Tsung-Dao Lee

Tsung-Dao Lee
TD Lee.jpg
T. D. Lee in 1956
Born (1926-11-24) November 24, 1926 (age 96)
Alma mater
Known for
Scientific career
ThesisHydrogen Content and Energy-productive Mechanism of White Dwarfs (1950)
Doctoral advisorEnrico Fermi
Doctoral students
Chinese name
Tsung dao lee signature chinese.jpg

Tsung-Dao Lee (Chinese: 李政道; pinyin: Lǐ Zhèngdào; born November 24, 1926) is a Chinese-American physicist, known for his work on parity violation, the Lee–Yang theorem, particle physics, relativistic heavy ion (RHIC) physics, nontopological solitons, and soliton stars. He was a University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University in New York City, where he taught from 1953 until his retirement in 2012.[1]

In 1957, at the age of 30, Lee won the Nobel Prize in Physics with Chen Ning Yang[2] for their work on the violation of the parity law in weak interactions, which Chien-Shiung Wu experimentally proved from 1956 to 1957, with her legendary Wu experiment.

Lee remains the youngest Nobel laureate in the science fields after World War II. He is the third-youngest Nobel laureate in sciences in history after William L. Bragg (who won the prize at 25 with his father William H. Bragg in 1915) and Werner Heisenberg (who won in 1932 also at 30). Lee and Yang were the first Chinese laureates. Since he became a naturalized American citizen in 1962, Lee is also the youngest American ever to have won a Nobel Prize.



Lee was born in Shanghai, China, with his ancestral home in nearby Suzhou. His father Chun-kang Lee (李駿康; Lǐ Jùn-kāng), one of the first graduates of the University of Nanking, was a chemical industrialist and merchant who was involved in China's early development of modern synthesized fertilizer. Lee's grandfather Chong-tan Lee (李仲覃; Lǐ Zhòng-tán) was the first Chinese Methodist Episcopal senior pastor of St. John's Church in Suzhou (蘇州聖約翰堂).[3]

Lee has four brothers and one sister. Educator Robert C.T. Lee is one of T. D.'s brothers. Lee's mother Chang and brother Robert C. T. moved to Taiwan in the 1950s.

Early life[edit]

Lee received his secondary education in Shanghai (High School Affiliated to Soochow University, 東吳大學附屬中學) and Jiangxi (Jiangxi Joint High School, 江西聯合中學). Due to the Second Sino-Japanese war, Lee's high school education was interrupted, thus he did not obtain his secondary diploma. Nevertheless, in 1943, Lee directly applied to and was admitted by the National Che Kiang University (now Zhejiang University). Initially, Lee registered as a student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Very quickly, Lee's talent was discovered and his interest in physics grew rapidly. Several physics professors, including Shu Xingbei and Wang Ganchang, largely guided Lee, and he soon transferred into the Department of Physics of National Che Kiang University, where he studied in 1943–1944.

However, again disrupted by a further Japanese invasion, Lee continued at the National Southwestern Associated University in Kunming the next year in 1945, where he studied with Professor Wu Ta-You.

Life and research in US[edit]

Chien-Shiung Wu, designer of the Wu experiment that violated parity (physics)

Professor Wu nominated Lee for a Chinese government fellowship for graduate study in the US. In 1946, Lee went to the University of Chicago and was selected by Professor Enrico Fermi to become his PhD student. Lee received his Ph.D. under Fermi in 1950 for his research work Hydrogen Content of White Dwarf Stars. Lee served as research associate and lecturer in physics at the University of California at Berkeley from 1950 to 1951.[4]

In 1953, Lee joined Columbia University, where he remained until retirement. His first work at Columbia was on a solvable model of quantum field theory better known as the Lee model. Soon, his focus turned to particle physics and the developing puzzle of K meson decays. Lee realized in early 1956 that the key to the puzzle was parity non-conservation. At Lee's suggestion, the first experimental test was on hyperion decay by the Steinberger group. At that time, the experimental result gave only an indication of a 2 standard deviation effect of possible parity violation. Encouraged by this feasibility study, Lee made a systematic study of possible Time reversal (T), Parity (P), Charge Conjugation (C), and CP violations in weak interactions with collaborators, including C. N. Yang. After the definitive experimental confirmation by Chien-Shiung Wu and her assistants that showed that parity was not conserved, Lee and Yang were awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics. Unfortunately Wu was not awarded the Nobel prize, which is considered one of the largest controversies in Nobel committee history.[5]

Lee in 2006

In the early 1960s, Lee and collaborators initiated the important field of high energy neutrino physics. In 1964, Lee, with M. Nauenberg, analyzed the divergences connected with particles of zero rest mass, and described a general method known as the KLN theorem for dealing with these divergences, which still plays an important role in contemporary work in QCD, with its massless, self-interacting gluons. In 1974–75, Lee published several papers on "A New Form of Matter in High Density", which led to the modern field of RHIC physics, now dominating the entire high energy nuclear physics field.

Besides particle physics, Lee has been active in statistical mechanics, astrophysics, hydrodynamics, many body system, solid state, lattice QCD. In 1983, Lee wrote a paper entitled, "Can Time Be a Discrete Dynamical Variable?"; which led to a series of publications by Lee and collaborators on the formulation of fundamental physics in terms of difference equations, but with exact invariance under continuous groups of translational and rotational transformations. Beginning in 1975, Lee and collaborators established the field of non-topological solitons, which led to his work on soliton stars and black holes throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

From 1997 to 2003, Lee was director of the RIKEN-BNL Research Center (now director emeritus), which together with other researchers from Columbia, completed a 1 teraflops supercomputer QCDSP for lattice QCD in 1998 and a 10 teraflops QCDOC machine in 2001. Most recently,[specify] Lee and Richard M. Friedberg have developed a new method to solve the Schrödinger equation, leading to convergent iterative solutions for the long-standing quantum degenerate double-wall potential and other instanton problems. They have also done work on the neutrino mapping matrix.

Lee is one of the 20 American recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics to sign a letter addressed to President George W. Bush in May 2008, urging him to "reverse the damage done to basic science research in the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill" by requesting additional emergency funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.[6]

Educational activities[edit]

Soon after the re-establishment of China-American relations with the PRC, Lee and his wife, Jeannette Hui-Chun Chin (秦惠䇹; Qín Huìjūn), were able to go to China, where Lee gave a series of lectures and seminars, and organized the CUSPEA (China-U.S. Physics Examination and Application).

In 1998, Lee established the Chun-Tsung Endowment (秦惠䇹—李政道中国大学生见习基金) in memory of his wife, who had died three years earlier. The Chun-Tsung scholarships, supervised by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (New York), are awarded to undergraduates, usually in their 2nd or 3rd year, at six universities, which are Shanghai Jiaotong University, Fudan University, Lanzhou University, Soochow University, Peking University and Tsinghua University. Students selected for such scholarships are named "Chun-Tsung Scholars" (䇹政学者).

Personal life[edit]

Chin and Lee were married in 1950 and have two sons: James Lee (Chinese: 李中清; pinyin: Lǐ Zhōngqīng; born 1952) and Stephen Lee (Chinese: 李中汉; pinyin: Lǐ Zhōnghàn; born 1956).[citation needed]

Honours and awards[edit]


Selected publications[edit]

Technical Reports

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Home | Columbia News Archived April 30, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1957". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved November 1, 2014.
  3. ^ "Suzhou St. John Church". Archived from the original on July 13, 2015.
  4. ^ "HowStuffWorks "Lee, Tsung Dao"". July 2010. Archived from the original on September 30, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2010.
  5. ^ Siegel, Ethan (October 7, 2019). "This One Award Was The Biggest Injustice In Nobel Prize History". Forbes.
  6. ^ "A Letter from America's Physics Nobel Laureates" (PDF).
  7. ^ Aitchison, Ian (November 19, 1981). "Review of Particle Physics and Introduction to Field Theory by T. D. Lee". New Scientist: 540–541.
  8. ^ Higgs, Peter (June 30, 1988). "Review of Symmetries, Asymmetries, and the World of Physics by T. D. Lee". New Scientist: 73.

External links[edit]

Related archival collections[edit]

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