March 26, 2009

Physicist Shares Life Of Scientific Inquiry

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Current Hong Kong University of Science and Technology President Paul C.W. Chu lectured last night about his life as a leading researcher in the field of high-temperature superconductors and as a president of one of the fastest-growing universities in the Pacific.
Yesterday’s lecture, “An Odyssey of Discovery: from Searching for HTSs in Houston to Developing HKUST in Hong Kong,” was part of a three-day installment of lectures given by Chu.[img_assist|nid=36282|title=If you look here…|desc=Paul Chu shares insight into scientific discovery yesterday in Schwartz Auditorium.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Chu, who was born in Hunan, China, described himself as a “drifter,” having moved from China to Taiwan to San Diego to Houston and to Hong Kong, with plans of returning to Houston this August.
“It all started with my unceasing effort in search of a path of zero resistance,” said Chu, whose search for higher-temperature superconductors was fueled by the desire to save more energy.
Having grown up in Taiwan, Chu moved to the United States for graduate school, completing his Ph.D. at the University of California — San Diego in 1968. Shortly after, he became the director of the center for superconductivity at the University of Houston (U.H.). In 1987, he and others created the 1-2-3 (or YBCO) superconductor with a critical temperature above 90 degrees Kelvin, something Chu described as “unthinkable” to the minds of many scientists at the time.
Chu left the United States in order to become the president of HKUST. “My rationale for joining HKUST was to help the university scale new heights, help Hong Kong transform it’s economy, bridge the gaps across the Pacific and Taiwan Strait, and to expand the influence of U.H.,” said Chu.
“I don’t think there’s a university president that has ever held two full-time jobs. It’s rather unusual, but interesting how he managed two completely different jobs,” said Prof. Bik-Kwoon Tye, biology, refencing Chu’s ability to retain his professorship at U.H. while accepting the presidency at HKUST.
Since his appointment as president in 2001, Chu has helped increase HKUST’s enrollment from 7,000 students in 1998 to 9,000 students as of 2009, and has helped the university reach an overall ranking of 39 in the world according to Times Higher Education/Quacquarelli Symonds.
Chu has plans to expand HKUST into the mainland of China, including the construction of the HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School in Nansha, Guangzhou, China. However, this August, he plans on returning to U.H. with two dreams in mind: to search for novel superconductors with higher critical temperatures, close to room temperature, and to develop low-cost MRI machines for patients in the developing world, using HTSs.
“Old scientists never die, only fade away,” Chu said, punning a quote by General Douglas MacArthur.