Citations and Speeches

Citations

155th Congregation (1998)

LEE Yuan Tseh
Nobel Laureate , Hon, D.Sc., M.Sc. Ph.D.

The Public Orator, Professor M.M.M. Chan, MA, MPhil, wrote and delivered the following citation:

W. H. Auden has written, "The true men of action in our time, those who transform the world, are not the politicians and statesmen, but the scientists." If this is so then our next graduand is a "true man of action". Professor Lee Yuan-tseh is a world-renowned scientist and a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, winning the prize in 1986, together with Dudley Herschbach and John Polanyi. He is also an inspiring educator who has helped nurture other "men of action".

Professor Lee has distinguished himself through the study of the dynamics of chemical reactions. He wanted to understand how exactly chemical reactions take place when atoms and molecules collide. Because it is not possible to observe the motion of microscopic atoms and molecules, his team devised an experimental method which is now known as the crossed molecular beams technique, to obtain experimental results which provide a clear picture of the dynamics of chemical reactions. Because of his research it is now possible to see more clearly the dynamics of the elementary chemical process.

His story begins in Hsinchu, Taiwan, where he was born in 1936, the third of eight children of an artist and a school teacher, from whom he evidently inherited creativity and dedication. Academically brilliant from a young age, Lee Yuan-tseh enjoyed a childhood that was anything but "all work and no play". At various times during his years at school Professor Lee played the trombone and was an enthusiastic member of his school's baseball team as well as the ping-pong and tennis teams. His passion for baseball remains to this day, and Professor Lee still plays the game with his students, using it to demonstrate theories of chemical reactions.

He also read widely as a schoolboy, proving the truth of the adage, "Reading maketh a full man"; and it was through his prolific and wide-ranging reading that he became acquainted with Marie Curie and her work. Through his admiration of her came his dedication to science and his idealism.

In 1955 Lee Yuan-tseh was admitted to National Taiwan University without having to take the entrance examinations, in recognition of his outstanding academic record in high school. He chose Chemistry as his field after his freshman year. After graduation he went on to do graduate work in the National Tsinghua University. After receiving his MS and a period as research assistant at National Tsinghua he entered the University of California at Berkeley as a graduate student in 1962, and under Professor Bruce Mahan he received his PhD in 1965.

Between 1967 and 1968 he joined Professor Dudley Herschbach at Harvard University as a post-doctoral fellow. While at Harvard he worked with Professor Herschbach's group on the first successful non-alkali metallic molecular beam experiment. In 1968 he accepted a teaching appointment in the University of Chicago, and this marked the beginning of a distinguished career as an educator. He taught for six years in Chicago, and there developed further as a creative scientist: he constructed a new generation crossed molecular beams apparatus which he used to carry out experiments with his students.

Lee Yuan-tseh returned to Berkeley in 1974 as Professor of Chemistry and Principal Investigator, Materials and Chemical Sciences Division, at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory of the University of California. Today he holds these positions still. In addition he was made University Professor, Berkeley in 1991. He is currently President, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.

It seems hardly necessary to say that Professor Lee has been the recipient of numerous Fellowships, awards and prizes, the Nobel being arguably the best known. It has been said of the Nobel Prize in Literature that it can be a jinx: Nobel Prize winner, Saul Bellow, once labelled it a potential "kiss of death"; sometimes it can be merely a tribute to past masterpieces. This has certainly not been the case with Lee Yuan-tseh. He continues to work and to achieve. Among the awards received by Professor Lee in recognition of his achievements are The Ernest O Lawrence Award, US Department of Energy, the National Medal of Science from the White House, the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Accomplishment, the Faraday Medal from the Royal Society of Chemistry***I am giving a very partial listing.

Many universities and learned societies, including Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Chicago, Princeton, Harvard, the Royal Society of Chemistry, London, the Japan Society of Advancement of Science, have invited him to hold lectureships. He has been elected a Member or Fellow of such prestigious institutions as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the Gottingen Academy of Sciences and the Academia Sinica, Taipei. He serves on national and international panels and committees and spends time editing, and advising editors of, learned journals. He has been the recipient of honorary degrees from at least six universities, including the University of Waterloo, Canada, the University of Rome, Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

There is no doubt that Lee Yuan-tseh enjoys an enviable international reputation. He is also a very busy man, who, I am told, still puts in many working hours a day. He has come a long way from his hometown of Hsinchu. But Professor Lee has not forgotten China. A firm believer in internationalism, he urges students to have minds broad enough to "have the whole world in view". More prosperous and developed regions can take the lead and guide the less developed along. He is deeply convinced that the modernization of China must be rooted in large-scale investments in education.

He has contributed a great deal to this investment, in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Chinese Mainland through the assistance he has given to the advancement of science and technology. That he holds honorary degrees from institutions in all three regions shows China's awareness of its debt to Professor Lee. Furthermore Lee Yuan-tseh holds Honorary Professorships from at least nine Chinese Universities. As early as 1974-76 he served as the Chinese University of Hong Kong's External Examiner; he has also lent his expertise to advisory boards and charitable foundations here. He is currently President of the Academia Sinica, Taipei. He established the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Science in Taiwan, which enjoys a high international reputation for its excellence. One achievement of which Professor Lee should be proud is that he has trained some topnotched PhD's, many of whom are now holding important positions in China, helping to fulfil his vision of an educated modern China.

Mr Pro-Chancellor, in recognition of his services to the advancement of science and technology, I present Professor Lee Yuan-tseh for the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.