Twenty Years of Fun with Gen
A reminiscence of Gen Shirane at the
time of his 65th birthday
by Robert J. Birgeneau
Obviously, for all of us, Gen's sixty-fifth birthday is a very special
time. It turns out that it is particularly propitious for me
since it also represents the 20th anniversary of the beginning of my
personal collabo-ration with Gen. Specifically, it is exactly 20
years since Gen and I published our first paper together - an esoteric
tome on two-dimensional spin correlations in an odd material named K2NiF4!
I cannot say that either Gen or I had the remotest sense at that time
of how important that work would turn out to be two decades later -
thanks, of course, to Alex Müllcr and George Bednorz.
I began working with Gen shortly after my arrival at Bell
Laboratories. Gen had realized that for the success of the solid
state effort at the HFBR he should encourage outsiders from major solid
state research institutions such as Bell Laboratories and IBM to begin
using the facilities and collaborating with the Brookhaven group.
Thus Gen initiated what may be the first neutron scattering outside
users' program. I arrived at Bell Labs intending to do infrared
spectroscopy but was given a free ticket to do whatever I wanted.
After reading Gen and Bob Nathans' first publications from the HFBR, I
decided that neutron scattering was going to be very important and
hence decided to change directions. For my first experiment at
Brookhaven I decided to begin with K2NiF4.
Gen, of course, instantly understood what the issues were and he
launched into the experiments with his usual energy and drive. I
will never forget Gen's basic principle in doing research which he
explained to me right in the beginning, "There are only two experiments
that matter, the first and the best. The ultimate is when these
two are one and the same".
Our original 2D measurements led into a long series of experiments on a
wide variety of topics: one- and two-dimensional magnets, the
co-operative Jahn-Teller effect, amorphous magnets, percolation, spin
dynamics in disordered magnets, random fields and, of course,
high-temper-ature superconductors. To date, Gen and I have
co-authored 76 papers with at least two appearing every year since
1969. It will not surprise those of you familiar with Gen' s
English prose that I ended up doing most of the actual writing.
Indeed, I often felt that my principal role has been as Gen's
Anyone who has worked with Gen knows well his competitive instincts -
$10 bets abound in all difficult experiments. Once, in a rather
complicated experiment on PrA1O3 I decided to change the
nature of the bet. Both Gen, on the one hand, and Jørgen
Kjems and I on the other would attempt a particular measurement.
The side which got the worst signal-to-background would have to address
the entire neutron group and explain how and why he/they failed.
This turned out to be one of the few cases where Gen actually lost and
we insisted on collecting. To our surprise, Gen agreed to address
the group. He then stood up and explained first his technique and
then ours. He then announced that this was a great triumph for
him since it showed that he was an even better teacher than he himself
Of course, the quintessential Gen has manifested himself most
dramatically in the high-Tc problem. These experiments
inevitably involve a huge number of collaborators. Early on, we
were searching without success for signs of the 2D magnetism in La2CuO4
which we knew had to be there. Gen decided that we could only
make progress if for a limited time he reduced the participants to
himself and his graduate student - me. Gen is probably the only
physicist I know who could have MIT's Head of Physics as a de facto
graduate student. Thus, on a lonely July 4 weekend, Gen and I
began our search for the missing 2D magnetism. After 2 days we
had it. Gen then insisted that I should go over to the Physics
building and start writing the article while he continued the
experiments by himself. The real issue, of course, was that I
wanted to document a few things with great care while Gen wanted to
measure everything one could measure in the next two days and he wanted
to do this alone. After a few hours of wrangling Gen conceded and
we took the publication data on the statics.
As everyone who has worked with Gen knows, he has very high standards
and an unerring instinct for the important issues. He also enjoys
tremendously interacting with high quality collaborators. Thus he
has brought to Brookhaven for extended lengths of time, such
outstanding physicists as Jens Als-Nielsen, Roger Cowley and Robert
Comes to name a few. Other outside users such as myself have profited
greatly from collaborating with these very talented visitors.
It is broadly recognized that the United States has played a leading
role world wide in neutron scattering for the last two decades.
This prominence has been achieved by the efforts of many fine
physicists. Finally, however, one must say that the U.S. effort
has prospered primarily because of Gen's leadership. He has
trained many of us. Further, by his extraordinarily high
intellectual, moral, and professional standards he has provided an
ideal role model for the entire community. I can think of no
other person who plays such a singular role in solid-state physics. We
are very fortunate to have him among us.
Last Modified: Wednesday, 26-Jan-2005 16:52:47 EST