Harald H. Rossi was born in Vienna, Austria in 1917 and, due to the impending conflict in Europe, immigrated to the United States where he obtained a Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins University in 1942. He served in the US Army during WWII where he met Gioacchino Failla who asked him to join him at Columbia University to work on the Manhattan Project in the Radiological Research Laboratory. During that time, he developed improved methods of radiation dosimetry and was involved in measurements of the early nuclear tests.
After the war, Dr. Failla appointed him to the Columbia University staff where he remained for the rest of his career, eventually succeeding Failla as Professor of Radiology and Director of the Radiation Research Laboratory.
Dr. Rossi loved instrument design and was instrumental in the evolution of the new field of microdosimetry which is now essential for radiation protection and effective delivery of radiotherapy.
In the 1960’s, Dr. Rossi fostered a collaborative effort with Brookhaven National Laboratory, resulting in, among other findings, the identification of high neutron RBE at low doses. Further investigations of the relationship between RBE and dose was a continuing interest with important implications for risk assessment, understanding specific action mechanisms of ionizing radiation and explaining the biological effectiveness of different radiations.
His seminal work on neutron RBE was critical to understanding and resolving issues in radiation epidemiology arising from problems with dosimetry in A-bomb survivors at Hiroshima because of the larger neutron component as compared to Nagasaki. During his long and distinguished career, he served on a numerous national and international scientific and review bodies, committees and panels. He was a member of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) from its inception in 1964. and delivered the prestigious NCRP Lauriston S. Taylor Lecture in 1984. He provided invaluable assistance and counsel to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Dr. Rossi was President or the Radiation Research Society from 1974-75 and received the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Health Physics Society in 1987. Harald passed away in 2000, at 82 years old, after a long battle with heart disease.