Michio Kaku (加來 道雄, Kaku Michio, born January 24, 1947) is an American physicist, the Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics in the City College of New York of City University of New York, the co-founder of string field theory, and a “communicator” and “popularizer” of science. He has written several books on physics and related topics, has made frequent appearances on radio, television and film and writes extensive online blogs and articles.
Michio was born in San Jose, California to Japanese immigrant parents. His grandfather came to the United States to take part in the clean-up operation after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. His father was born in California but was educated in Japan, so spoke little English. Both his parents were put in the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, where they met and where his brother was born.
Kaku attended Cubberley High School in Palo Alto in the early 1960s and played first board on their chess team. At the National Science Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he attracted the attention of physicist Edward Teller, who took Kaku as a protégé, awarding him the Hertz Engineering Scholarship. Kaku graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a B.S. degree in 1968 and was first in his physics class. He attended the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley and received a Ph.D. in 1972 and held a lectureship at Princeton University in 1973. During the Vietnam War, Kaku completed his U.S. Army basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia and his advanced infantry training at Fort Lewis, Washington. However, the Vietnam War ended before he was deployed as an infantryman.
Kaku currently holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he has lectured for more than 30 years. Presently, he is engaged in defining the “Theory of Everything“, which seeks to unify the four fundamental forces of the universe: the strong force, the weak force, gravity and electromagnetism. He was a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and New York University He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is listed in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, and American Men and Women of Science.
He has published research articles on string theory from 1969 to 2000. In 1974, along with Prof. K. Kikkawa, he wrote the first paper on string field theory, now a major branch of string theory, which summarizes each of the five string theories into a single equation. In addition to his work on string field theory, he also authored some of the first papers on multi-loop amplitudes in string theory, the first paper on the divergences of these multi-loop amplitudes, the first paper on supersymmetry breaking at high temperatures in the early universe, the first paper on super-conformal gravity, and also some of the first papers on the non-polynomial closed string field theory. Many of the ideas he first explored have since blossomed into active areas of string research. His most recent research publication, on bosonic quantum membranes, was published in Physical Review in 2000.
Kaku is the author of several doctoral textbooks on string theory and quantum field theory and has published 170 articles in journals covering topics such as superstring theory, supergravity, supersymmetry, and hadronic physics. He is also author of the popular science books: Visions, Hyperspace, Einstein’s Cosmos, and Parallel Worlds, and co-authored Beyond Einstein with Jennifer Thompson. Hyperspace was a best-seller and was voted one of the best science books of the year by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. Parallel Worlds was a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in the UK.
In Physics of the Impossible, he examines the technologies of invisibility, teleportation, precognition, star ships, antimatter engines, time travel and more—all regarded as things that are not possible today but that might be possible in the future. In this book, he ranks these subjects according to when, if ever, these technologies might become reality. In March 2008, Physics of the Impossible entered the New York Times best-seller list, and stayed on for five weeks.
Kaku has publicly stated his concerns over matters including the human cause of global warming, nuclear armament, nuclear power and the general misuse of science. He was critical of the Cassini-Huygens space probe because of the 72 pounds of plutonium contained in the craft for use by its radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Conscious of the possibility of casualties if the probe’s fuel were dispersed into the environment during a malfunction and crash as the probe was making a ‘sling-shot’ maneuver around earth, Kaku publicly criticized NASA’s risk assessment. He has also spoken on the dangers of space junk and called for more and better monitoring. Kaku is generally a vigorous supporter of the exploration of outer space, believing that the ultimate destiny of the human race may lie in the stars; but he is critical of some of the cost-ineffective missions and methods of NASA.
Kaku credits his anti-nuclear war position to programs he heard on the Pacifica Radio network, during his student years in California. It was during this period that he made the decision to turn away from a career developing the next generation of nuclear weapons in association with Dr. Teller and focused on research, teaching, writing and media. Dr. Kaku joined with others such as Dr. Helen Caldicott, Jonathan Schell, Peace Action and was instrumental in building a global anti-nuclear weapons movement that arose in the 1980s, during the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Kaku was a board member of Peace Action and on the board of radio station WBAI-FM in New York City where he originated his long running program, Explorations, that focused on the issues of science, war, peace and the environment.
His remark from an interview in support of SETI, “We could be in the middle of an intergalactic conversation…and we wouldn’t even know.”, is used in the third Symphony of Science installment, Our Place in the Cosmos.