Scope and Content of Collection
Ma, Shanggeng, 1940-1983
Title: Shang-keng Ma Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1966 - 1983
3.50 linear feet
(7 archives boxes)
Abstract: Shang-keng Ma (9/24/40-11/24/83) was born in China and immigrated to the United States in 1959. He earned B.A. and Ph.D.
degrees in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962 and 1966. In 1966 he joined the University of California,
San Diego's physics department as an assistant researcher in Keith Brueckner's research group and remained with the department
until his death in 1983. Ma's was most recognized for his amplification and extension of Kenneth Wilson's work in renormalization
group theory of critical phenomena, resulting in his text book, MODERN THEORY OF CRITICAL PHENOMENA (1976). He became known
also for another graduate-level textbook, STATISTICAL MECHANICS, translated from Chinese and published in 1985.
Correspondence and teaching materials documenting the professional and academic career of Shang-keng Ma, a significant researcher
in particle physics. The papers cover the years 1966-1983 and are restricted to Ma's scientific concerns and teaching of
university level physics. Not included are materials documenting his writings about contemporary Chinese politics, his interests
in Chinese music and visual arts, or his personal life.
University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
La Jolla, California 92093-0175
Collection number: MSS 0100
Language of Material:
Collection materials in English
Collection is open for research.
Shang-keng Ma Papers, MSS 0100. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Shang-keng Ma (9/24/40-11/24/83) was born in Chungking, China, and came to the United States in 1959. He earned degrees in
physics from the University of California, Berkeley (B.A. 1962 and M.A. 1966). In 1966 Ma joined the University of California,
San Diego physics department as an assistant researcher in Keith Brueckner's research group. He was promoted to faculty status
in 1967 and remained with the physics department until his death in 1983.
During his career at UCSD, Ma was also a visiting professor at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study (1968-1969 and 1970),
at Cornell University (1972), at the University of California, Berkeley (1973-1974), at CEN Saclay in France, at Tsing Hua
University, Taiwan (1977-1978 and 1981), and at IBM - Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York (1981). It was
at Cornell that Ma became involved in the work for which he won the greatest acclaim: amplification and extension of Kenneth
Wilson's pioneering work in renormalization group theory of critical phenomena. Renormalization group theory (RG) is applicable
to many areas within theoretical physics; Ma focused on its applications to critical phenomena.
Critical phenomena are highly unusual. Many substances have phase transitions that are commonly observable, such as the transition
of water to steam. Critical phenomena involve phase transitions that, under certain circumstances, exhibit unique characteristics.
Water, for example, can appear as a milky and turgid substance, given the presence of specific values of critical exponents.
Five critical exponents, or factors, give rise to the diversity of critical phenomena observed by physicists in such areas
as fluid and ferromagnetic systems. The study of critical phenomena has focused on determining the quantitative value of
these factors. RG is the first theory that has been able to predict quantitative values for each of the critical exponents.
Ma's work between 1972 and 1976, which culminated in the publication of his book MODERN THEORY OF CRITICAL PHENOMENA (1976),
provided a much-needed introduction and clarification of the application of renormalization group theory to the study of critical
phenomena. During his research at CEN Saclay, Ma developed the Monte Carlo renormalization group technique, combining two
previously unrelated techniques into a single tool that is now commonly used in the quantitative study of critical phenomena.
Ma's career reflects a commitment to the importance of pedagogy. He wrote MODERN THEORY OF CRITICAL PHENOMENA as a textbook
for graduate students. Later, Ma set aside his study of critical phenomena in order to write another physics textbook, this
time in Chinese. This undertaking reflects Ma's interest in "the development of the Chinese language for use in modern science...."
He noted in an application for a Guggenheim grant that the lack of Chinese-language texts seriously limited Chinese students'
acquisition of scientific knowledge, reducing science classes to murky discussions of imprecisely understood concepts and
rote memorization of formulae. Ma believed that writing a textbook in Chinese would make a dual contribution. It would introduce
(old as well as new) terminology that was at once scientifically correct and intelligible in Chinese, and it would introduce
new developments in science to the Chinese-speaking world. Surprisingly, STATISTICAL MECHANICS, which appeared in English
in 1985, does not include discussion of Ma's work on renormalization group theory or critical phenomena.
Scope and Content of Collection
The Shang-keng Ma Papers are a record of Professor Ma's professional career at the University of California, San Diego and
his standing in the international community of theoretical particle physicists. Covering the years 1966-1983, the collection
is arranged in seven series: 1) BIOGRAPHY, 2) ADMINISTRATIVE MATERIALS, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) SUBJECT FILES, 5) NOTES, 6)
TEACHING MATERIALS, and 7) PUBLICATIONS.
SERIES 1: BIOGRAPHY
1983 1 folder
BIOGRAPHY holds a single document called "Remembering Shang-keng Ma," a memorial pamphlet containing a brief biography of
Ma and remembrances by family members, colleagues and friends from all over the world recognizing his scientific achievements
and personal strengths.
SERIES 2: ADMINISTRATIVE MATERIALS
1971-1982 2 folders
This series contains Ma's bibliographies, departmental biographies and promotions, curriculum vitae, notices of doctoral committee
assignments, and interdepartmental memos.
SERIES 3: CORRESPONDENCE
1973-1983 4 folders
CORRESPONDENCE is arranged chronologically from 1973 to 1983 and fills four folders. Ma's practice after 1979 of filing his
correspondence together regardless of subject has been maintained.
General Correspondence contains Ma's letters to and from researchers and visiting professors he sponsored, colleagues at other
universities, and the administrators of his department. In addition, this subseries includes Ma's letters to editors and
publishers of scientific journals in his capacity as a referee. Also included are Ma's recommendation of Bernd Matthias for
a Nobel Prize in physics and a letter to Ma's congressman protesting the violation of human rights in Israel.
The Research subseries is composed of letters from physicists who followed Ma's research closely and asked him specific questions
regarding his calculations and findings. Ma's responses are not included in the collection. Correspondence regarding Ma's
articles and books can be found in the PUBLICATIONS SERIES.
SERIES 4: SUBJECT FILES
1970-1982 1 box
SUBJECT FILES contains several subseries. Chinese Issues contains "open letters" to President Nixon and the U.C.S.D student
paper protesting the United States' intention to give the Ryukyu Islands off the coast of China to the government of Japan.
Also here is a letter widely circulated to faculty members of Chinese descent from the Chinese Students Association in Houston.
The Grants Subseries contains Ma's records of his Sloan fellowship, the NSF award which funded the writing of STATISTICAL
MECHANICS in Chinese, and other grant applications and materials.
The Sabbaticals subseries holds Ma's forms and correspondence arranging leaves to pursue research at Cornell, U.C. Berkeley,
Harvard, CEN Saclay, and Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.
Visiting Professors and Researchers contains letters and forms inviting and arranging collaboration at UCSD with scientists
from other countries, including Pierre Pfeuty, Amnon Aharoney, Yoseph Imry, and Gene Mazenko.
SERIES 5: NOTES
n.d. 7 folders
NOTES contains seven folders of note pads containing Ma's calculations.
SERIES 6: TEACHING MATERIALS
1970-1982 2 boxes
Professor Ma's teaching materials originally included numerous mimeographs of quizzes, tests, and homework problems. One
copy of each was retained in the collection. Student grades and completed tests have been discarded. Ma taught graduate
courses in "Theoretical Mechanics" and "Many-body Theory," and undergraduate courses in "Thermal Physics," Natural Science,"
and "Science and Technology." His course materials, arranged by class in chronological order, contain tests, homework problems,
handouts, some lecture notes, and teaching evaluations completed by his students. One folder contains materials from Ma's
sabbatical at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan--an outline for his book, Statistical Mechanics, written in Taiwan, and course
materials he used there.
SERIES 7: PUBLICATIONS
1966-1983 2 boxes
This series is divided into Writings and Correspondence. Writings includes Ma's doctoral thesis, original manuscripts, two
unpublished articles and typescript drafts of his books, MODERN THEORY OF CRITICAL PHENOMENA, and STATISTICAL MECHANICS.
Correspondence holds reviews of the first book, letters to editors, to referees and to the English translator of STATISTICAL
MECHANICS. Originally, articles in the PUBLICATIONS series were organized chronologically by title, each folder containing
numerous reprints, photocopies, and occasionally, related correspondence. Photocopies and most reprints have been removed
from the collection. Original drafts and unpublished articles have been retained. Related correspondence has been consolidated
into a few folders except for book-related correspondence, which is kept separate.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Ma, Shanggeng, 1940-1983 -- Archives
University of California, San Diego -- History -- Archives
University of California, San Diego. -- Dept. of Physics -- Archives
University of California, San Diego -- Faculty -- Archives
Physics -- Study and teaching
Physicists -- Biography
Critical phenomena (physics)
Particles (Nuclear physics)
Amit, D.J., 1938-
Wilson, Kenneth G. -- (Kenneth Gedes), 1936-
De Dominicis, Cyrano