The Lives of Two A-bomb Scientists, Part 5

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

E-ken fosters a free spirit and a responsibility for peace

The E-ken, or the E laboratory: This is what the laboratory of Shoichi Sakata, a professor at Nagoya University, was called. Shoji Sawada belonged to this laboratory. The “E” was the first letter of the “elementary particle theory.”

Last year, two graduates from the E-ken received the Nobel Prizes in physics. One was Toshihide Masukawa, professor emeritus of Kyoto University and the other was Makoto Kobayashi, professor emeritus of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization. Dr. Sawada, who assumed the post of an associate professor at the E-ken in 1966, once mentored Dr. Masukawa and Dr. Kobayashi.

In his Nobel Lecture in Stockholm, Sweden, in December 2008, Dr. Masukawa referred to his own war experience and articulated his position against war. In March this year, in his lecture at the “Scientist Society of Article 9,” which lists Dr. Masukawa’s name as one of those who called for its establishment, his voice broke with emotion as he noted the A-bomb experience of Dr. Sawada.

Dr. Masukawa continues to mention Dr. Sawada in interviews with the media. “Though I cannot spearhead the peace movement, I want to offer support in my own way,” Dr. Masukawa commented. He also speaks about “scientists’ obligations,” as citizens, to address peace issues and learn about the experience of the atomic bombings.

Dr. Sawada was surprised by Dr. Masukawa’s remarks. “I’ve never told him about my A-bomb experience directly,” he said. “As he lived in my area, he may have read the local magazine that carried my A-bomb account.”

After Dr. Masukawa was awarded the Nobel Prize, Dr. Sawada met him several times at celebrations and reunions. However, Dr. Sawada has not tried to speak to Dr. Masukawa about his actions. “He’s very sensitive and he sincerely understands the importance of conveying A-bomb experiences,” Dr. Sawada said. While saying so, he thought about the “presence of Professor Sakata,” who served as an inspiration for both Dr. Masukawa and himself.

In 1942, amid World War II, Professor Sakata, who contributed to the development of the elementary particle theory, moved from Kyoto University to Nagoya University. It is believed that he was, from back then, looking for ways to create a laboratory for a new era. After the war ended, he promptly formed a democratically-driven research program and actively participated in civic movements. Dr. Sawada and Dr. Masukawa supported this effort.

“Graduate students were able to conduct research on an equal footing with professors,” Dr. Sawada recalled. “We led our daily lives with a comradery beyond our positions.” He shared the fond memory of Professor Sakata visiting his office and ducking under a line of laundry to talk to him. “The free spirit of the E-ken fostered Masukawa and Kobayashi.”

Professor Sakata’s free spirit was passed on to Dr. Sawada, too, as the “Nagoya University Peace Charter,” enacted in 1984, demonstrates. Dr. Sawada proposed the idea of the charter when he was vice chairman of the university’s staff union. He served as leader of the committee which drafted the document.

The charter states that the university fully recognizes its social responsibility and contributes to the promotion of peace and that the university will never conduct joint research with military facilities, domestic or foreign. The charter, which is thought to be the first declaration on the demilitarization of a university in Japan, was established in the year that the U.S. and the former Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The Cold War between East and West, during which the superpowers were engaged in a fierce nuclear arms race, was about to end.

“Professor Sakata’s principles are still alive,” Dr. Sawada said. Though Dr. Sawada does not say so himself, he has also contributed to developing a sense of responsibility for peace in his successors.

Elementary particle theory
The elementary particle theory is a branch of physics which studies “elementary particles,” the basic constituents of matter. Shoichi Sakata proposed a complex particle model (The Sakata Model), which contains neutrons and protons as fundamental particles. The Sakata Model laid the groundwork for the development of the quark theory.

(Originally published on July 7, 2009)