OSA | Living History

Harrison McAllister Randall

Harrison McAllister Randall was born in Burr Oak, Michigan in 1870. He earned a B.Ph. and M.A. at the University of Michigan and started his teaching career at West Bay City High School in 1894. From 1895 to 1900 he taught in East Saginaw High School, returning to the University of Michigan in 1900 for his doctorate and to begin an academic career at Michigan.

Randall investigated the arc spectra of metals using the high resolution of gratings, and contributed to the then emerging theory of atomic structure. In 1909-1910, he went on sabbatical to study at Tubingen University in Germany where he began his study of infrared physics.

Returning to Michigan, he developed the field of infrared spectroscopy. This made possible extensive theoretical investigations of molecular structure and gave the laboratory its international reputation. The work extended from 1910 to 1941. While pursuing his research Randall also initiated the renowned summer symposia in theoretical physics at Michigan. These provided physicists with a forum in which to discuss problems arising with the then new quantum theory.

When Randall retired in 1941, the University of Michigan Regents named the newly erected east physics building the Harrison M. Randall Laboratory of Physics. It was here that Randall continued his research, embarking on his third field of major interest in 1948 at the age of 78. With Donald W. Smith, a University of Wisconsin bacteriologist who had studied at Michigan, Randall developed a means of identifying certain strains of mycobacteria through the unique infrared spectra of some of their chemicals.

Randall was a fellow of APS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and OSA. He was president of APS in 1937, and a vice president of AAAS in 1925. He received OSA’s Ives Medal for his work in infrared spectroscopy. He was also elected an Honorary Member of OSA. Randall was awarded an honorary degree by Ohio State University in 1956 and at the age of 95 in 1966 received an honorary Doctor of Law Degree from the University of Michigan.

Randall died November 10, 1969.

Document Created: 12 Jun 2013
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2019