Shoichi Sakata would have been 100 years old this year, and a conference celebrating his achievements in high-energy physics and beyond is underway here in Nagoya. The university president made brief introductory remarks, describing how, right after the war, Sakata introduced a democratically-inspired culture into the physics department, insisting on the right of young researchers to choose their own research paths independent of senior faculty, and permanently impacting the culture of physics (and beyond) at Nagoya University. There followed a talk reviewing Sakata’s most important work, including central contributions to the understanding of the muon, many of the hadrons, and the first two neutrinos. Unfortunately for Sakata, English publication of one of his most important papers (correctly identifying the muon as a decay product of an electrically-charged pion) was delayed by the war; another of his ideas (concerning the nature of hadrons) inspired many important developments, but was not itself correct; and a third idea (suggesting two neutrinos, which could oscillate one into the other) arrived just a bit too late to predict an experimental result. On top of this, he died young, before he was 60. Consequently, outside Japan he is not so widely known today. But here he casts a long shadow. Indeed, Professor Maskawa’s brief address at the opening of the Inaugural Conference of the Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute (earlier this week) was entirely devoted to lauding his mentor.
Tucked in among today’s talks, another ceremony, this one to unveil a memorial stone outside the Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute, in Sakata’s honor.
Unfortunately I cannot stay for the last day of the conference. An amusing feature of my journey home: I depart Tokyo at 5 pm on October 28th and arrive in New York City at 5 pm on October 28th.