GEORGE YURI RAINICH
1886 - 1968
George Yuri Rainich was born March 25, 1886 in Odessa, Russia, the family name being Rabinovich. He studied at the Universities of Odessa (1904 and 1907-8), Gouttingen (1905-06) and Munich (1906-07), obtaining his first degree at Odessa in 1908. The classical background he acquired over these years he kept alive and valued highly all his life.
His prime interest had become mathematics and in 1913 he obtained the degree of Magister of Pure Mathematics at the University of Kazan. He remained at that University as Privat Docent until 1917, In that year he married Sophie Kramkowsky. From 1917 until 1922 he was a Professor at the University of Odessa. These were turbulent years indeed and in 1922 he and Sophie left Odessa by ship for Istanbul, never to return. It was only after some months of severe hardship that good fortune brought them to the United States.
From 1923 to 1926 Yuri was a Johnston Scholar at John Hopkins. Here he shortened his name to Rainich. His chief interest had become relativity theory. In 1926 he came to the University of Michigan as an assistant professor. He became associate professor in 1930 and full professor in 1934.
He was a most distinguished member of the Mathematics faculty here, and was for many years chairman of the doctoral committee. In the year 1933-36 he was a member of the Council of the American Mathematical Society.
In 1950 he published the book Mathematics of Relativity. He retired to become emeritus professor in 1956. He spent the next year at Brown University on the staff of Mathematical Reviews. For several years following he was a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame.
After the death of Sophie in 1963, Yuri returned to Ann Arbor, and resumed activity by conducting a seminar in Relativity Theory with a large attendance of both mathematicians and physicists. In 1966 he attended a Relativity Conference in London. He was working on a revision of his book of 1950 until his final illness. He had also long been interested in the simpler field of geometry, and with the collaboration of one of his Notre Dame students he wrote Geometry for Teachers--published just this year.
It should be mentioned that in 1930 Yuri had been able to bring his mother from Russia to Ann Arbor, where she lived until her death in 1953. In 1964 Yuri established the Rainich Memorial Fellowship in memory of his mother and Sophie. This is intended to assist needy students--especially foreign and Negro students.
Yuri died on October 10, 1968, survived by his daughter Mrs. H. J. (Alice) Nichols, two grandchildren, Kathryn and Michael, and a brother, Dr. Michael Rabinovich of Moscow.
Yuri's interests within mathematics were very wide. For American Men of Science (1955) he listed six branches but most of his papers and his greatest contributions to relativity. In a series of papers in the 1920's he showed that the mathematics of the general theory, which Einstein had made to supply a model for gravitation, also supplied one for electromagnetism. This result is gaining fresh attention at the present date.
Yuri's wide technical interests were matched by his interest in students. He initiated and conducted for many years a seminar for beginning graduate students in which many were stimulated to their first original work. There was encouragement and appreciation for every "reasonable enthusiasm." To his teaching Yuri Rainich made every subject alive, because so often it was in his hands undergoing a fresh and elegant simplification.
Yuri had an abiding interest in not only classical but modern linguistics. It was part of the Rainich folklore that he could read anything published in Europe. He once attended a course in S.F-ricrit.
Yuri always presented an intellectual challenge, but this did not contradict a genuine interest in people of humble mind, among whom he often made friends. The Rainich home was a locus of intellectual and social life to be warmly remembered by all who shared it.
Yuri Rainich represented to us the best features of a world now past: the intellectual commitment, wide scope, grace and humor of the Europe of the old universities - the Europe this century has destroyed. In many dimensions, his passing is a very great loss indeed.
K. B. Leisenring