Thursday, February 11, 2010

Extremely Small Errors in Casimir's Book

On April 5, 2000, I posted at my Web site [1] the two letters I sent to Hendrik Casimir in 1984. He was famous for research on two-fluid model of superconductors and the Casimir effect; and passed away about a month later, on May 4, 2000. In my first letter I pointed out a minor error in his autobiographical book [2] about the date of Japanese capitulation in World War II. He wrote in his reply to me [3], "It is not easy entirely to avoid errors in a book of this kind." Then, he added three examples of errors he found by himself. I write those errors here, with additions of explanations of contexts and my thoughts, for the benefit of the people who already read his book or will read it in the future. The errors seem to be extremely minor, just as the Casimir effect can be observed between the electrodes placed at distances extremely small.

On Page 85, Casimir quotes Paul Eherenfest's words given to Wolfgang Pauli as follows: Ihre Arbeiten gefallen mir besser als Sie selber. (Your papers please me better than you yourself.) Afterwards, however, the author became fairly certain that what Ehrenfest said was this: Ihre Arbeiten gefallen mir besser als Ihr Gesicht. (Your papers please me better than your face.) The correct version sounds harsher than the printed version.

On page 207, the author writes, "[Richard Becker's arrival at Göttingen] was at the time when Germany was already facing the possibility of a defeat at Stalingrad." In fact, Becker arrived after Germany's defeat at Stalingrad. Therefore, Becker's words, "I do not want to see our troops annihilated . . . ," should also be changed into "I did not want to see . . ."

On page 212, with respect to one of the situations after the liberation of part of Netherlands from Nazi Germany, Casimir writes, "A local broadcasting station operated at the Philips works and the only official station in the liberated part of the country—it had the proud name "Vrij Nederland" (Free Netherlands)—transmitted the latest news." The actual name was "Herrijzend Nederland" (Re-arising Netherlands). Did the error come from the fact that both the words "free" and "re-arising" in Dutch include characters "rij," in addition to their similar meanings?

  1. T. Tabata, "To Professor Hendrik Casimir," The Web site 'Surely I'm Joking!' (April 5, 2000).
  2. H. B. G. Casimir, "Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science" (Harper & Row, New York, 1983).
  3. H. B. G. Casimir, Private communication (January 5, 1985).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

That isn't Kazumi, is that?

Kazumi Maki, an excellent physicist in superconductivity and dear friend of mine since student days, passed in 2008 [1]. Last year I wrote about him in the Japanese version of Wikipedia. Concerning any modifications to be made of my description, I asked his wife Masako. She recommended me to consult an obituary of him in the journal Physica B [2, 3].

The first page of the obituary [2] carries a group photo. On looking at it, I thought as follows: The Japanese scientist there seems similar to Kazumi, but is perhaps another physicist in superconductivity. I might have seen a photo of the latter before at a Web page about John Bardeen Prize 2006 (Kazumi won the award that year, but the other scientists got the same prize or a similar one at the same time). I wanted to confirm my thought by looking at that Web page again, but could not find it. Thus, I sent an e-mail message to Naoki Toyota, Professor at Tohoku University. He is a former colleague of mine and ex-student of Kazumi. In the message to him I wrote, "That isn't Kazumi, is that?"

But alas! His answer showed definitively that my thought was wrong. He wrote that, judging from the look and the shape of the body, the Japanese person in the photo was Kazumi. He also referred to another picture at a Web site [4]. This picture was of the same occasion as that in Physica B but from a different angle. The person at the center of the picture has eyes full of curiosity, and surely I recognize him as Kazumi. Then, the Japanese person in the photo of Physica B must also be Kazumi, though the former's look and shape of the body are a little different from those of the latter I remember from earlier days.

I again looked for the Web page about Bardeen Prize and found it this time [5]. The page also gives the description of H. Kamerlingh Onnes Prize and a few other ones, with three photos. The caption lies below the photos, showing up only when we scroll the page down. I reminded myself of the following: Without scrolling the page, I first thought that the photos were of the scene of the awarding of Bardeen Prize and that the second person from right in the rightmost photo was Kazumi. However, looking at the expanded photo, I found that the person was a little similar to, but not, Kazumi. Then I returned to the original page and read the caption to learn that the person was Hidenori Takagi from Tokyo. He shared Onnes Prize with two scientists. (There are no photos of the three recipients of John Bardeen Prize, maybe because it is the Web page of Princeton University, to which N. Phuan Ong, one of the recipients of Onnes Prize, belonged but no recipients of Bardeen Prize did.)

Now I can explain the cause of my mistake as follows: When I browsed the Bardeen Prize Web page earlier, the enlarged photo disproved my belief that the Japanese person in the photo was Kazumi. This was a little traumatic happening to me. The vague memory of this made me commit the error together with the following curious fact: Kazumi's look with a gentle smile as in the photo of Physica B seems solemner (more like some other professor with dignity) than his look when he is serious. However, I also have to think this way: I have been a constant discoverer of errors in other persons' publications, but made an error this time in identifying the image of a good friend. Is this due to my aging?

  1. "Kazumi Maki (1936–2008)," IDEA & ISAAC: Femto-Essays (2008).
  2. "To the memories of Kazumi Maki," Physica B, Vol. 404, Nos. 3-4, p. xii (2009).
  3. D. Baeriswyl, "Kazumi Maki," ibid., pp. xiii-xiv. A similar obituary is also given: D. Baeriswyl, S. Haas and D. Vollhardt, "Death notice: Kazumi Maki," Web site (2009).
  4. "In memory of Kazumi Maki," ECRYS-2008: 5th International Workshop on Electronic Crystals August 24-30, 2008 (2008).
  5. "The 8th International Conference on Materials and Mechanisms of Superconductivity and High Temperature Superconductors (M2S-HTSC-VIII), Dresden, Germany (July 9 to July 14, 2006)," a Web page of Princeton University (2006).