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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


One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

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