrared Spectroscopy, Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol. 50, p. 1147 (1960) (Ives medal encomium for Harrison M. Randall)
  • H. M. Randall and D. W. Smith, Infrared Spectroscopy in Biological Research, Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol. 53, 1086–1092 (example of work done after his retirement)
  • Ralph A. Sawyer, Obituary: Harrison M. Randall applied infrared studies to Bacteria, Physics Today, Vol. 23, #1, pp 127-128 (1970)
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