Main content start
decoration image
TANG Ching Wan




TANG Ching Wan

Doctor of Science
honoris causa

Honourable Chancellor,

Professor Ching W. Tang is an individual whose life has been defined by discovery. He is a luminary in the fields of chemistry, physics, material sciences, and optoelectronics. Professor Tang is known throughout the world as the Father of the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED). The application of this invention has not merely enhanced, but has transformed our visual appreciation and understanding of the world as it is presented to us through all types of electronic displays. Thanks to Professor Tang, the technological revolution associated with OLED displays is just beginning and the results so far promise a technological future that is not just brighter, but also more energy efficient and diverse.

The next time you see crystal clear, super sharp images of brilliant color and perfect blackness on a high definition OLED television or iPhone X, I ask you to look beyond the nightly news, a football match, or Facebook. I encourage all of you to visualise the pioneer who is about to receive HKU's highest honour. In the near future, when you use a smart phone, tablet device, or laptop, which possesses a wallpaper thin display that is flexible, even wearable, please think of him again. Why do I request this of you? Because all future evolutions in, and applications of, OLED technology will trace their origins back to a Hakka boy from Yuen Long in the New Territories. One fact makes this all the more remarkable and remarkably ironic: the village that Professor Tang called home did not have electricity for the first eight years of his life.

Born in 1947, Professor Tang grew up in a close-knit community of roughly twelve families, where he worked in fields and with farm animals. He vividly remembers the arrival of electricity for its fascinating novelty, and also because it relieved him from the nightly chore of lighting kerosene lamps in his home. Electricity, however, did nothing to free the young Tang of another demanding job that he did not particularly care for: weeding with his bare hands on bent knees in a wet rice field. So, he cobbled together what must have been his first invention-a handmade raking tool comprised of scrap wood and nails that made his weeding more efficient. For an individual whose name is now on 75 US patents,145 if you include the European Union, this makeshift tool was clearly a humble but meaningful beginning to a life of learning and innovation.

Indeed, his life lessons were just beginning. As a student at Yuen Long Public Middle School and later at King's College, next door to HKU, Ching Tang learned the importance of perseverance, determination, and finding a passion; something he still conveys to students today. After graduating, he enrolled at the University of British Columbia where he completed a Bachelor of Science with 1st Class Honours in 1970. Five years later he earned his PhD in physical chemistry at Cornell University under the supervision of a legendary Professor, Andreas Albrecht. Professor Tang has revealed that being part of Albrecht's research team was "like embarking on a journey in both science and humanity." Professor Albrecht served as "a wise guide" who enabled Ching Tang to "take the helm to experience discoveries on his own".

Tang's important discoveries followed soon after he joined Eastman Kodak as a Research Scientist in 1975. It was at Kodak, that Professor Tang and his research associate of twenty-four years, Steven Van Slyke, changed the world and, as Professor Richard Eisenberg declared, "literally created a new technology". Tang's breakthrough was the realisation that organic materials could efficiently convert electricity into light. This, along with Professor Tang's invention of the first heterojunction organic solar cell, is heralded as a developmental milestone. The potential for future advances and discoveries in display technology, organic solar cells, in organic electronics and optoelectronics is endless and they all can trace their genesis back to Professor Tang.

Now, if there are any audience members from the University Grants Committee or Research Grants Committee who are associated with the upcoming Hong Kong Research Assessment Exercise, please take what I am about to say to heart. Professor Tang's most ground-breaking patents were secured in 1981 but it took six years before he could publish his revolutionary findings. Dissemination of world-changing research often flows more slowly than all of us would like, and sometimes it is for reasons outside of our own control. But, it does nothing to diminish its impact when published. Professor Tang's seminal paper published in 1987 in the journal Applied Physics Letters has been cited, not just read and engaged with but cited, 15,869 times as of 1 May 2018. His five next most important articles published between 1986 and 1997 have been cited a total of 15064 times. Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, honourable chancellor, that is what you call impact! The application of his research, moreover, is the very definition of knowledge exchange.

Importantly, I am not alone in reaching this conclusion. In recognition of his discoveries, inventions, publications, and owing to the utility of his research, Professor Tang has received so many awards and honours that if I were to list them all, my oration would continue for at least another two hours. So, let me highlight just a few.

In 2011 Professor Tang was awarded the Wolf Prize in Chemistry-a prize that is widely viewed as a precursor to, or bellwether of, a Nobel Prize. In 2017 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers bestowed on Tang the Jun-ichi Nishizawa Medal. He has also received the Humboldt Research Award (2005), the Daniel E. Noble Award (2007), the Eduard Rhein Award (2013), and the Nick Holonyak Jr. Award (2014). Moreover, Professor Tang has been elected to many international academic societies associated with physics, engineering, and optics including the American Physical Society, the Society for Information Display, the US National Academy of Engineering, and the local Academies: The Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences.

After thirty-one years at Kodak, Tang retired as Distinguished Fellow of the Kodak Research Laboratories in 2006. Of course, he didn't really retire. In 2006 Tang joined the University of Rochester as the Doris Johns Cherry Professor of Chemical Engineering and in 2013 he was appointed as the IAS Bank of East Asia Professor of the Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. His research and teaching continue and his passion for discovery shines just as brightly today.

One final accolade I would like to mention took place earlier this month. Professor Tang was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in America. There, he joins just over 500 other inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Frank Colton, the Wright Brothers, and Mary Engle Pennington whose inventions have become ubiquitous parts of our daily lives. This is very fitting for when I asked Professor Tang how he hopes to be remembered 100 years from now, he replied, "as someone who was lucky enough to introduce a technology for everyone to use in their daily lives, even 100 years from now". Samsung, Apple, LG, Motorola, Panasonic, Huawei, Sony, Philips, Lenovo are just a few of the manufacturers incorporating OLED technology. Professor Tang's contributions are already all around us.

There is one thing, yes one, that Professor Tang did not excel at. And, today we are all better off because of it. Tennis! Professor Tang confessed to me that if he had possessed more on-court ability, he would have become a professional tennis player rather than a scientist. We can count our lucky stars that this did not eventuate. Finally, to all of you Tiger Moms or future Tiger Moms in the audience, the gifted scientist and inventor before you is proof that there is an alternative way to parenting. Professor Tang revealed to me that his mother who had received no formal education-she was never taught to read or write-was the opposite of a "Tiger Mom." She was open-minded and supportive and let her son chart his own course and become his own person. This, Professor Tang informed me, "was the best gift I could have gotten from a parent".

Professor Tang, with your curiosity, passion, perseverance, humanity, and of course because of your inventions, you have not just led the way, you have lighted a path for new and exciting discoveries for many years to come. Thank you.

Honourable Chancellor, it is my great honour and privilege to present to you Professor Ching Wan Tang for the award of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor J Charles Schencking, the Public Orator of the University.

decoration image