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Insight into the birth of the universe

Satoshi Ozaki, master of ion colliders, and cabinetry, is Man of the Year in Science

December 27, 2007 | 05:05 AM
To learn what the universe was like moments after its inception you need look no further then an exit or two down the LIE. World-renowned physicist Dr. Satoshi Ozaki has spent 10 years creating and working on RHIC — the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider — a particle accelerator which holds a multitude of possibilities for future science, including a better understanding into why everything operates the way it does, from the smallest particles to the largest stars.

Over the past three decades Ozaki, of Shoreham, has split his time between the United States and Japan. He's worked on several ion colliders, and the success he has had makes him our choice for 2007 Man of the Year in Science.

He received his PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959 and was immediately transplanted to Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), where he specialized in intense experimental research and studies.

In 1981, after his success at BNL, he was invited back to Japan to direct the construction of TRISTAN — a high-energy particle collider. It was the first-ever facility of its kind in the country, and Ozaki completed the project with honors.

In 1989, Dr. Nicholas Samios, then director of BNL, hired him to become the head of the RHIC project, which ultimately completed its decade-long journey toward use in 1999.

Samios explained, "We had this idea for the RHIC, which the Department of Energy and the government accepted. Dr. Ozaki came and set up a team, and he used the resources at Brookhaven and built a magnificent machine. He did it on time and on schedule and he did it very well."

The RHIC is a roughly five-kilometer ring located 12 feet underground on the BNL site. It's so large that when the site was being constructed it was visible from space. The RHIC collides two beams of heavy ions — atoms, like gold for example, that has had their outer cloud of electrons removed — that travel at nearly the speed of light around the ring and then collide, producing outstanding expected and unexpected results.

A major "somewhat unexpected result," said Dr. Michael Harrison, who worked extensively with Ozaki on the RHIC project, was the discovery of what the scientists at BNL call "perfect liquids" — a type of matter that has not existed since the beginning of the universe. And the scientists are still discovering what the RHIC can do.

Ozaki's success in the science of physics is virtually unmatched. He garners universal respect and acclaim, and sits on boards and committee positions across the globe, including the Linear Collider Steering Committee, the U.S. Accelerator School Prize Selection Committee, the University of Chicago Review Committee for the ANL Physics Division, the Task Force for ILCSC Recommendation for the Global Design Organization, the CERN Science Policy Committee and Machine Advisory Committee, among many other internationally recognized advisory committees.

In 2006 Ozaki was persuaded to take on the task of developing another accelerator, his third, by Dr. Steven Dierker, who is the director of BNL's latest project, the second National Synchrotron Light Source, or NSLS II. The promises from that project are the development of next-generation energy technologies for new drugs and new improvements in X-ray imaging, among many other things.

Dierker explained how he involved Ozaki with the NSLS II: "Dr. Ozaki agreed to take on the task of developing the accelerator symptoms division, which designs the accelerator for the project. He did a fantastic job of that."

Because the planned date for the project's completion is not until the middle of the next decade, Ozaki has found a successor to continue the work, though he is not letting go of it completely.

"Ozaki is continuing on as a senior project advisor," Dierker said. "He has many years of experience building and constructing large accelerator facilities and he is going to continue to give us the benefit of his experience and advice."

This year Ozaki and fellow physicist Harrison — with whom he works on the International Linear Collider project — received the 2007 Particle Accelerator Science & Technology Award from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE), for their work on RHIC.

But it is not all work and no play for Ozaki. He is described by his peers in glowing terminology: affable, caring and enjoyable to be around. And it's pointed out that a major hobby of his is the much scientifically simpler art of cabinet making. Samios summarizes Ozaki's approach by saying, "He likes to do things and do them right," including the cabinets.

Dierker concludes, "He is just an excellent coworker and a wonderful human being. He is very concerned about his colleagues and is open and listens to everybody and is very patient at explaining and motivating. He is a very good motivator of people. It has just been a real pleasure working with him."

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