[FOUNTAIN]Scholars come, scholars go

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[FOUNTAIN]Scholars come, scholars go

Hantaro Nagaoka (1865-1950) could be called the father of Japanese physics. Even so, he developed two blots on his career: He insisted that he had changed mercury into gold and he participated in Japan's atomic bomb project at the end of World War II.

Mr. Nagaoka was a physicist who draws comparisons with Rutherford and Thomson as early-20th century greats. He developed an atomic model in 1903 that was an improvement over the existing theories, if not completely accurate.

Despite his brilliance, Mr. Nagaoka felt a sense of Oriental cultural inferiority during his time as a student at the science college of Tokyo University. When he enrolled in the college in 1882, most of the professors there were from the West, invited by the Meiji government to help Japan soak up Western culture and science the way blotting paper soaks up water. Lectures were conducted in English or German; when Mr. Nagaoka listened to English lectures, he heard only names of Western scientists, and so thought that Asians, including himself, had no ability or future in science. He withdrew temporarily from the college.

During the time he spent away from school, Mr. Nagaoka searched Chinese textbooks and discovered that the ancient Chinese had discovered the compass and differential calculus. With his self-confidence bolstered, he returned to his studies. He later studied in Germany and developed into a first-class scientist.

It was Mr. Nagaoka who recommended Hideki Yukawa for the Nobel prize in physics; Yukawa was the first Japanese to win a Nobel prize, in 1949.

While studying abroad, Mr. Nagaoka wrote to a friend in Japan, saying, "Perhaps whites may not always be superior in all fields; I will try to surpass them in 10 or 20 years. After I die, I will go to hell and watch through a telescope my offspring beating the white men."

In the late 19th century, Japan invited many Western scientists and scholars and sent "samurai students" such as Mr. Nagaoka abroad to boost Japan's future prosperity. Compare that with the lethargy of the Joseon Dynasty, which stayed locked in a shell.

More than 100 foreign professors reportedly will be invited to Korea to deliver lectures beginning in the fall semester. They will be paid about 100 million won ($80,000) annually. There are already 1,200 foreign professors in Korea; an exchange of scholars between Korea and other countries is just as necessary now as it was a century ago.



The writer is the Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Noh Jae-hyun

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