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Satoshi Ozaki, groundbreaking Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist, dies

Satoshi Ozaki led development of one of Brookhaven

Satoshi Ozaki led development of one of Brookhaven National Laboratory's crown jewels, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Satoshi Ozaki, a Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist whose work on particle accelerators helped scientists recreate the universe as it may have existed in the millionths of a second after its creation, died July 22 at St. Catherine of Siena Nursing & Rehabilitation Care Center in Smithtown. He was 88.

The cause was cardiac arrest due to pancreatic cancer, said his daughter, Keiko Simon.

Ozaki led development of one of BNL’s crown jewels, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Opened in 2000, RHIC is actually a complex of accelerators feeding into two massive, 2.4-mile buried rings lined by detectors at key points. Inside the rings, beams of ions smash into each other at near-light speed.

Each collision throws off quarks and gluons, subatomic particles thought to be the most basic components of matter. RHIC was the first machine to demonstrate formation of the superheated swarm of these particles scientists believe composed the universe for an instant after the Big Bang before cooling to form the protons and neutrons that we now recognize.

Research originating at RHIC has led to hundreds of scientific papers in different fields of physics.

“He was the builder,” said Nicholas Samios, who, as BNL director, hired Ozaki to lead RHIC development.

Starting in 1989, Ozaki headed an international team of hundreds of scientists, engineers and technicians, bringing in the $500 million project on time, on budget, and built to exacting specifications, Samios said. “Each year it operates better and better,” he said. “Its beam intensity improvements have gone up multifold. It’s just a well-engineered project.”

Ozaki also led construction of the first major high-energy particle collider in Japan in the early 1980s and was a key figure in the development of National Synchrotron Light Source II, a BNL machine that uses extremely bright light for research in energy, biomedicine, geology and the environment, revealing new details about materials ranging from solar cells to proteins.

Ozaki was born July 4, 1929, in Osaka, Japan, to Iwao and Mitsu Ozaki, who owned and ran a clothing factory. He graduated from Osaka University with a master’s degree in physics in 1955 and came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, then earned his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959. He joined BNL that year.

He received numerous awards for his work including, in 2013, Japan’s prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, conferred by Emperor Akihito for his contributions in high-energy and nuclear physics and cooperation in the field between the United States and Japan.

Timur Shaftan, a BNL scientist who worked with Ozaki, said some of Ozaki’s best work had nothing to do with physics. “He was a brilliant manager. . . . He knew human nature. He knew how to put together a strong team, exploit the benefits and work with the weaknesses of those people.”

Ozaki, who lived with his family in Shoreham in a house he designed and built, is survived by Simon, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and a son, Tsuyoshi Ozaki, of Belmont, California. His wife, Yoko, died in 2015.

Services were held July 24 at Alexander Rothwell Funeral Home in Wading River. Ozaki was cremated the following day in a private ceremony. BNL will hold a private symposium celebrating Ozaki’s accomplishments in October.

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