Tuesday, March 09, 2010


At the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Yu-na Kim of South Korea took the gold medal of women's figure skating competition with a world record score; and Mao Asada of Japan, the silver. Both of them played beautifully and are only 19 years old. Further, they have been rivals each other since quite young days. Thus, their rivalry will perhaps continue through coming years. This reminds me of the relationship between Hideki Yukawa and Shi'nichiro Tomonaga.

Before his publishing of the paper on the meson theory, Yukawa had the days of slowdown in his research at the Department of Physics, Osaka University. Then Hidetsugu Yagi, the then Head of the Department and known by Yagi antenna, said to him, "We had the plan of recruiting Tomonaga but your brother's request compelled us to adopt you. Therefore, we should be in trouble if you do not work harder than Tomonaga." These words stimulated Yukawa soon to complete the research on the prediction of the existence of the meson (this story has been translated and adapted from [1]). He got Nobel Prize in Physics for that work in 1949. Tomonaga shared the same award in 1965 with Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman for their work in quantum electrodynamics.

I also had some rivals in studying during my schoolboy days. They were mostly girls. Among them, one has been the enduring rival, though our specialties have been quite different. She studied Japanese literature in Edo period and is now Professor Emeritus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, while I am a little proud of publications in many different academic journals ranging from physics to psychology. I rarely meet her or exchange messages with her but am grateful to her for continued rivalry.

(Noticing of [1] owes to the discussion we have had at Osaka Science Museum among the members of "Citizens' Study Group on Hideki Yukawa.")

Note added later: Mao Asada beat Kim Yu-na to win her second title at the World Figure Skating Championships held in Turin, Italy, on March 27, 2010.

  1. R. Utiyama's writing, quoted in: "Light" into after-war darkness, Asahi Shimbun, special pages for its 120th anniversary (February 13, 1999) in Japanese.


Chiara said...

I agree that competition is stimulating: it allows people to obtain better results and it should always be present. However I find that in today's academia, rivalry is frequently pushed too much, to exploit younger collaborators as much as possible. I don't know how it was for Yukawa and Tomonaga, but I think that competition should also be accompanied, to some level, by a sense of "being comrades" and of sharing some aims, interests or feelings, even though only indirectly.... But maybe this is just an expression of my weakness.

Ted said...

To Chiara,

Thanks for your insightful comment. Not only in today's academia, as you pointed out, but also in Yagi's words to Yukawa, we find the intent "to exploit younger collaborators as much as possible." Yukawa and Tomonaga were comrades as well as competitors. A proof for this exists in letters exchanged between them. Tomonaga used the functional form of "Yukawa potential" earlier than Yukawa to analyze the scattering cross sections of the neutron from the proton by the use of Heisenberg's nuclear-force theory. Yukawa learned about it from Tomonaga's letters to get one of the hints on his meson theory (Yukawa mentions about "calculations by Mr. Tomonaga" in one of footnotes to his meson-theory paper). I'm thinking to write about their letters that referred to "Yukawa potential."

My recent essays on Yukawa owe much to the discussion we have had at Osaka Science Museum these years among the members of "Citizens' Study Group on Hideki Yukawa." I'm going to attach the statement about this at the end of those essays.

My next essay on Yukawa might come much later, because the web site "Yukawa Wiki," where we have deposited the results of our discussion, now has trouble, making it impossible for us to gain access to it.