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"Genecdote"

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

by Vic Emery

A speaker at this symposium in honor of Gen Shirane has a double reward - the opportunity to highlight some of Gen's many contributions to Condensed Matter Physics and an excuse for providing a "Genecdote" for the program.

Anyone who works with Gen soon comes to appreciate his strong principles and his incorruptibility: and I write as one who has, on more than one occasion, tried to corrupt him! Gen's attitude is very important for the practice of neutron scattering, which relies on delicate political arrangements and strict handling of samples from a variety of sources. Theorists are not normally exposed to these problems, except for the rare occasions on which they emerge from the ivory tower and come face-to-face with the stark reality of life as a neutron scattering experimentalist.

In the late seventies, Alan Heeger gave one of our Thursday Solid State Seminars and intrigued us all with the remarkable properties of the mercury chains in Hg3-dAsF6. He brought along with him a very large single crystal but, because of scheduling difficulties, it could not go on a spectrometer until the following Monday.  A little while later Gen told me what had been found in the first experiments. One peculiar effect was that, on cooling, the AsF6 framework contracted, but the mercury chains did not. That meant that the mercury should be squeezed out of the edges of the material, like toothpaste, and change it from its normal gold color to something like silver. Naturally, I wanted to see this happen and proposed that we put the crystal in liquid nitrogen to see it for ourselves. Gen would have none of it. He patiently explained to me that the sample was for neutron scattering and not for such unsanctioned frivolity. Then he expelled me from his office. But I have often wondered if he went off by himself and looked to see what happened - or, more likely, had done so already.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 26-Jan-2005 16:56:37 EST


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