Watch Out for Buddha-like Smiles!

A reminiscence of Gen Shirane at the time of his 65th birthday

by Jens Als-Nielsen

Age is a well-defined quantity, but it may be difficult to estimate if the only input information is the appearance of the person - the physiological as well as the psychological behaviour pattern. When I first came to Brookhaven 20 years ago to spend a sabbatical year, I enjoyed very much the research atmosphere in the neutron scattering group; enthusiastic, impatient, optimistic, young.  It was a strong contrast to some experiences in my home country (it can hardly have been from the Physics Department at Risø, though!).  So soon after I had arrived I remember a lunch table conversation with the Brookhaven neutron scattering group.  I was loudly elaborating on a philosophy that people should be forced out of science in their mid-forties so that they would not stand in the way for a dynamic and stimulating evolution.  I hardly noticed the characteristic, Buddha-like smile on Gen's face while I went on and on, but when I finally finished Gen said: "Jens, do you know how old I am? I am exactly 45!"

This man, among us youngsters considered with a mixture of fear and admiration, with his jet black hair, energy beyond any of us, impatient and hot-tempered, was not exactly what I had in mind in suggesting "beruf-verbot" for senior scientists.

The most amazing thing is that apart from the hair color, the situation is still the same as 20 years ago.  I have drawn three conclusions:

Be cautious about estimates.
Age may be an irrelevant variable.
Watch out when Gen smiles like a Buddha.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 26-Jan-2005 16:46:01 EST

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