February 26, 2008
Chemical Heritage Foundation has announced that Yuan Tseh Lee, Nobel laureate in chemistry and an alumnus and long-time faculty member, will receive the 2008 Othmer Gold Medal. The May 15 award ceremony will mark the 11th annual presentation of the Othmer Gold Medal. The 2007 award winner, Thomas Cech (Ph.D. Chem ’75), studied with John Hearst and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989.
Lee received the Nobel Prize in 1986 with Dudley R. Herschbach and John C. Polanyi for their contributions to the study of the dynamics of chemical reactions. Their research contributed to the field of reaction dynamics by allowing the study of complex reaction mechanisms beyond the capability of previous methods.
Lee was born in 1936 in Hsinchu, Taiwan. He received a B.S. from the National Taiwan University, an M.S. from Tsinghua University, and a Ph.D. from the College of Chemistry in 1965. In 1967 Lee joined the Harvard University group working on molecular beam experiments under Dudley Herschbach. After being appointed assistant professor at the University of Chicago in 1968, Lee rapidly made his laboratory the North American capital of molecular beam study. Lee returned to Berkeley as a full professor in 1974 and significantly expanded his research to include, in addition to crossed molecular beams, studies of reaction dynamics, investigations of various primary photochemical processes, and the spectroscopy of ionic and molecular clusters.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Lee has received numerous other awards and honors, including the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Faraday Medal and Prize from the Royal Chemical Society of Great Britain, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Medal from the Indian National Science Academy. He has also been awarded the Ernest O. Lawrence Award of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Harrison Howe Award and the Peter Debye Award of Physical Chemistry from the American Chemical Society. Lee is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
In 1994 Lee retired from his position as university professor and principal investigator for the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and assumed the position of the president of Academia Sinica in Taiwan. In 2006 he became president emeritus and distinguished research fellow at the same institution. He has more than 30 honorary doctoral degrees from universities around the world. He is currently university professor emeritus at Berkeley and special advisor to the Chancellor, the Dean of the College of Chemistry, and the Director of LBNL.
The Othmer Gold Medal commemorates Donald Othmer (1904–1995), noted researcher, consultant, editor, engineer, inventor, philanthropist, professor, and coeditor of the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. The Chemical Heritage Foundation established the medal in 1997 to honor outstanding individuals who have made multifaceted contributions to our chemical and scientific heritage through outstanding activity in such areas as innovation, entrepreneurship, research, education, public understanding, legislation, or philanthropy. The medal is presented annually and cosponsored by CHF and four affiliated organizations: the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the Chemists' Club, and the Société de Chimie Industrielle (American Section).
Other Berkeley alumni who have won the medal, in addition to Lee and Cech, are Gordon Moore (B.S. ’50) and John Baldeschwieler (Ph.D. ’59).