“… for a theorist, the most exciting period is after waking early one morning to discover a truth that you could not have imagined”
Interview with Toshihide Maskawa by Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org. after the announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics, October 2008.
Adam Smith: In the light of the fact that all three Nobel Laureates in Physics this year had their education in Japan, do you think there is anything particular about the Japanese educational system that helped you develop as a theoretical physicist?
Toshihide Maskawa: The period in which I was raised as a researcher was at a time after a brutal and reckless war and before the calmer period of the 1960’s was first coming into view. What was often said was that as there are no natural resources in Japan, we must survive on the strength of science and technology. It was within an atmosphere such as this that I think I gained a yearning and an affinity for Science.
Adam Smith: Is there anyone you would single out as having provided especially useful direction on your path to becoming a physicist, and why?
Toshihide Maskawa: That would have to be my professor at university, Prof. Shoichi Sakata, a pioneer in Quark Theory and one who advocated the Composite Particle Model. He presided over our research laboratory which collectively discussed and gathered research based on research methods that vouched for the Dialectics of Nature. It was there that I studied how to think and in what form things should be accomplished.
Adam Smith: When you submitted your paper together with Makoto Kobayashi predicting the existence of six quarks, how confident were you that your prediction would be proved correct?
Toshihide Maskawa: In any research thesis there is always an element of supposition. The year 1972, when that thesis was written, was in period in which many researchers still didn’t consider the effective function of the Renormalization Theory. The assertion of our thesis was that if weak interaction was as described in the Renormalization Theory, then our predictions would be proved correct. Experiments have since shown the correctness of this assertion.
Adam Smith: How long did you think it might take for the missing quarks to be discovered? And were you surprised by how long it actually took?
Toshihide Maskawa: To be honest, I didn’t imagine that the top quark would ever be as heavy as it is.
Adam Smith: The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2008 was awarded for studies of broken symmetry. Do you have a way of describing broken symmetry to non-physicists?
Toshihide Maskawa: To borrow an often used example, there is a saying that if you put the grass that a cow likes in a circle around the cow, then whatever grass the cow eats, as far as the cow is concerned, will be the same. However if the cow sooner or later chooses a certain direction in which to eat the grass, then we have a state of broken symmetry. It must be remembered that this is only an example, and that this is a phenomenon that first arose based on the rule that the microscopic world holds an unlimited degree of freedom. Within examples, there are of course always elements of untruth.
Adam Smith: In particle physics, it seems that sometimes theory leads experiment, and at other times experimental results drive the theories. If you agree, which phase do you think we are in now?
Toshihide Maskawa: In this current age I believe that theory is taking the lead. However, for a theorist, the most exciting period is after waking early one morning to discover a truth that you could not have imagined.
Adam Smith: What do you think we can expect from the Large Hadron Collider? And in what timescale?
Toshihide Maskawa: Surely this will be evidence of Super Symmetry and the discovery of Higgs Particles, as well as discoveries of such matters which we would never have imagined.
Adam Smith: What advice would you offer young people thinking of entering theoretical physics today?
Toshihide Maskawa: My advice to young people is to be ambitious and to have sincerity toward our natural world.
Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.