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Kandarpa Narahari Rao (1921–2000)

Published onDec 01, 2000
Kandarpa Narahari Rao (1921–2000)

Kandarpa Narahari Rao, a member of the AAS since 1949, died in Madisonville, Kentucky on May 5, 2000. He was a long-time molecular spectroscopist and professor of physics at Ohio State University.

Rao was born in Kovvur (Andhra Pradesh), India, on September 5, 1921. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at Andrha University, earning his BSc in 1942 and his MSc a year later. Then he worked as a meteorologist with the Government Service in India before coming to the United States in 1946, as a graduate student under Gerhard Herzberg, then professor of spectroscopy at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago. Rao took all the regular graduate astronomy and astrophysics courses, worked with Herzberg in his spectroscopy laboratory; and did his PhD thesis on CO and CO+ (published in five papers in the Astrophysical Journal and Journal of Chemical Physics) under his supervision. Rao went to McDonald Observatory one summer to assist Belgian astrophysicist Pol Swings in his spectroscopic observations with the 82-inch reflector. Swings was then working on selective excitation of molecular emission lines in cometary spectra by fluorescence in sunlight.

After receiving his PhD in 1949, Rao worked from 1950 through 1952 at the National Physical Laboratory of India. Then he came back to America, with short-term research appointments at Duke University and the University of Tennessee, before becoming a research associate at Ohio State in 1954. He joined the Ohio State faculty as an associate professor in 1960, and was promoted to full professor in 1963.

Rao's research was centered on high-resolution infrared spectroscopy. He pioneered improvements in wavelength standards and advanced methods of achieving higher resolution. Rao published six books and over three hundred papers and articles, including six major review articles. At Ohio State he worked with forty-one students who received PhD degrees, thirty-six who received MS degrees, ten postdoctoral fellows, and thirty-four visiting scientists from many countries.

Rao had a long association with tbe Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy from its first issue in 1957. He started as assistant editor to Harald H. Nielsen, who founded it; Rao then became associate editor in 1961, and succeeded Nielsen as editor in 1971. He remained in that post until he stepped down in 1995, two years after he had retired as a professor emeritus. Rao had built up the volume of the journal by a factor of six and had processed over ten thousand papers. He was generally regarded as a stickler for getting everything right, to make every article clear and completely understandable to the readers. Rao was reasonable, even-handed, 'and hard working.

He was also the director and organizer of the International Symposia on Molecular Structure and Spectra, held on the Ohio State campus, now attended each summer by four to five hundred scientists from around the world. These symposia have been held annually for fifty-five years, with Rao playing a leading role for more than thirty of them. In his long career Rao received many awards and honors; perhaps the most significant to members of the AAS was the William A. Fowler Award of the Ohio Section of the APS in 1993. Rao had many good friends in the AAS.

He is survived by his widow, Syamala K. Rao, and their son, Mohan K. Rao, both physicians, and by three grandchildren.

An excellent obituary article written from the physicist's point of view has been published in the September 2000 issue of Physics Today.

Photo (available in PDF referenced below) courtesy of Donald Osterbrock

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