Yuan Tseh Lee Biography - Nobel Prize Winner (1986)


Yuan Tseh Lee (Chinese: 李遠哲 pinyin: Lǐ Yuǎnzh, Wade-Giles: Li³ Yan³-che²; pe̍h-ōe-jī: L On-tiat) (born November 19, 1936) is a famous chemist. He was the first Taiwanese-born Nobel Prize laureate, who, along with the German-Canadian John C. Polanyi and American Dudley R. Herschbach won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 "for their contributions to the dynamics of chemical elementary processes." Lee's particular work was on crossed molecular beams further towards its use for general reactions, a method for the study of important reactions for relatively large molecules. Since January 15, 1994, Lee has been the President of the Academia Sinica of the Republic of China (ROC; Taiwan).

Early days
Yuan Tseh Lee (right) as young undergraduate student working at NTU lab in early 1960s.Of Fujianese ancestry (specifically, Rongqiao Village (榕橋村), Nan'an County (南安縣), Quanzhou City), Lee was born in Hsinchu City in northern Taiwan to Li Tze-fan (李澤藩 Lǐ Zfn), an accomplished Hsinchu-born artist, and Ts'ai P'ei (蔡配 Cài Pi), an elementary school teacher from Wuchi Township (梧棲鎮), Taichung County. Lee played on the baseball and ping-pong teams of Hsinchu Elementary School (新竹國小), and later studied at the Hsinchu Senior High School (竹中), where he played tennis and trombone. Due to his achievements in high school, he entered National Taiwan University without taking the entrance examination and earned a B.Sc. in 1959. He earned a M.S. at National Tsing Hua University in 1961 and Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1965.

Contributions to Chemistry
In February 1967, he started working with Dudley Herschbach at Harvard University on reactions between hydrogen atoms and diatomic alkali molecules and the construction of a universal crossed molecular beams apparatus. In 1974, he returned to Berkeley as professor of chemistry and principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, becoming a U.S. citizen the same year. At Berkeley, Lee retains the title of Professor of the Graduate School Emeritus. He is also University Professor Emeritus of the University of California system.

Yuan Tseh Lee in his office at department of chemistry in UC Berkeley in early 1980s.

Road to Nobel prize
Chemical paper print from Chemica scripta containing professor Lee's nobel lecture in 1986.One of the major goals of chemistry is the study of material transformations where chemical kinetics plays an important role. Scientists during the 19th century stated macroscopic chemical processes consist of many elementary chemical reactions that are themselves simply a series of encounters between atomic or molecular species. In order to understand the time dependence of chemical reactions, chemical kineticists have traditionally focused on sorting out all of the elementary chemical reactions involved in a macroscopic chemical process and determining their respective rates.

Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied this phenomenon during the late 1880s, and stated the relations between reactive molecular encounters and rates of reactions (formulated in terms of activation energies).

Other scientists at the time also stated a chemical reaction is fundamentally a mechanical event, involving the rearrangement of atoms and molecules during a collision. Although these initial theoretical studies were only qualitative, they heralded a new era in the field of chemical kinetics; allowing the prediction of the dynamical course of a chemical reaction.

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, with the development of many sophisticated experimental techniques, it became possible to study the dynamics of elementary chemical reactions in the laboratory. Such as, the analysis of the threshold operating conditions of a chemical laser or the spectra obtained using various linear or non-linear laser spectroscopic techniques.

Yuan Tseh Lee receiving Nobel price in chemistry by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in 1986.Professor's Lee's research focused on the possibility to control the energies of the reagents, and to understand the dependence of chemical reactivity on molecular orientation, among other studies related to the nature of reaction intermediates, decay dynamics, and identifying complex reaction mechanisms. To do so, professor Yuan used a breakthrought laboratory technique at the time, called the "crossed molecular beams technique", where the information derived from the measurements of angular and velocity distributions allowed him and his team to understand the dynamics of elementary chemical reactions.

Political role
Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian (right) shakes hands with Yuan-tseh Lee. Lee, was the head of Taiwan's delegation to the 2004 APEC meeting in Chile.Yuan T. Lee played an important role during the 2000 ROC Presidential election. On the last week of the election he announced his support for the candidacy of Chen Shui-bian who subsequently won a narrow victory over James Soong. Chen intended to nominate Lee to become Premier, but Lee declined after deliberating for a few days. Lee has been the President of the Academia Sinica since 1994 and renounced his U.S. citizenship to take the post.

Recent works
During his tenure, Lee has worked tirelessly to create new research institutes, advance scientific research within Taiwan, and to recruit and cultivate top scholars for the Academic Sinica.

Nobel laureate Yuan Tseh Lee head of the delegation of Chinese Taipei talks to president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines during the 11th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader's Meeting.However, Lee remains unpopular among many students and parents who have criticized him for his involvement in educational reforms that many feel to have put unnecessary burden and administrative complications on the students and reduced competitiveness of tertiary education. His critics have often said that Lee should stick to the sciences and stop using his Nobel pedigree to influence educational and political policies, areas with which he is not familiar.

At the request of President Chen, Lee was Chinese Taipei's representative in the 2002 APEC leaders' summit in Mexico. (Presidents of the Republic of China have been barred from joining the APEC summits because of objections from the People's Republic of China.) Lee represented President Chen again in the 2003 and 2004 APEC summits in Thailand and Chile, respectively.

In January 2004, he and industrial tycoon Wang Yung-ching and theatre director Lin Hwai-min issued a joint statement asking both Chen Shui-bian and Lien Chan to "drop hatred and extreme behavior and resort to honesty." This, and other critical statements of the President, led to speculation that he would not back Chen again in the 2004 elections until he issued a statement of support for the DPP on March 17, 3 days before polls opened. In the news, however, this endorsement was overshadowed by a dispute between DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung and first lady Wu Shu-chen. When ask to comment about the endorsement, opposition candidate Lien Chan remarked (in English) So what?.

As of 2005, professor Lee is emeritus professor of Physical chemistry at NTU, and president of Academia Sinica.
Personal life and awards
With his wife Bernice Wu Chin-li (吳錦麗 W Jǐnlì), whom Lee has known since elementary school, he has 3 children: Ted (news broadcasting personnel), Sidney (doctor), and Charlotte (sociologist).

Lee was one of the four Nobelists who established the Wu Chien-Shiung Foundation. In addition to the Nobel Prize, his awards and distinctions include Sloan Fellow (1969); Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1975); Fellow Am. Phys. Soc. (1976); Guggenheim Fellow (1977); Member National Academy of Sciences (1979); Member International Academy of Science, Member Academia Sinica (1980); E.O. Lawrence Award (1981); Miller Professor, Berkeley (1981); Fairchild Distinguished Scholar (1983); Harrison Howe Award (1983); Peter Debye Award (1986); National Medal of Science (1986).



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Herzberg Gerhard

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