In Memoriam: Masaki Suenaga

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Posted: May 26, 2009

Masaki SuenagaMasaki Suenaga, BNL Senior Scientist Emeritus in the Condensed Matter Physics & Materials Science Department (CMPMSD), died on February 13, 2009. During his 37-year career at BNL, Suenaga made distinguished contributions to the field of superconductivity and superconductor materials, which can transmit electrical current with no loss of energy. Suenaga retired from the Laboratory in 2006, but continued his research on a part-time basis until he was hospitalized in January, after a long battle with leukemia. Suenaga spent much of his early career studying the superconductor niobium-tin, and his research resulted in a process to make the first industrial niobium-tin superconducting wire for use in high-field magnets.
Peter Johnson, CMPMSD Chair, commented on Suenaga’s work, “His early efforts undoubtedly helped to establish BNL’s former Materials Science Department (MSD) as the world-renowned center for the development of superconducting materials suitable for technological applications. Over the years, the many improvements in the properties of niobium-tin wires that he and his collaborators evolved have been incorporated in all of the wires that are currently used for magnets in magnetic-fusion reactors, high-energy particle accelerators, and high-frequency, nuclear magnetic resonance instruments.”
Suenaga’s research led to the production of a flat niobium-tin tape with low losses of alternating electric current. The flat niobium-tin tape was used in Brookhaven Lab’s Power Transmission Project, which began in the 1970s to develop a viable and cost-effective means of transmitting large amounts of electrical power underground. This project laid the groundwork for the Long Island Power Authority’s installation of the world’s first high-temperature superconductor power transmission cable system in Holbrook, Long Island, in 2008. The new cable uses far less wire and yet conducts up to five times more power in a smaller right-of-way than is needed by traditional copper-based cables.
Suenaga’s interest in the properties, processing methods and microstructures of superconductors led to the establishment of a transmission electron microscopy facility (TEM) at BNL. Soon after the new facility was installed, Suenaga used TEM techniques to solve an important corrosion problem, and his success garnered funding from DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences for corrosion science studies in the Materials Science Department.
Born in Japan, Suenaga moved to the United States to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He received a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering in 1962 and 1964, respectively, and went on to earn at Ph.D. in metallurgy at Berkeley in 1969. He joined BNL in the same year as an assistant metallurgist and worked his way through the ranks to become a senior metallurgist in 1983. He was honored with BNL’s Distinguished Research & Development Award in 1992, became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2002, and won an IEEE Award for Applied Superconductivity Research in September 2008 for significant and sustained contributions to applied superconductivity. Suenaga retired in 2006, but he still worked part-time as a guest scientist, then as Senior Scientist Emeritus since November 2008.
Yimei Zhu, a senior scientist in CMPMSD, said that Suenaga had convinced him to come to BNL and had been his supervisor in his early years at the Laboratory. “I was always touched by his work ethic, his modesty, honesty, integrity and passion for research,” Zhu said.
David Welch, a retired senior scientist and current guest scientist in CMPMSD, said of Suenaga, “His warm and easy-going personality, together with his clear insight, uncommon sense, and tenacity in the solution of scientific problems made him a sought-after collaborator by colleagues at BNL and all over the world of applied superconductivity, and a leader in the field. It was my great honor and pleasure to be his friend and colleague for 35 years.”
American Superconductor also sent condolences, saying, in part, “His work was characterized by great insight and ability to bring together theory with experiment. He also made a unique contribution in furthering the productive relationship between American and Japanese scientists in the superconductivity field . . . Above all, we treasured him as an honorable and accessible colleague and great friend.”
A resident of Bellport, Mas Suenaga is survived by his wife Yoko, who works in BNL’s Physics Department; his son Ken and daughter-in-law Yumilo with their sons Reo and Riku, and his son Ben and daughter-in-law Marta.

Last Modified: May 26, 2009