Born in Zürich, Switzerland. He was educated there and at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, also in Zürich. Initially studying engineering he soon changed to physics. Graduating in 1927 he continued his physics studies at the University of Leipzig, gaining his doctorate in 1928. He remained in German academia, studying with Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi. In 1933 he left Germany, emigrating to work at Stanford University in 1934. In 1939, he became naturalized citizen of the United States. During WW II he worked on atomic energy at Los Alamos National Laboratory, before resigning to join the radar project at Harvard University. Post-war he concentrated on investigations into nuclear induction and nuclear magnetic resonance, which are the underlying principles of MRI.
He and Edward Mills Purcell were awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics for "their development of new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements." 1 In 19541955, he served for one unsatisfactory year as the first Director-General of CERN. In 1961, he was made Max Stein Professor of Physics at Stanford University.
1: - Sohlman, M (Ed.) Nobel Foundation directory 2003. Vastervik, Sweden: AB CO Ekblad; 2003.