The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shuichi Kusaka 日下周一 Theoretical Physicist 1915 - 1947

Shuichi Kusaka 日下周一 was a world famous Nikkei (Japanese-Canadian) theoretical physicist who lived in Strathcona during his childhood and teen years. He was a pupil at Strathcona Elementary School and a student at Britannia High School. He went on to graduate UBC and eventually go on to study at Princeton under Albert Einstein. The following is my translation of a timeline provided on the Kita Osaka Science Museum Japanese language website. It tells in point form the fascinating story of Kusaka's journey from Japan to Canada and later to the United States. There are still members of the Kusaka familyliving here in Vancouver. One of them, a nephew of Kusaka, posted a brilliant video on Youtube, about Kusaka and his connection to Einstein and the Atomic Bomb:


Shuichi Kusaka was born October 17th, 1915 in Shinkitacho, Asahi Ward, Osaka city, the eldest son of Kiyoshi Kusaka and his wife Tsuya (née Matsui)

In April of 1920, Shuichi’s father Kiyoshi went to work as the head doctor of the Fishermen’s Charity Hospital in Steveston, British Columbia. In August Shuichi and the rest of the family sailed to Canada to meet him there.

In 1929, Shuichi attended Strathcona Elementary School in Vancouver. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Kusaka family lived at 368 East Cordova Street, just south of St. James Anglican Church and Saint Luke's Hospital.

In 1931, Shuichi graduated Vancouver Technical High School and entered Britannia High School.
In 1932, Shuichi’s father Kiyoshi returned to Japan.

In 1933, Shuichi graduates Britannia High School and enters the University of British Columbia. He receives a Royal Institute of Technology and Three Sciences Scholarship.

In 1934, Shuichi receives a Scholarship from the Royal Institute of Applied Science.

In 1935, Shuichi receives a Technology and Science University Scholarship and became a member of the UBC Physics Club serving as treasurer.

In 1936, Shuichi Kusaka is elected president of the UBC Physics Club and received a Graduation Scholarship.

In 1937, Kusaka graduated UBC and received a Governor General’s Award, the first Nikkei (Japanese Canadian) to do so. The same year he began postgraduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1938, Kusaka received his Master of Science from MIT and moved to California to begin his Doctorate Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. There, he studied with along with Robert F. Christy under renowned physicist, Dr. J. R. Oppenheimer. His first research dissertation was titled On Periodic Orbits in the Equatorial Plane of a Magnetic Dipole (Graef, C., & Kusaka, S., J. Math & Phys. 17, 43)

In the summer of 1939 Kusaka met Japanese physicist Hideki Yukawa in California. Yukawa was returning to Japan on his way home from the 1939 Solvay Conference on Physics. In August Kusaka became a University Teaching Assistant and wrote two dissertations: “Galactic Rotation and Intensity of Cosmic Radiation at the Geomagnetic Equator” (Vallarta, M. S., Graef, C., & Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 55, 1) and “Electric Quadrupole Moment of the Deuteron” (Christy, R. F., & Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 55, 665 (Letters)

In 1940, Kusaka made a trip to Japan. Visiting Dr. Yukawa in Kyoto. Osaka University’s Masashi Kikuchi urged him to join Osaka University、while Yoshio Nishina of Japan’s Science Research Institute, Riken, pressed him to join Riken.

During 1941, Kusaka collaborated with Robert F. Christy on two papers: The Interaction of γ-Rays with Mesotrons (Christy, R. F., & Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 59, 405), and Burst Production by Mesotrons (Christy, R. F., & Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 59, 414). He also wrote β-Decay with Neutrino of Spin 3/2 (Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 60, 61)

In 1942, Kusaka received his Phd. from U. of C. Berkeley then moved to Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study where he studied Nuclear Forces Theory with T. Pauli under Albert Einstein.

From 1943 until the end of the War, Kusaka worked as a Physics instructor for Massachusetts State Smith college. In 1943 he wrote two papers: On the Theory of a Mixed Pseudoscalar and a Vector Meson Field (Pauli, W., & Kusaka S., Phys. Rev. 63, 400) and, The Effect of Radiation Damping on Burst Production (Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 64, 256)

From 1944 to 1946, Kusaka worked for the US Military at the American Army’s Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

In 1945 he produced a dissertation titled The Energy Spectrum of the Primary Cosmic Radiation (Kusaka, S., Phys. Rev. 67, 50)

In 1946, Kusaka won the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation scholarship. On July 1st he became a lecturing instructor at Princeton University
In early 1947 the book: Einstein - His Life and Times by Philipp Frank was published in Canada and the US. This English translation of the original German text was edited by Shuichi Kusaka.

In March of 1947, Kusaka was promoted to Assistant Professor under Hungarian-born Eugene Paul Wigner. On August 31, Kusaka went with a number of friends to swim in the ocean at New Jersey Beach Haven. There Kusaka died in a drowning accident at the age of 31.

His funeral took place on September 10, at Princeton’s University Chapel after which he was buried in Princeton Cemetery.
A memorial service was held for him in Toronto on September 15, 1947 officiated by the Reverend Kosaburo Shimizu. On October 10, his headstone was erected. On it was inscribed:

Faculty of Physics

On February 7, 1948 a memorial service was held for Kusaka at Ganjouji Temple in Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Ward. In May of the same year, Princeton University established the Kusaka Memorial Prize in Physics in his memory.


  1. Wonderful, James! The site, the data - you have found your niche! Keep it up as it is fascinating!

    I think it may be time to do one for the old houses/buildings I research here in Nelson! There is still a lot of whispering going on here that must be attended to...

  2. Thank you for Dr. Kusaka's history.

    I would like to point out a correction: There is a paragraph that starts with "In the summer of 1939 Kusaka met Japanese physicist Hideki Yunokawa in California. Yunokawa was returning to Japan on his way home from the 1939 Solvay Conference on Physics. " Here, in this particular case, the name "Yunokawa" ought to read "Yukawa". (There are place names that read "Yunokawa" with the same Chinese characters. How confusing.)

    Hideki Yukawa was the first Japanese to won Nobel Prize (Physics, 1949).
    One of Dr. Kusaka's books was translated into Japanese back in the 1960's or early 1970's, and I remember reading about the drowning in the preface of the book, but it didn't register in my mind that he was a Japanese Canadian when I read the book more than 30 years ago in a university library in Tokyo.

    How did I come across the book? I was trying to find an interesting and concise book on classical electro-magnetism (I was a physics under major) to figure out the different approaches to the subject taken by different authors.

    A short monograph of Shuichi Kusaka caught my eyes. Its preface mentioned the short life of Dr. Kusaka, but I got confused and thought that it was Oppenheimer who got drowned. I could not recall why I got this misunderstanding and now I am sure I mis-read the introduction to the following book and got confused:
    Notes on electrodynamics: (J.R. Oppenheimer, University of California, Physics 207B, 1939)

    I believe it was a lecture note taken by Dr. Kusaka of the lecture given by Oppenheimer.
    No wonder I got confused that it was Oppenheimer who got drowned.

    Anyway, I came across this web page after I was doing some research and trying to find a contact address of a professional organization's committee. It turns out the chair is from UBC, and one search led to another (UBC Cinnamon Bun, a list of UBC graduates, etc.) When I saw Dr. Kusaka's name in the list of famous UBC graduates, I was puzzled because I thought his name sounds very Japanese, and then found this web page. Quite an interesting read, and I wonder what accomplishments he could have produced had he survived the drowning.

    Thank you for this interesting page, and I hope the correction for "Yukawa" can be made to avoid any misunderstanding of the person's nature.
    And I am glad that I corrected my own misunderstanding of the drowning incident.

    C.Ishikawa (Sorry I don't seem to have a valid ID information that can be added.)

  3. Just an addition.

    I found out reading some material at the Museum of Science in Osaka that Kusaka's older sister was still alive at 85 back in 1996 when someone interviewed her for Kusaka's biography work. She was Haruko Iwata (of Iwata Travel). Iwata Travel must be the one on the road to Burnaby if I recall correctly (back from my memory of Vancouver in 1979). Well my memory is not that good from what I see in Today's google map. But I believe I bought a ticket from a flight back in Japan from Iwata Travel.