Notable Alumni

Yoichiro Nambu (Nobel Prize in Physics 2008)

Profile by Tetsuo Hatsuda (Professor, Department of Physics)
Yoichiro Nambu

© University of Chicago

Prof. Yoichiro Nambu was born in Tokyo in 1921. He was taken at the age of two from Tokyo, after the city had been destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, to his father's hometown in Fukui Prefecture, and he lived there to the age of 17. After completing his primary and secondary education at Fukui City Shimpo Elementary School (now Matsumoto Elementary School), Fukui Junior High School (now Fujishima High School), and Daiichi High School, he entered the University of Tokyo, where he received his B.S. in 1942. Soon after his graduation, Prof. Nambu was drafted into the military and worked at a radar laboratory. In 1946, he joined the Department of Physics of the University of Tokyo as a research associate, and in 1949, he moved to the then newly-established Osaka City University. In 1956, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, and became a U.S. citizen in 1970.

Prof. Nambu is a warm and modest person who is respected by physicists from all over the world for these characteristics as well as his unique and inimitable theoretical ideas. His theories, which formed the fundamentals of physics in later years, are too numerous to comprehensively list here, but they include: the bound-state equation for relativistic quantum field theory in 1950; prediction of the ω meson in 1957, quantum field theory for superconductivity in 1960; principle of spontaneous symmetry breaking and the mass of elementary particles in 1960 and 1961; introduction of the color degree of freedom in 1965; non-Abelian gauge theory for strong interaction in 1966; introduction of the string theory in 1970; and the generalized Hamilton dynamics in 1973.

Prof. Nambu received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008 for the theory of spontaneous symmetry breaking, or SSB, which provided a basis for modern elementary particle and nuclear physics. Writing about the factors that eventually led to this theory, Prof. Nambu said that he aimed for a career in physics because when he was a student at Daiichi High School he admired Dr. Hideki Yukawa, who in 1949 became the first Japanese to receive the Noble Prize in Physics. He said that joining the research group led by Dr. Sin-Itiro Tomonaga (Tokyo Bunrika University and RIKEN), and seeing the development of quantum electrodynamics during his years at the Univ. of Tokyo right after the war, when he was living a self-catering life at room 305 in the Faculty of Science Bldg.1 (now ex. Faculty of Science Bldg.1) were also important factors for him. He also explained that he was strongly influenced by the condensed matter physics group at the Univ. of Tokyo led by Dr. Ryogo Kubo, and that he saw the completion of the BCS theory of superconductivity at the University of Illinois, which is located near the University of Chicago, during his Chicago years.

The following is a quote from Prof. Nambu's speech at the Nobel presentation ceremony at the University of Chicago on December 10, 2008, which clearly shows his modern view of nature: "Nowadays, the principle of SSB is the key concept in understanding why the world is so complex as it is, in spite of the many symmetry properties in the basic laws that are supposed to govern it. The basic laws are very simple, yet this world is not boring; that is, I think, an ideal combination."

See also:

Career timeline

Current position

  • Professor emeritus at the University of Chicago
  • Professor emeritus at Osaka City University
  • Date of birth January 18, 1921 (in Tokyo)

Professional highlights

1942-1949 Researcher, Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo
1949 Research associate, Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo
1949 Associate professor, Osaka City University
1950 Professor, Osaka City University
1952 Institute for Advanced Study
1956 Associate professor, the University of Chicago
1958 Professor, the University of Chicago
1991 Professor emeritus, the University of Chicago
2011 Special university professor emeritus, Osaka City University

Honors & Awards

1970 Dannie Heineman Prize (American Physical Society)
1978 Order of Culture (Government of Japan)
1982 United States National Medal of Science (USA)
1985 Max Planck Medal (German Physical Society)
1986 Dirac Medal (International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy)
1994 J.J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics (American Physical Society)
1995 Wolf Prize (Government of Israel)
1996 Gian Carlo Wick Medal (World Federation of Scientists)
2003 Bogoliubov Prize (Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna, Russia)
2005 Benjamin Franklin Medal (Franklin Institute, USA)
2007 Pomeranchuk Prize (Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics, Russia)
2008 Nobel Prize in Physics