July 8, 2012
Vol. 7, Num. 3
Kalimba Magic NEWS
Kalimba Magic newsletter readers may recall from my May 15, 2011 Message that my work before Kalimba Magic was in radio astronomy. In this Message, I want to share with you the sad news of the loss of a colleague and friend from this period of my life and tell you something about this wonderful man.
Koh-Ichiro Morita was a radio astronomer and internationalist visionary who was instrumental in designing and building the ALMA telescope, a collaboration among the Japanese, North Americans, Europeans, and Chileans, and a project I worked on for 18 years. While working on the ALMA telescope project in Santiago, Chile, Koh-Ichiro was mugged at around 2:00 am May 7, 2012. He subsequently died of head injuries suffered in the course of the mugging.
I went to work for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in 1989, the first hire to help design the proposed Millimeter Array (MMA), which would later become the ALMA telescope. In late 1994, I got an email from Koh-Ichiro Morita, a Japanese radio astronomer, discussing configurations for the LMSA - the Large Millimeter and Sub-Millimeter Array, the Japanese version of the NRAO's proposed MMA. The two projects were seen as competitors - everyone in millimeter astronomy knew the story of the proposed NRAO 25 meter telescope that was approved but died when the Europeans built a 30 meter version of the same telescope.
My bosses advised me to engage in serious discussion with Morita-san with the hope that the very different Japanese and American concepts of a large millimeter interferometric array might converge and we might work together and pool our funding to build an even better telescope. The emails back and forth with Morita-san fueled discussions with the MMA group, and these directed a large part of my work in that very exciting time when we were just starting to get site testing data from the 5000m elevation Chajnantor site in northern Chile where ALMA would eventually be built.
This budding collaboration over email led to a two month visit in Nobeyama, Japan in February and March of 1995. I was accompanied by my wife and two young children. Koh-Ichiro Morita was our host.
The first time I had visited Japan in 1992 for an astronomy meeting, I remember getting very lost and very anxious over transportation and being in a country where I did not know the language. When I returned in 1995 with my family, the trip went a little differently. We flew into Tokyo and spent the night at the Quaker House in Tokyo. The next morning, Koh-Ichiro picked us up, fed us, and took us into Nobeyama, and fed us again at a great Korean barbeque place. It was snowing, but inside it was warm, and there was endless food and endless sake. Later, we drove to the observatory and my family stayed in an apartment at the observatory.
While it was still challenging living in a country where I did not speak the language, and being a mile out of town and not being able to drive, Koh-Ichiro and his wife Motoko went out of their way to make us comfortable. There were many sight seeing tours on the weekends - visiting hot springs, castles, resort towns, and even going out on a boat on a lake near Mt. Fuji. There were many dinners and parties. I turned 33 and had my birthday celebration with Morita-san at my apartment. We often shared music. I had brought a mandolin and a kalimba over, Motoko played piano, Koh-Ichiro played violin - we had a great time. Some of my favorite times were when Motoko played piano - she had a great spirit inside her that burst out through her music. Koh-Ichiro joked that while he loved music, he wasn't very good - it was Motoko who really shined. While there was truth in his words, this was also Koh-Ichiro's way of helping other people shine.
My work in Japan with Morita-san went very well. It was among the best times of my astronomical career, and it paved the way for more work together and better communications. And of course, eventually ALMA would be funded and built as an international collaboration.
Koh-Ichiro was extremely dedicated to his work and his family. He was a kind and generous man, and he was fun to be with. One of his main goals in life seemed to be to make sure that everyone was happy, and to work to fix problems that came up for other people.
I will always remember my time with him and his family as special - he made us happy. He made an environment in which I could do productive work. He made me feel welcomed.
I have a great sadness in my heart for Koh-Ichiro's family - for his wife Motoko, his son and daughter. Your Koh-Ichiro was a good human being, and I am glad that he was there for you as much as he was. I am very glad that I was able to spend time with him, to work with him, and to know him, and I will miss him dearly.
It is a tragedy that Koh-Ichiro Morita, so trusting and willing to collaborate with people across the globe, would be struck down on the street in Santiago, Chile, his second home. The nearly complete ALMA Telescope is a monument to the sacrifice he made.
May 9, 2012