Saturday, May 05, 2012

Small Relationship between the Late Physicist Tonomura and Me

On Wednesday, May 2, mass media reported the following news:
Physicist Tonomura dies at 70
A fellow at electronics giant Hitachi Ltd. tipped as a future Nobel Prize winner for years, Akira Tonomura died of pancreatic cancer early on May 2, 2012, at a hospital in Saitama Prefecture. He was 70. Tonomura was known for developing electron holography for observing microscopic structures in matter using the wave nature of electrons and confirming the so-called Aharonov-Bohm effect, the existence of which had long been disputed among physicists. (Kyodo)
An obituary of Tonomura also appeared at the Web site of European Superconductivity News Forum. Besides his achievements described in the above report, the experiment in which Tonomura and his coworkers showed the quantum interference of single electrons is famous because Robert Crease mentioned it in his book "The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science" (Random House, 2003; paperback, 2004). We can see the movie of this experiment in the video of Tonomura's lecture delivered at the Royal Institution in 1994. It is quite a pity that the possibility of Tonomura's receiving Nobel Prize was lost by his passing.

I exchanged email messages with him once. Within one and a half hours, he replied to my pointing out of a minor error in his review paper written in Japanese, showing his sincere personality. In order to make him learn, if he wanted to do so, what a person I am, I appended the URL of my homepage at the end of my message. So, he browsed the homepage and, unexpectedly, wrote words to praise it (regrettably, I am not updating the homepage these years). I would like to express my condolence by quoting our email messages below:

From: Tatsuo Tabata
To: Akira Tonomura
Date: Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2005 08:01
Subject: Some words about "Quantum mechanics: Japanese contributions to its fundamentals"

Dear Dr. Tonomura,

I read your article published in Butsuri Vol. 60, No. 1, p. 3 and learned much from it. I am only afraid that the expression, "S. Weinberg who made the final theory and got Nobel Prize," in line 8 of the second paragraph, Chapter 1, is not correct. Surely, Weinberg published a book entitled, "Dreams of a Final Theory" (1992; paperback 1994). However, such a theory is yet dreams of physicists, just as the whole title of his book indicates. What is made by Weinberg and Abdus Salam independently and extended by Sheldon Glashow is the unification of electromagnetism and the weak interaction, and it is part of what is called the Standard Model.

We hear that the purpose of the series of papers "Physics in Japan: The Past 100 Years and the Prospect," of which yours is one, is "to tell the public about the deep interest and charm of physics." Then, it would extremely be important to describe correctly even about minute points. I would like to recommend you to publish a correction in the next issue.

Tatsuo Tabata
Home page,

(Originally written in Japanese)

From: Akira Tonomura
To: Tatsuo Tabata
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2005 09:28
Subject: Re: Some words about "Quantum mechanics: Japanese contributions to its fundamentals"

Dear Professor Tabata,

Thank you for your email message in which you pointed out an error in my paper. Surely, the expression, 'S. Weinberg who "made" the final theory and got Nobel Prize,' is incorrect. Passages of the paper have been much modified by the instruction of the editorial committee that senior high school students should be able to understand them. Therefore, I would like to consult a member of the committee to publish a correction.

I have browsed your home page and been much impressed to learn that it contains newest information not only about science but also other wide fields. I hope that your activity proceeds further.

Thanking you again for your message,

Akira Tonomura

(Translated from Japanese by T. T.)