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Rao Yutai (Chinese: 饒毓泰; December 1, 1891 - October 16, 1968) was a Chinese physicist, one of the founders of modern physics in China.
Rao was born in Jiangxi Province. His father was a government officer in Qing Dynasty. He studied Chinese classic literature in childhood. In 1905, he went to study in a high school in Shanghai. Dr. Hu Shih taught his English.
In 1913, Rao went to study in the United States, sponsored by the government. He was first recruited to the University of California, and moved to the University of Chicago, He obtained his bachelor in physics in winter 1917. He enrolled in the graduate school at Harvard University in 1918. Later, he moved to Yale University and then Princeton University. He received his master's degree from Princeton in 1921, and his doctorate in 1922. His dissertation was on the emission efficiency of low-pressure electrical arch, under the supervision of K.T. Compton.
He returned to China and was recruited to Nankai University, where he founded the department of physics and served as chair. His students included Ta-You Wu, Wu Daren, Yung-huai Kuo, Jiang Zehan, Ma Shijun, Shen Youzhen, Shiing-shen Chern and Zheng Huazhi.
In 1929, Rao went to do research at University of Leipzig in Germany. He returned in 1932 and became a fellow in the physics institute of Peking Research Institute. He later became the chair of the physics department at Peking University, and was promoted to the dean of school of science in 1935. He was the chair of the physics department at the National Southwestern Associated University during Sino-Japanese War. From 1944 to 1947, he studies the molecular spectra in the United States, in collaboration with A. H. Nielsen.
In 1949, Rao chose to stay at Peking University, upon the establishment of the People's Republic of China. He continued to serve as dean and chair of physics until 1951. He was elected as member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1955.
Rao was severely persecuted in Cultural Revolution. He committed suicide on the University campus on October 16, 1968. He was rehabilitated in 1978.
In 2000, Chinese Physical Society established five prizes, in recognition of five pioneers of modern physics in China. Rao Yutai Prize is awarded to physicists in Optics, Acoustics, Atomic and Molecular physics.