Childhood & Early Life
He was born on November 24, 1926, in Shanghai, China, to Tsing-Kong Lee and Ming-Chang Chang as the third child among five sons and one daughter. His father, one of the first graduates of ‘University of Nanking’, was by profession a merchant and chemical industrialist.
He attended secondary schools in Shanghai, Suzhou and Jiangxi. His high school education was interrupted because of Second Sino-Japanese war, which prevented him to earn secondary diploma.
However he directly applied to ‘National Che Kiang University’ (presently ‘Zhejiang University’) in 1943 and was granted admission. Although initially he enrolled in the Chemical Engineering department, he gradually took interest in physics. Guided by physics professors like Kan-Chang Wang and Shu Xingbei, he took transfer to the Physics department.
His studies were again interrupted due to further Japanese invasion. Lee again resumed studies in 1945 at ‘National Southwestern Associated University’ in Kunming under the guidance of Professor Ta-You Wu.
He was nominated by Professor Ta-You Wu for a Chinese government fellowship to undergo graduate studies in the US. Therefore after completing his sophomore year at ‘National Southwestern Associated University’, in 1946 he moved to the US and joined ‘University of Chicago’, where he came under the guidance of Professor Enrico Fermi.
In 1950 he completed PhD under Professor Fermi submitting thesis on ‘Hydrogen Content of White Dwarf Stars’.
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In 1950 he joined ‘University of California’ at Berkeley as a research associate and lecturer in physics and served there till 1951. He also worked briefly at ‘Yerkes Astronomical Observatory’ at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
From 1951 to 1953 he served at ‘Institute for Advanced Study’ in Princeton, New Jersey. Here he got reunited with Chen-Ning Franklin Yang whom he knew from his Kunming days.
Soon he became reputed for his scientific works in astrophysics, statistical mechanics, elementary particles, condensed matter physics, field theory and turbulence.
In 1953 he was inducted as Assistant Professor by ‘Columbia University’ where he started off working on renormalizable field theory model, better known as ‘Lee Model’. In 1955 he was made Associate Professor and in 1956 a Professor at the university, thus becoming the youngest full professor ever in the faculty of the university. He retired in 2012.
He remained closely associated with Yang even after departing from Princeton and worked out a regime to meet once a week whether in Princeton or in New York City.
In 1956 Lee and Yang turned their focus on a subatomic particle called K-meson that was discovered a few years back. The particle which appeared to be distinct confused physicists as it decayed in two different schemes such that the physicists were convinced of existence of two different types of K-meson - theta meson and tau meson.
Lee and Yang concentrated on the extensive experimental evidences which indicated that theta meson and tau meson were same. The only conflicting issue that was preventing confirmation of the two being identical particles was that the two had opposite parity, one had even parity while another had odd parity.
After three weeks of intensive research in 1956 they concluded that in some form of reagents, parity is violated. They established that conservation of parity is violated in the nuclear process that results in emitting alpha or beta particles that is in weak nuclear reactions and suggested that tau-meson and theta-meson are actually same particles.
As law of parity conservation restricts single particle from having decay modes displaying opposite parity, the sole plausible conclusion that can be reached was that at least for weak interactions parity is violated. A series of experiments were suggested by them to test their hypothesis.
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On June 22, 1956, a paper titled ‘Question of Parity Conservation in Weak Interactions’ which mentioned the fundamental elements in the Lee-Yang theory, was sent to American peer-reviewed scientific journal, ‘Physical Review’.
Chien-Shiung Wu, one of their colleagues conducted tests devised by them after about six months, first at ‘Columbia University’ and thereafter at ‘National Bureau of Standards’ and validated their theory in 1957.
Other scientific contributions of Lee included initiating the field of high energy neutrino physics with collaborators in the early 1960s; elucidating a general procedure called KLN theorem with M. Nauenberg in 1964 that deals with divergences associated with particles of zero rest mass; establishing field of non-topological solitons with collaborators in 1975 leading to his work on soliton stars and black holes in the 1980s and 1990s; and developing a new procedure with R. Friedberg to solve the Schrödinger Equation.
During 1974-75 many papers of Lee on ‘A New Form of Matter in High Density’ were published leading to the modern field of RHIC physics, which is at present dominating the field of high energy nuclear physics.
He remained director of the ‘RIKEN-BNL Research Center’ from 1997 to 2003 and since 2004 he is the Director Emeritus at the center.
Following re-establishment of China-America relations with the PRC, he visited China with his wife and attended number of seminars, delivered lectures and also organised ‘China-U.S. Physics Examination and Application’ (CUSPEA).
He set up ‘Chun-Tsung Endowment’ in his wife’s memory in 1998. The ‘United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia’ (New York), supervises the Chun-Tsung scholarships that are awarded to undergraduate students at six different universities.
He has published over 300 scientific papers. He has also authored several books including ‘Particle Physics and Introduction to Field Theory’ (1981) and ‘The Challenge from Physics’ (2002).
His remained member of ‘National Academy of Sciences’, ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’, ‘Chinese Academy of Sciences’, ‘American Philosophical Society’ and ‘Third World Academy of Sciences’ among others.