My teacher David Maurice

Taka Nagasaki

I don't feel comfortable speaking about David like this because it's impossible to describe a giant man like him in a short time, but I'll try.

I got to know David Maurice in 1994 when I started working with him at Columbia. At that time I didn't know anything about him, except he was an old man about to retire who was difficult to understand when he spoke. Eventually I found out he was a famous scientist, but more importantly I found out that we could communicate on the same wavelength, and we ended up spending almost every single working day together for the last 7 or 8 years.

One of the first things I noticed was that he was quite argumentative. I liked his style of argument, which was blunt with no wasted words, cutting to the chase, and no apology. His scientific critique was always eloquent with words like stupid, insane, silly, crazy, and boring. There was no need to interpret his opinion.

When he was not arguing he was thinking. He stayed in the lab past midnight on many occasions, sitting back in his office chair, relaxed, staring at a wall, contemplating. Probably this was his favorite activity in the lab. The end result was that almost everyday he came up with a new idea to test. This made us overloaded with ideas and not enough time, but new ideas kept pouring out of his mind until the very end in fact. He came up with more than a few ideas from his hospital bed.

Not all of them were about science, by the way. The following passage is what he was preparing at hospital, intended for politicians.

Quote: I suggest the establishment of a long term situation whereby Israeli and Arab children may be able to live in the same community. This will ultimately have to be run by an international organization, but this initial step will provide a home in the British midlands, supported by the U.S. I believe the best way to establish an optical link between them is to provide a camera that images the chosen field, a variable optical path, found in an oil filled space recording camera. End quote.

If you get confused, that's quite all right. He was always ahead of time, ahead of all of us, by a wide margin.

Finally about David Maurice as a teacher, he didn't teach me anything by words, but he taught me everything by his own action. I learned everything by watching him, for instance ...

He went to a Radioshack to pick up a two dollar switch by himself, or did all the things by himself that other professors of his statute would have delegated to an assistant.

He threw the toughest questions to his colleagues at a meeting, which were almost always simple and honest questions that naturally came out of his mind, of course making sure to greet ladies around him between the questions.

He spent hours revising a single sentence when preparing for a manuscript, which cost him in various ways such as a missed dental appointment.

He never trusted anything published until he had a chance to examine it by himself. He didn't even trust his own results until he had time to fully analyze them to his satisfaction.

After failing to get a grant in 1996, at the age of 74, he told me with a defiant voice that "I must tell you that I am not going to fade away like this." Science was his life, and the next few years proved he was still among the leaders in the field.

I want you all to understand that he was an outstanding teacher by example, which is a tiny part of who he was, but that is the way I will remember him.