Gen Shirane (1924-2005)

Obituary for Neutron News

A giant figure in neutron scattering has left the stage. A scientific career spanning more than half a century was brought to an abrupt end on January 16th, when Gen Shirane suffered a stroke and passed away. This loss came as a shock to his friends and colleagues as he had continued to maintain a high level of activity and (as always) was in the midst of collaborating with junior scientists on several papers. Just last summer many illustrious friends gathered at Brookhaven to celebrate Gen's 80th birthday with a symposium described in the last issue of Neutron News.

Born in Ashiya, Japan, just west of Kobe, Gen received his Doctor of Science in Physics from the University of Tokyo in 1954. His thesis research was on ferroelectrics, with his first publication appearing in 1947. He had already established an international reputation when, in 1952, he came to the U.S. to continue his studies of ferroelectrics with Pepinsky at Penn State. Gen performed his first neutron diffraction study in 1955 on PbTiO3. Recognizing the power of neutron scattering, Gen moved on to Westinghouse Research Laboratories in 1957 to work at their new research reactor. When support for basic research waned at Westinghouse, Gen moved on to Brookhaven, arriving in 1963. That was his last move.

With the start up of the High Flux Beam Reactor in 1965, Gen turned to inelastic scattering. He worked on spin-wave dispersions and critical phenomena in ferromagnets, the soft phonon mode and the structural transition in SrTiO3, spin fluctuations in low-dimensional antiferromagnets, electron-phonon coupling in superconducting Nb3Sn, spin waves in chromium, and eventually high-temperature superconductors. With the demise of the HFBR in 1999, a lesser mortal might have retired, but not Gen. He chose to return to his first love, ferroelectrics, managing an active program of x-ray diffraction experiments at the National Synchrotron Light Source as well as neutron scattering studies, mostly at the NIST Center for Neutron Research.

Throughout his career, Gen had a great nose for important scientific problems, and a talent for recruiting excellent collaborators. He always maintained very high standards for acquiring and presenting data. His strong drive and enthusiasm led to a prodigious output of more than 700 papers. The quality of this work made him one of the most highly cited physicists in the world. Gen was also coauthor of two books, one a classic on Ferroelectric Crystals in 1962, and another on neutron scattering techniques in 2002. His accomplishments were recognized by many awards, including the Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society and the Warren Award of the American Crystallographic Association, both in 1973, election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1989, and the Award for Outstanding Accomplishment from the Japanese Society for Neutron Science in 2003. He was a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society.

Gen's most lasting accomplishment may be the several generations of neutron scatterers that he trained and mentored, many of whom are now international scientific leaders. Of particular note are his contributions to the U.S.-Japan collaborative program, which enabled many young Japanese researchers to spend a year working at the HFBR and learning from Shirane-sensei. Gen pushed his young colleagues hard, and, of course, he was highly competitive in everything he did, whether it was performing a triple-axis experiment or playing tennis or poker. Everyone who worked with him has a supply of "Genecdotes", and these are almost always recited with fondness.

Gen is survived by his wife Sakae, well known to many Brookhaven visitors whom she entertained graciously in their Bellport home; their two sons, Haruo and Tatsuo; their wives; and 3 grandchildren. Gen's passing marks the end of an era; we will not see his like again.

John Tranquada and Steve Shapiro

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

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