A Nikkei scientist who worked with Einstein and Oppenheimer

A local connection to the Oppenheimer film success, explore the Shuichi Kusaka Collection.

Dr. Shuichi Kusaka was an accomplished theoretical physicist, earning a BA in Mathematics and Physics from UBC in 1937, Master of Science in Physics from MIT in 1938, and a Ph.D in Theoretical Physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1942 under the supervision of Dr. Oppenheimer himself.

While he was restricted from working on the Manhattan Project because of his Japanese heritage, Kusaka earned fellowships to study at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, working alongside Nobel Prize winners Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli. Dr. Kusaka later joined Smith College as a physics instructor by recommendation of Dr. Oppenheimer.

Records from the collection include Shuichi Kusaka’s final examination for his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley and Kusaka’s personal copy of Einstein’s biography, edited and revised by Kusaka.

Sadly, Dr. Kusaka died at the young age of 31 in a swimming accident several months after being promoted to Assistant Professor, a loss his many friends and colleagues felt deeply.

In a letter to Kusaka’s family after his passing, Dr. Oppenheimer wrote, “Shu was a close friend of ours and a valued colleague for many years, and we shall miss him greatly. His memory will be cherished as a great scientist and a great character, and his loss will be deeply felt by those of us who knew him and knew of his work.”

Dr. Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein were among those who helped establish a memorial fund at Princeton University in Dr. Kusaka’s name, which continues to be awarded to this day to promising physics students.

Read more about Shuichi Kusaka’s life and work in our Nikkei Voice article.
Explore more materials from the Shuichi Kusaka collection at nikkeimuseum.org.