Lee Yuan-tseh was a scientist at LBNL when he won his Nobel Prize in 1986.
Yuan Tseh Lee (Chinese: 李遠哲 Pinyin: Lǐ Yuǎnzhé, Wade-Giles: Li³ Yüan³-che²) (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).
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 Zéfán), an accomplished Hsinchu-born artist, and Ts'ai P'ei (蔡配 Cài Péi), 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.S. 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.
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 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 nominated Lee to become Premier, but Lee declined after deliberating for a few days.
Lee's endorsement of Chen was not without controversy. Lee's participation in politics was verbally attacked by novelist Li Ao, a presidential candidate during the same 2000 election. Li criticized Lee as "filled with hypocrisy" (「充滿偽善」) by claiming to be a scholar who pursues neutrality and truth, yet ignoring the black gold activity, which Li claims that Chen Shui-bian engaged in as the mayor of Taipei. Later on, Li Ao also published a book entitled The True Face of Yuan Tseh Lee (李遠哲的真面目), denouncing Lee to be a "scholar-tyrant" and oppressing academic freedom.
Li Ao's opinion is in the minority, however. In general, the Taiwanese people are quite proud of their sole Nobelist. Lee has been the President of the Academia Sinica since 1994 and renounced his U.S. citizenship to take the post. 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. 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 unncessary 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?.
Lee with wife and daughter (1986).
With Bernice Wu Chin-li (吳錦麗 Wú 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 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).
- Nobel bio (http://www.nobel.se/chemistry/laureates/1986/lee-bio.html)
- CNN:Taiwanese Nobel laureate offers to be peace envoy to China (http://www.cnn.com/2000/ASIANOW/east/03/14/taiwan.election.01/)
- Academia Sinica profile (http://www.sinica.edu.tw/as/asbrief.html#lee)
- Lee page at Berkeley (http://chem.berkeley.edu/people/emeriti/lee.html)