Yuan Tseh Lee (Chinese: 李遠哲 Pinyin: Lǐ Yuǎnzhé, Wade-Giles: Li³ Yüan³-che²) (born November 19, 1936) is a famous chemist. He was the first Taiwanese-born Nobel Prize laureate, who, along with with the Hungarian-Canadian John C. Polanyi and American Dudley R. Herschbach won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 "for their contributions to the dynamics of chemical elementary processes." Lee's particular work was on crossed molecular beams further towards its use for general reactions, a method for the study of important reactions for relatively large molecules. Since January 15, 1994, Lee has been the President of the Academia Sinica of the Republic of China.
Of Fujianese ancestry (specifically, Rongqiao Village (榕橋村), Nan'an County (南安縣), Quanzhou City), Lee was born in Hsinchu City in northern Taiwan to Li Tze-fan (李澤藩 Lǐ Zéfán), an accomplished Hsinchu-born artist, and Ts'ai P'ei (蔡配 Cài Péi), an elementary school teacher from Wuchi Township (梧棲鎮), Taichung County. Lee played on the baseball and ping-pong teams of Hsinchu Elementary School (新竹國小), and later studied at the Hsinchu Senior High School (竹中), where he played tennis and trombone. Due to his achievements in high school, he entered National Taiwan University without taking the entrance examination and earned a B.S in 1959. He earned a M.S at National Tsing Hua University in 1961 and Ph.D at the University of California, Berkeley in 1965.
In February 1967, he started working with Dudley Herschbach at Harvard University on reactions between hydrogen atoms and diatomic alkali molecules and the construction of a universal crossed molecular beams apparatus. In 1974, he returned to Berkeley as professor of chemistry and principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, becoming an American citizen the same year. At Berkeley, Lee retains the title of Professor of the Graduate School Emeritus. He is also University Professor Emeritus of the University of California system.
Yuan T. Lee played an important role during the 2000 ROC Presidential election. On the last week of the election he announced his support for the candidacy of Chen Shui-bian who subsequently won a narrow victory over James Soong. This crucial endorsement has caused a great deal of hostility to be directed at him, particularly by novelist Li Ao.
At the request of ROC politicians, Lee was the Chinese Taipei's representative in the 2002 APEC leaders' summit in Mexico. (Presidents of the Republic of China have been barred from joining the APEC summits because of objections from Beijing.) Lee represented President Chen again in 2003's APEC summit in Thailand.
Lee's participation in politics has been verbally attacked by Li Ao, who criticized Lee to be "filled with hypocrisy" (「充滿偽善」) by claiming to be a scholar who pursues neutrality and truth, yet ignoring the black gold activity, which Li claims that Chen Shui-bian engaged in as the mayor of Taipei. Later on, Li Ao also published a book entitled The True Face of Yuan Tseh Lee(李远哲的真面目), denouncing Lee to be a "scholar-tyrant" and oppressing academic freedom. (In the book Li Ao included a letter from Lee's former professor, who was sacked by the school later for unstated reasons. The professor wrote a letter to Lee, who is the president of the Academia Sinca, for explaination, but his inquiry was not answered.) He also critisised Lee to be responsible for the failure of the education reform, headed by Lee in 1991.
Li Ao also explicitly maintained that since Lee is both Taiwanese and American by education, acculturation, and (at one time) citizenship, the Nobelist in which the Taiwanese are proud of is in fact just an American, who switched allegiance by his own choice. (Lee renounced his American citizenship to become President of the Academia Sinca.)
With Bernice Wu Chin-li (吳錦麗 Wú Jǐnlì), whom Lee has known since elementary school, he has 3 children: Ted (news broadcasting personnel), Sidney (doctor), and Charlotte (sociologist). The fact that all members of the Lee's immediate family are Taiwanese American has been used by Li Ao as further proof of Lee's overwhelming Americanness overtaking his Taiwanese heritage.
Lee was one of the four Nobelists who established the Wu Chien-Shiung Foundation. In addition to the Nobel Prize, his awards and distinctions include Sloan Fellow (1969); Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1975); Fellow Am. Phys. Soc. (1976); Guggenheim Fellow (1977); Member National Academy of Sciences (1979); Member Academia Sinica (1980); E.O. Lawrence Award (1981); Miller Professor, Berkeley (1981); Fairchild Distinguished Scholar (1983); Harrison Howe Award (1983); Peter Debye Award (1986); National Medal of Science (1986).