Monday, December 29, 2008

Kazumi Maki (1936−2008)

Kazumi Maki in August 1995.

In response to my season's greetings to Dr. and Mrs. Kazumi Maki, I received a piece of sad news from Masako, Kazumi's wife, today. She wrote me the following story (rewritten here in my words):

"Kazumi got surgery for colon cancer last year and well recovered. He traveled to Romania, Uzbekistan, Germany and Japan. In May of this year, he refused anymore treatment and went to his annual tour to Europe. He was working in Dresden as usual, but on July 26 he became unable to move. Masako brought him back to California on August 10. Just after a month, on September 10, he departed his life. She buried his remains at the same place as his parents on October 15."

Kazumi was one of my best friends since my student days at Kyoto University. He became a professor at Tohoku University at the record age of 32 in 1968. In 1974 he went to United States to become a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) College.

The USC College News carries an obituary of Kazumi [1]. It begins by these words: "Kazumi Maki, world-renowned physicist in the field of superconductivity, has died. He was 72. Maki was among an elite group of Japanese physicists who during the 20th century fostered the development of physics as a science. He had been a USC College professor of physics and astronomy for 34 years."

Pamela Johnson, the author of the obituary, cites the words of Kazumi's colleagues about the speed of his thought, the ability of quick calculation, speaking several languages, devotion to classical music, playing violin, and singing an opera usually in German, sometimes while skipping. Yes! I knew all these features of him since our student days. One thing I did not know is this: "After earning his Ph.D. in physics at Kyoto University, Maki arrived in the United States in the 1960s and worked as a research associate with the famous physicist Yoichiro Nambu at the University of Chicago." This was his career before coming to Tohoku University.

Johnson also writes, "Among his many honors were a Fulbright Travel Grant; a Nishina Memorial Prize, given to those who have achieved exceptional results in physics; a Guggenheim fellowship; and an American Physical Society fellowship. Over the years, he also earned a USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship, and an additional major international prize in physics, the John Bardeen Prize, given for theoretical work that provides significant insights on the nature of superconductivity leading to verifiable predictions."

Before entering Kyoto University, Kazumi finished technology course of a senior high school in Kyoto by majoring in electrical engineering. This is a rather unusual route to enter a university, but reminds us of the great physicist P. A. M. Dirac's personal history. Dirac graduated in electrical engineering at Bristol University before reading mathematics at Cambridge University [2]. Kazumi's later success in research might have partly come from this similarity to Dirac.

At Kyoto University, Kazumi and I were in the same year class until the middle of the third year. He used to take the seat at the center of the first row in every lesson class. I often asked him to teach me about some points I had not understood in our lessons of foreign languages, mathematics, physics and so on; and he never failed to give me clear answers or useful suggestions.

Kazumi speedily read much Western classic literature either in Japanese translation or in the original even using breaks between lectures. He displayed his quick thinking not only in exams but also in chats with classmates by inserting witty comments. He eagerly attended the course on French literature given by Professor Ryoichi Ikushima, actively joined the chorus club of the university, and had a wish to belong to the orchestra club, too. (The source of most of this paragraph is [3].)

Kazumi and I exchanged letters while I spent spring and summer vacations in my home town (Kazumi lived in Kyoto with his parents). In the autumn of our fourth year at the university, he got a disease (meningitis), and could not attend lectures for a few months, so that he graduated from the university one year later than I.

In his graduate course, Kazumi studied theoretical nuclear and particle physics under Professors Minoru Kobayashi and Hideki Yukawa. Then he changed his research field to low temperature physics according to the advice of Dr. Toshihiko Tsuneto, who also had studied under Yukawa and been to United States. Thus, Kazumi had quite a broad background of research not restricted within superconductivity.

When I was a young researcher at the Radiation Center of Osaka Prefecture, I was a subscriber to the journal Nuclear Science Abstracts. Besides searching papers in the field of my interest in this journal, I often looked for Kazumi's name on the author-index pages, and constantly found his new paper on "dirty superconductors" or something like that. His productive life was good stimulus to me.

Kazumi's name first became famous by "Maki term," which reflected the increase in the normal-electron conductivity induced by super conducting fluctuations [4, 5]. Once browsing the index of the book written by Michael Tinkham [5] at a bookshop, I was surprised to find that his name was cited on pages as many as those that cited the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Lev Landau. I was also glad to find his name just appearing in David Mermin's funny essay [6].

In August 1995, Professor Naoki Toyota, an ex-student of Kazumi's at Tohoku University, invited the latter to deliver a lecture on superconductivity at Osaka Prefecture University (OPU), where I was working. After the lecture, Naoki, a few other members of OPU and I enjoyed talking with Kazumi over beer and sushi dishes. This became my final occasion of seeing him.

On his Christmas card to me, Kazumi always wrote about his academic travel of the year to many countries, often with a fancy multi-color pencil. I wish his peaceful rest in heaven.

  1. P. J. Johnson, In Memoriam: Kazumi Maki, 72: The award-winning physicist in USC College was a classical music aficionado who played the violin, USC College News (September, 2008).
  2. J. Daintith et al. ed., Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists, 2nd ed., Vol. 1, p. 228 (IOP Publishing, Bristol, 1994).
  3. M. Yata, private communication (2008).
  4. K. Maki, Prog. Theoret. Phys. (Kyoto) Vol. 39, p. 897; Vol. 40, p. 193 (1968).
  5. M. Tinkham, Introduction to Superconductivity (Krieger, 1975); 2nd Edition (Dover, 2004; originally published in 1996).
  6. N. D. Mermin, E pluribus boojum: the physicist as neologist, p. 6 in "Boojums All the Way Through" (Cambridge University Press, 1990). The essay was first published in Physics Today, No. 4, p. 46 (1981).
(Final revision, January 12, 2009)

Notes Added later

I have reminded myself of the fact that at our meeting in 1995 Kazumi told me that he worked under Nambu after finishing graduate courses. This reminding was aided by the memory of my refraining from saying to him at that time, "Then you had no language problems in discussing with the Japanese-born professor." Kazumi was not a person to have any difficulty in speaking in English.

Kazumi was awarded Nishina Memorial Prize in 1972 for his theoretical work on superconductors. His winning of John Bardeen Prize 2006 was for his work on gapless quasiparticle excitations due to pair-breaking and for elucidating the role of fluctuations.