July 22, 1902|
Weehawken Township, New Jersey
|Died||July 26, 1967(aged 65)|
|Doctoral advisor||Albert Potter Wills|
|Doctoral students||Robert C. Richardson, Jean Brossel, Luke Vano|
|Known for||Bitter electromagnet|
Bitter invented the Bitter plate used in resistive magnets (also called Bitter electromagnets). He also developed the water cooling method inherent to the design of Bitter magnets. Prior to this development, there was no way to cool electromagnets, limiting their maximum flux density.
Education and early career
Under a National Research Council fellowship, Bitter studied gases at Caltech with Robert Andrews Millikan, from 1928 to 1930. While at Caltech, he married Alice Coomara. She had been a moderately successful singer working under the stage name Ratan Devi.
The following year, Bitter returned to America and his work at Westinghouse. Later in 1934, he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and continued to consult for Westinghouse.
Career at MIT
Bitter joined the Department of Mining and Metallurgy as an associate professor in 1934. (The department is now known as Materials Science and Engineering.)
While at MIT, he developed the Bitter electromagnet which was/is the most powerful electromagnet design. He established a magnet laboratory in 1938, where he built a solenoid magnet that produced a constant field of 100,000 gauss (10 teslas).
He also did work in the first characterization of the Zeeman effect with George Harrison.
During the Second World War, Bitter worked for the Naval Bureau of Ordinance. He often traveled to England to work finding out ways to demagnetize British ships to protect them from a new type of German mine. This new type of German mine used a compass needle to detonate itself. The mine, dropped from the air, would sink to the bottom of the river and sit there with its magnetic needle aligned to the Earth's magnetic field at that particular spot. When a British ship passed by over it, the mass of the ship caused the magnetic needle inside the mine to move slightly. The movement was enough to detonate the mine and cause an underwater explosion powerful enough to send up huge geysers. These geysers would literally lift a ship out of the water and severely damage the ship's infrastructure. In his autobiography "Magnets, The Education Of A Physicist", he referred to this unique work as "Degaussing the fleet". (It is possible that he worked with Francis Crick, who was researching the same problem.)
After the War, Bitter returned to MIT and joined the faculty of the physics department. He became a full professor in 1951, and from 1956 to 1960, he served as the associate dean of MIT's school of science. From 1962 to 1965, Bitter was the housemaster of Ashdown House, MIT's graduate dormitory.
The Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory, formerly a national laboratory, in Cambridge is named in his honor.
- Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory website
- A Magnet Laboratory. 1959 educational film from the Physical Sciences Study Committee featuring Francis Bitter.