Emeritus professor of physics James Susumu Imai died on July 8 of heart failure. He joined the physics faculty at California State University, Dominguez Hills in 1970 and taught classes in physical science, physics within clinical science lab applications, and solid state physics until retiring in 2005.
Imai’s students remember him best as a humorous, but thorough instructor. Daniel Gutierrez (Class of ’86, B.A., physics/mathematics), a senior project engineer at The Aerospace Corporation, says that his former professor used acronyms like “FLT” – which meant, “from last time” – long before text messages were invented, to recap lecture notes from the previous class.
“I remember one of [Jim’s] quotes from taking an electronic course from him,” says Gutierrez. “He said, ‘Electronics isn’t fair. A circuit that is 99 percent correct is still wrong – it doesn’t work.’”
Rosemary Diaz (Class of ’00, B.S., physics) is an optical engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) in Pasadena. She says that Imai’s classes reinforced her love of the sciences.
“Dr. Imai’s lectures were full of useful information – not only the physics, but also real life practical applications of the topics presented in class,” she says. “He would often pause between topics to tell a funny story, or introduce some other physics-related topic.”
Marshall Bialosky, emeritus professor of music, says that Imai was a well-rounded individual.
“[Dr. Imai] was a friend and colleague who supported the arts on our campus,” he says. “He was one of the few non-music or non-art professors who supported the arts by attending concerts on campus.”
David Bradfield, professor of music, also enjoyed an interdisciplinary relationship with his colleague.
“Jim was a wonderful friend and he was one of my closest faculty mentors when I first began teaching here,” says Bradfield. “I will sorely miss him.”
Former physics department chair Keith Lee collaborated with Imai on a lab manual in 1991. He remembers his colleague as “an excellent teacher” who related well to physics students of all levels. He also remembers enjoying outdoor activities such as camping and fishing with Imai, who later served as a consultant for the Daiwa Corporation, a manufacturer of high performance reels and rods.
“When it came to electronics, he was at the top of his [field],” says Lee.
Danny Yee (Class of ’91, B.A., physics), a physics teacher at Torrance High School, says that Imai helped inspire him to his present career as an educator.
“In high school and at El Camino College, physics was a struggle for me,” recalls Yee. “Dr. Imai made physics understandable. He helped me build my physics foundation and I felt well-prepared to take on teaching using humor, patience, and analogical questioning until I think the student begins to realize they understand.”
Kenneth Rodriguez (Class of ’01, B.S., chemistry), returned to CSU Dominguez Hills and is now an assistant professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department. He remembers his former professor as “a great guy, very fun to be around. You could go to him and talk to him about anything.”
“I loved his teaching style,” says Rodriguez. “One thing I will always remember about James Imai is how he would try to simplify physics the best he could. It really inspired me to use that type of teaching in my career now.”
Imai was born on November 3, 1939, in Los Angeles. He earned his bachelor of arts in physics at UCLA, his master of sciences in physics at San Diego State University, and his doctorate at UCLA. In addition to his teaching at CSU Dominguez Hills, he served as a consultant for Mikron Electronics. From the 1970s to the 1990s, he collaborated with the late Dr. Isadore Rudnick of UCLA on an investigation of soliton phenomena, the occurrence of self-reinforcing solitary waves in physics.
Imai also conducted an ongoing investigation of low temperature physics with the Acoustic Research Group at UCLA. He wrote articles for international journals, including Life Sciences and the European Journal of Physiology, and several lab manuals for the physics department at CSU Dominguez Hills. He presented his research at meetings of the Acoustical Society of America and the American Physical Society, and in 1976, gained a U.S. Patent for his development of a blood flow meter.
Imai was chair of the physics department from 1995 to 1999. He contributed to the campus community by serving on curriculum and reappointment, tenure, and promotion (RTP) committees. He and his students also helped keep wheeled toys at the Child Development Center in good repair, and he arranged tours for his students at Kaiser Medical Technology Labs, the manufacturing facilities at Northrop Aircraft, and the Reynolds Metals Company. For several summers, he taught a free summer electronics lab for local high school teachers and was primarily responsible for setting up demonstration by the physics department at campus open house events. In the late 1980s, he acquired lottery grants for curricular enhancement and instructional development from the Research, Scholarship, Creative Activity Awards Program (RSCAAP). In 1986, Imai was selected by Disabled Student Services as an Outstanding Professor.
Imai is survived by his wife (separated), Linda Imai , daughter Jennifer Imai, sons Jonathan and Joshua Imai, and longtime companion, Leslie Ogg. Cards may be sent to the family at 313 N. Gertruda Avenue, Redondo Beach, 90277. Anyone wishing to speak with the family is welcome to do so by contacting Virginia Knauss in the CSU Dominguez Hills physics department at (310) 243-3615.
A memorial event in the form of an open house will take place at Ms. Ogg’s home on July 31 at the aforementioned address; for more information, use contacts above. Donations may be made in Dr. Imai’s memory to Hope University in Anaheim, a fine arts program for developmentally challenged adults, by clicking here.