Docstoc

Draft 9-12-01

Document Sample
Draft 9-12-01 Powered By Docstoc
					   KWOH-TING LI (1910-2001); SCIENTIST-GENERALIST

             Frederick Seitz, Rockefeller University

       The Chinese people were the most practically inventive in
the world over many millennia and until comparatively recent
centuries. Unfortunately they did not respond immediately to the
challenges and opportunities offered to them by studies of the
basic natural sciences, even though their scholars were exposed to
the Greek scientific manuscripts two thousand years ago. This
lack of concerted interest in the natural sciences was undoubtedly
tied to deeply ingrained cultural factors – a matter which was of
great interest to the late Professor Ta-you Wu and one that we
discussed on many occasions during meetings here in Taiwan. He
finally decided that the cultivation of ancestor worship, going
back to ancient times, had provided the major inhibiting factor.

       Fortunately the creative interest in natural science changed
abruptly in China about one hundred years ago as some Chinese
scholars began to receive education more closely tied to western
traditions in which subjects such as mathematics, physics,
chemistry and biology were given prominent attention at the most
basic levels. Two students who showed great interest and ability in
the fundamentals of physics were Professor Ta-you Wu and Dr.
Kwoh-ting Li. The foci of their individual attentions, although
equally profound, led them in slightly different directions.
Professor Wu had a deep interest in the theoretical abstractions of
physics and their applications whereas Dr. Li desired to explore
the rapidly advancing frontier by experimental methods.
Although Professor Wu regarded himself to be Cantonese, being
born in Canton in 1907, his father had obtained a position in
Nankai so he carried on his undergraduate work there, obtaining
a degree in 1929. This was followed by graduate work in
theoretical physics at the University of Michigan, after which he
returned to the University of Peking, spending the war years at
the evacuation center of the university in Kung Ming. I will not
elaborate on his highly productive career further other than to
say that he served both Taiwan and the world of science well, not
least during his years as president of the Academica Sinica in



                                1
Taipei and as a major participant in the evolution of the National
Science Council in Taiwan.

       Dr. Li, as we well know, was born in Nanking in 1910 and
completed his undergraduate work at the National Central
University in that city in 1930. After teaching in China until 1934,
he obtained a fellowship for work in the field of nuclear physics
under Ernest Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory of
Cambridge University. In the process he was accepted at
Emmanuel College. The fellowship was followed by an extension
devoted to the study of superconducting materials under
Professor J. D. Cockcroft. This was a very exciting time in both
fields of investigation. Professor James Chadwick had just
discovered the neutron so that research in the field of nuclear
physics was in the throes of a dramatic upheaval. Similarly, it had
just been discovered that the best superconductors were perfect
diamagnetic materials, a revelation that invited an intense new
period of investigation. Li’s brilliance and talents must have
impressed the physics staff at Cambridge because Rutherford
arranged for an extension of a research fellowship starting in 1937
that might have carried on indefinitely. It seems clear that under
normal circumstances, Dr. Li would have been headed, for a
brilliant career in experimental physics and probably would have
become one of the prominent individuals in the world in his
chosen profession. Unfortunately the Japanese decided to expand
their invasion of China in July of that year by capturing what is
now Beijing, making it clear that a full-scale war was at hand. Dr.
Li decided that he belonged at home doing what he could to serve
his country and, with Rutherford’s permission, returned to China
to apply his talents to whatever was needed and he could
accomplish.

      Had China been a scientifically advanced country at that
time, he undoubtedly would soon have been leading a major
group in a field such as radar development or another area
strongly influenced by recent advances in physics or electronics.
The problems deserving immediate attention were of different
character but he was prepared to do whatever he could in order
to be of significant service. While accepting a professorship at the
National Wuhan University, he busied himself on the side with

                                 2
military research, working on problems such as air defense as
made possible with the use of searchlights and sound locators.
Once the extensive range of his innate abilities was appreciated he
was shifted to become superintendent of the Tze-Yu Iron and
Steel Works of the National Resources Commission. He had
entered into the broad range of practical public service that was
to characterize the remainder of his remarkable career.

      Once the war ended and the problems of rebuilding China
commenced, he accepted the position of deputy director of the
Construction Office of the Central Shipping Company at
Wusung, Shanghai. He chose, however, to move to Taiwan when
the Communists took over the mainland, serving first as Vice
President and then as President of the Taiwan Shipbuilding
Corporation.

       The problems facing the leadership that had just moved to
Taiwan were, as we know, formidably complex. While the
physical destruction was not great, the island had served the
Japanese as a colony for fifty years and had to be reorganized at
almost all levels. As experience soon demonstrated, Dr. Li
possessed one of the rare minds capable of tackling such
complexities in a holistic manner. As a result he was soon brought
into the central government where both simultaneously and in
succession he occupied a wide range of posts, heading major
ministries, chairing advisory councils involved in both public and
private enterprises and organizations which been established to
seek international economic cooperation. Inevitably he became a
principal advisor to the Executive Yuan. The level of success that
accompanied his various services is astonishing. While it
depended much on his native qualities, which lay within the range
of genius, it also rested on the fact that the many dedicated
idealists with whom he worked in the political structure were not
only willing to seek out his advice, which was usually proffered
with a combination of modesty and firmness, but were prepared
to followed it and the logical structure in which it was imbedded.

      It should be added that, as was the case in the colonies of
the United States during the formation of my own country, the
challenges faced by Taiwan brought forth the dedicated services

                                3
of the many highly idealistic individuals in the cadre that had
taken over the island. While Dr. Li did not occupy a position
equivalent to that of George Washington in the creation what
became the Republic of China, his standing is comparable in its
own way to that of individuals such as John Adams, Benjamin
Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison somewhat
rolled into one person.

      I had the privilege of a first significant meeting with
Minister Li through the courtesy of Patrick Haggerty who was
then in charge of the Texas Instruments Company and a member
of the board of Rockefeller University in New York. Li and
Haggerty had become intimate friends when Li was doing his best
to encourage foreign industry to establish research and
production centers on the island, a program that, like most of Li’s
endeavors, proved to be highly successful. Haggerty’s professional
background lay in the field of advanced electronics with which he
had been deeply involved as a naval research officer in World
War II. He saw immediately the vast opportunities opened up by
the invention of the transistor and courageously decided to base
most of the future development of his company on the evolution of
that device. He was in many ways the individual whose bold
actions spearheaded the early promotion of silicon electronics,
opening many of the doors leading to the miracles we know today.

       Like Li, Haggerty also had the remarkable capacity to
comprehend the full scope of activities under his purview. He was
at home when dealing with many professional areas that impinge
upon the activities of a complex industry. Moreover, he quickly
appreciated the nature of the complex problems faced by the
leadership in Taiwan just as Li immediately recognized the
benefits that could be derived by bringing Haggerty into the inner
circle of advisors to his government. The opportunities I had on
many occasions to listen to the two individuals discuss the
intricate technical, economic and social problems facing the
Republic of China were enriching experiences.

     President Carter’s decision to shift official recognition of
the Chinese people from the Republic of China to the Mainland
produced great consternation on the island. Haggerty flew to

                                 4
Taiwan at once and proposed that, among his many other
responsibilities, Minister Li create and lead an office that would
continue to support the advance of science and technology in
Taiwan. He also proposed that the organization, which soon
gained the title of the Science and Technology Advisory Group
(STAG), have an advisory committee that Haggerty would chair.
It would be composed initially of a representative group of
scientists and engineers from the United States, but would
eventually be expanded internationally, with major additions
from the rapidly growing community of Taiwanese professionals.
Since Haggerty knew that the future development of the Republic
of China would eventually depend on the quality of its expanding
educational system, he selected me to serve as his vice chairman.

       Unfortunately, Haggerty died suddenly within the next two
years and I was asked to serve as chairman, a position I occupied
for about a decade. It provided me with one of the most
rewarding experiences of my life, partly because it permitted me
to view the extraordinarily rapid growth of the Republic of China
at close hand, and partly because of the continuing close
relationship with Minister Li and his highly qualified associates.

      In 1984 Dr. Li suffered a heart attack that required by-pass
surgery. Medical procedures were carried out in Miami by a very
well known Chinese surgeon who was also an old friend. When
my wife and I visited him and Mrs. Li at a hospital there while he
was recuperating, I was both impressed and amused to note that
the scientist in him had turned to the study of the nutritional
value of various kinds of foods. In fact, while eating the special
dishes prepared for him, he pointed out with much pleasure the
extent to which each morsel contained proteins, sugars and fats,
both beneficial and harmful. He was determined to follow the best
nutritional advice available in order to remain useful as long as
possible. This illness did not prevent him from retaining the
position of advisory leader in STAG but it did mean that he no
longer took on the heavy burdens of heading ministries or serving
as chairman of demanding advisory councils.

     In later years, as I found increasing leisure to do things of
my own choosing, I began to write articles and books dealing with

                                5
personal experiences in the scientific and technological world and
about individuals who had made important discoveries or
inventions and had often been all but forgotten. This included
inventors such as Reginald Fessenden who was responsible for
amplitude modulated radio, the use of the heterodyne principle
and sonar, the pioneers of the semi-conducting world, Nikolaus
Riehl, the brilliant chemist who had invented the fluorescent lamp
and who had spent ten years after World War II as a captive of
the Soviet Union producing pure uranium for the first Soviet
fission weapons. Dr. Li inevitably commented on these documents
with an extended note soon after he received them. Moreover, he
always arranged for a personal meeting of an hour or two during
my continually frequent trips to Taiwan in order to discuss the
affairs of the country and to reminisce about many important
experiences in his own life. I must admit that whenever I was with
him alone on such occasions I felt that I was in the presence of an
individual who, whatever else he might be, was at heart a very
great scientist.

      There is no need for me to list here the many honors he
received in Taiwan and elsewhere, including Mainland China, for
his extraordinary contributions to the advance of the Chinese
people. I am prepared to believe, however, that the award of an
honorary fellowship by Emmanuel College of Cambridge
University in 1991 must have given him special pleasure. Among
other things, it would have carried his memory back to the
ambitions of his youth when he was deeply immersed in frontier
scientific research.

       Dr. Li’s years as a student in Cambridge lay so far in the
past that I hardly dared hope there was any readily available
record of his presence there. Nevertheless, I asked Sir Alan
Cottrell, one of my very valued friends who had been on the
faculty of the University, to see if there was any residual memory
in its records. By good fortune, a very diligent archivist at the
university, Mrs. Jeanette Morris, retrieved a detailed biography
from the files of Emmanuel College and generously provided me
with a photocopy. It was used extensively in preparing these
comments. It is a pleasure to express deepest gratitude to both
Professor Cottrell and Mrs. Morris for their help.

                                6

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Stats:
views:11
posted:3/24/2010
language:English
pages:6