Michio Kaku: Giving Science Greater Public Appeal

“Keep the flame of curiosity and wonderment alive … That is the well from which we scientists draw our nourishment and energy.”

Michio Kaku first achieved renown as the co-founder of string field theory, a branch of string theory that has brought science one step closer in the long quest for what Einstein referred to as a unifying “theory of everything.” Since then, the theoretical physicist has shifted his focus from research to education. On top of the many books, articles, and papers Kaku has written, he also works frequently in radio, TV, and film in an effort to popularize science and inform people of the part it plays in society’s continued progress.

Education and Inspiration

Kaku has often spoken about the importance of being an active observer of one’s place in the world. He acknowledged this as the foundation of his academic career, stating that “Magic, fantasy, [and] science fiction were all a gigantic playground for my imagination. They began a lifelong love [of] the impossible.” When Michio Kaku was eight years old, Albert Einstein passed away. That same day, one of his teachers spoke of a theory of everything, one that Einstein had worked on extensively but left incomplete. Kaku quickly developed a strong desire to finish the work that Einstein, his newfound hero, had started. For his high school science fair, Kaku constructed a particle accelerator in his parent’s garage. His ambitious project landed him a spot at the National Science Fair, where it caught the attention of the well-known physicist Edward Teller, who secured Kaku a full-ride to Harvard University. He graduated from Harvard in 1968, going on to take his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1972, after which he held a lectureship at Princeton that same year. During the Vietnam War, Kaku was drafted into the U.S. Army. He completed several levels of training but the war ended before he was deployed. Following this series of events, Kaku turned his attention back to research, setting a course for the impressive breakthroughs he would soon make.

Academic Career

Kaku hit the ground running, quickly establishing himself in the field of string theory, a Michio Kakumarriage between Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics, a union that Einstein had sought after but never been able to bring about. To this day, Kaku’s focus has never wavered from his original motivation: “I try to carry on Einstein’s quest to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into a single grand unified theory of everything,” he said. In 1974, Kaku, along with Keiji Kikkawa of Osaka University, co-authored the first papers describing string theory in a field form, thus creating string field theory. Since the 1970s, Kaku has taught and researched at New York University, Princeton, and the City College of New York, where he is currently a professor of theoretical physics. Kaku is a recipient of the Klopsteg Memorial Award and has had more than 70 articles published in physics journals around the world. He has been recognized as a great innovator and thinker, reinventing his fields of study in pursuit of scientific progress. However, perhaps Kaku’s most important work has been his tireless promotion of science as the gateway to the future, which has inspired generations of young minds, in the same way that Einstein inspired him so many years ago.

Popularizing Science

Dr. Michio Kaku has broadcast his message across numerous media platforms, all the while working to make complex scientific subjects accessible to a wider audience. He has written four New York Times best sellers: Physics of the Impossible (2008), Physics of the Future (2011)The Future of the Mind (2014), and, most recently, The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth (2018). Kaku regularly makes appearances on TV, at universities, and in film and radio. He has hosted or appeared in a number of documentaries on PBS, the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and BBC-TV. Kaku’s radio shows Exploration and Science Fantastic feature stimulating discussion of such topics as artificial intelligence, global warming, terrorism, extraterrestrial life, and time travel, to name a few. Kaku has spoken of his approach to science and education, recalling that “Einstein once said, ‘If a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably worthless. Meaning that great ideas are pictorial. Great ideas can be explained in the language of pictures. Things that you can see and touch, objects that you can visualize in the mind. That is what science is all about, not memorizing facts and figures.”

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