From the Archives: Hideki Yukawa

The Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center engages in critical work to sustain and highlight the unique histories that distinguish the Institute for Advanced Study. With this work in mind, the Archives Center would like to shine a spotlight on former Member in the School of Mathematics Hideki Yukawa (1907–1981).

Former Institute Director J. Robert Oppenheimer invited Yukawa as part of a prestigious group of young physicists in 1948. The cohort included Cheng Shu Wang Chang, Sheila Power, Bruria Kaufman, George Uhlenbeck, and Cécile DeWitt-Morrette, as well as Freeman Dyson. Yukawa came to the United States to continue his work on the interactions of elementary particles with a particular focus on developments in meson theory. The work proved extraordinarily significant; upon leaving the Institute in 1949, Yukawa became the first Japanese scientist to win the Nobel Prize for this contribution to the field of physics. Yet, Yukawa’s theoretical advances remain only part of the legacy of this former Member; his ties to the Institute also point to a less well known aspect of his history. Yukawa remains one of many scholars working at the forefront of science who provided early warnings of the ethical and moral dangers of atomic theory. In 1955, Yukawa signed the famous Einstein-Russell Manifesto linking himself to another important Institute figure. Like Albert Einstein, Yukawa’s unique position as both a ground-breaking physicist and a citizen of a nation deeply impacted by atomic progress placed him (either by choice or force of circumstance) at the front of international dialogues about the nature of scientific progress in the 20th century. 

Hideki Collage
Photographs from the HS-SS Library’s recently acquired copy of Shomei Tomatsu and Ken Domon’s Hiroshima-Nagasaki: document 1961 with a preface by Hideki Yukawa published by The Japan Council against A & H Bombs, 1961.

However, following the tensions between the United States and Japan after World War II, many of these histories receded into the background of the political landscape. Today, Oppenheimer and Einstein headline films about the era, and yet there is more to be learned about the Institute’s history at the frontier of scientific ethics.

With these legacies in mind, the Historical Studies-Social Science Library recently acquired Hiroshima-Nagasaki: document 1961. The book of photographs begins with a preface by Yukawa titled “Japan: The Japan Council against A & H Bombs, 1961.” Yukawa’s preface relays the complicated histories of atomic science from his own singular perspective. In remembering these histories, the Libraries and Archives hope to highlight the contributions of scientists of Asian identity whose work and perspective continues to enliven and enrich this community of scholars. — Jenna Finan, Curatorial and Collection Development Intern at IAS