Leo Esaki

Leo Esaki was born in Osaka, Japan in 1925. Esaki completed work for a B.S. in Physics in 1947 and received his Ph.D in 1959, both from the University of Tokyo. Esaki was an IBM Fellow and engaged in semiconductor research at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York, from 1960 to 1992. Prior to joining IBM, he worked at the Sony Corp. where his research on heavily-doped Ge and Si resulted in the discovery of the Esaki tunnel diode; this device constitutes the first quantum electron device. Since 1969, Esaki had, with his colleagues, pioneered semiconductor superlattices and resonant tunneling, exploring a new quantum regime in the frontier of semiconductor physics.

The Nobel Prize in Physics (1973) was awarded in recognition of his pioneering work on electron tunneling in solids. Other awards include the Nishina Memorial Award (1959), the Asahi Press Award (1960), the Toyo Rayon Foundation Award for the Promotion of Science and Technology (1960), the Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Prize from IRE (1961), the Stuart Ballantine Medal from the Franklin Institute (1961), the Japan Academy Award (1965), the Order of Culture from the Japanese Government (1974), the American Physical Society International Prize for New Materials (1985), the IEEE Medal of Honor (1991), the Japan Prize (1998) and also the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class from the Japanese Government (1998).

Dr. Esaki was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1974), a member of the Japan Academy (1975), a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Science (1976) and the National Academy of Engineering (1977), a member of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (1989), and a foreign member of the American Philosophical Society (1991), Russian Academy of Sciences (1994), and Italian National Academy of Science (1996).  After returning to Japan, he assumed the position of President, University of Tsukuba from 1992 to 1998, President, Shibaura Institute of Technology from 2000 to 2005 and President, Yokohama College of Pharmacy from 2006.

He suggests a list of “five don’ts” which anyone with an interest in realizing his or her creative potential should follow. Who knows, it may even help you win a Nobel Prize. Rule number one: Don’t allow yourself to be trapped by your past experiences. Don’t hold on to your preconceived notion. You should be a free spirit. Looking back at history, most laureates have received the Nobel Prize for work done during their thirties. Esaki was 32 years old when he discovered the “Esaki tunnel diode.” Because of their candor, younger people are able to look at things with a clearer vision, one that is not clouded by social conventions and past history. Rule number two: Don’t allow yourself to become overly attached to any one authority in your field – the great professor, perhaps. By becoming closely involved with the great professor, you risk losing sight of yourself and forfeiting the free spirit of youth. Although the great professor may be awarded the Nobel Prize, it is unlikely that subordinate researchers will ever receive it. Rule number three: Don’t hold on to what you don’t need. The information-oriented society facilitates easy access to an enormous amount of information. The human brain, however, has not really changed much since ancient times. Therefore, we must constantly be inputting and deleting information and we should save only truly vital and relevant information. Rule number four: Don’t avoid confrontation. At times, it is necessary to put yourself first and to defend your own position. The point is that fighting is sometimes unavoidable for the sake of self-defense. Rule number five: Don’t forget your spirit of childhood curiosity. It is the most vital component of imagination.