Photo of Yuan Tseh Lee

Yuan Tseh Lee

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his world leadership in the development of molecular beam techniques and their application to the study of chemical dynamics. His work has had an enormous impact on many areas of physical chemistry, especially building up a quantitative bridge between the laws of mechanics and complex macroscopic phenomena.

Yuan Tseh Lee perfected the technique of observing chemical reactions.

He mastered the “crossed molecular beam technique,” along with with Dudley R. Herschbach and John C. Polanyi. The process involves using mass spectroscopy and bringing together beams of molecules at high speeds to identify the results of a chemical reaction.

Lee earned a Nobel Prize in 1986 for his work in the development of chemical-reaction dynamics. He is the first person from Taiwan to receive the honor. The notoriety made him a powerful voice in Taiwan, which he’s used to push education reform.

If it were up to Lee, schools in Taiwan would cut back on rigorous workloads that push students to become master test takers, and emphasize more problem solving.

“If you want to be creative you have to dare to be different. You have to be rebellious. Parents don’t want to hear that,” he said. “If you’re going to be creative you have to have confidence.”

By Christine Ayala