Sow-Hsin Chen, professor emeritus of nuclear science and engineering (NSE) at MIT, passed away peacefully on June 26 in West Newton, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.
Born in pre-WWII Taiwan in the small rural town of Puzi (Chiayi County), Chen excelled academically, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics from National Taiwan University in 1956 and a master’s degree in nuclear sciences from Tsing Hua National University in his first class in 1958. A highly competitive scholarship from the International Atomic Energy Agency brought Chen to the University of Michigan, where he obtained a second master’s degree in nuclear science. in 1962. Two years later he received his doctorate in physics from McMaster University, working with Professor and Nobel Laureate Bertram N. Brockhouse, pioneer in the development of neutron scattering and spectroscopy for the study of condensed matter.
Chen joined MIT in 1968 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and became a Full Professor in 1974. He has been a dedicated teacher and mentor to more than 50 doctoral and post-docs, many of whom hold positions of leadership in academia, government and industry. around the world. For his scientific achievements in research and teaching, Chen received the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Distinguished US Scientist Award (Germany) in 1987.
During his 50-year career, Chen has been instrumental in understanding the dynamic properties of supercooled and interfacial water, and in developing new methods of data analysis. His pioneering experiments on the structure and mutual interactions of self-assembled systems such as micelles, microemulsions and protein-surfactant complexes in solution have left a lasting impact on the field.
Chen’s pioneering and pioneering contributions, using small-angle neutron scattering and x-rays in fundamental studies of condensed soft-matter physics, have made him a distinguished scientist and an expert in the international community. Building on these contributions, he received the Clifford G. Shull Prize in 2008 – the highest honor from the Neutron Scattering Society of America – and the Guinier Prize in 2015 by the International Union of Crystallography for Lifetime Achievement and its contribution to the field of small angle neutrons. diffusion.
Chen’s collaborations with the Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Brookhaven National Laboratories, as well as with the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, contributed to the Department of Energy’s bold ‘big challenge’, an initiative to to focus research in five related areas to allow unprecedented control over the microscopic world. His work is commemorated in over 520 articles in leading peer-reviewed journals, 20 co-authored books, and the Sow-Hsin Chen Fellowship in Neutron Science.
In addition to his numerous awards, Chen was also inducted in 2006 into Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s leading academic research institution, which reports directly to and advises the president. Chen also received two honorary degrees in recognition of his worldwide contributions in the field – honorary doctorate in science, honoris causa, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and dottore di ricerca “honoris causa” in fisica (honorary doctorate in physics ) from the University of Messina in Italy.
Chen was tireless in his research. When diagnosed with an incurable genetic disease similar to Parkinson’s disease, he realized he was “running against time”. Thanks to valuable collaborations with several European and Asian colleagues, he describes this phase of his professional life as “the most productive period of my scientific achievements”. Chen was delighted to have intense discussions and to offer suggestions on how his experimental data and that of his former students could be exploited for future progress. His lifelong passion for science, his good sense of humor and his love of good food and wine are fondly remembered.
On Chen’s 80th birthday, collaborators and students Chen cherished so dearly came together to celebrate his accomplishments with a one-day workshop on “Subjects in Soft Condensed Matter.” “It is a great honor to have studied with Professor Chen as a student at MIT,” said Yun Liu, former graduate student and current professor at the University of Delaware. “The breadth and depth of his scientific contribution to the field of neutron scattering and the physics of condensed soft matter is enormous and far-reaching.”
“Sow-Hsin has always ‘been the heart of the department,’ as many NSE professors will attest,” says Professor Anne White, Director of NSE. “He will be remembered as much for his imposing academic stature and transformative research as for his contributions to mentoring students and young faculty. He has always supported young professors and passionate about the future strategic directions of the department. I am personally very grateful for his insightful conversations and correspondence since becoming a manager, and will always be remembered for his support and encouragement. “
Chen’s enthusiasm for his work was surpassed only by his love of family. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ching-Chih, and their three children and families: Anne and her husband, Don, of Lexington, Massachusetts; Catherine and her husband, Edward, of Needham, Massachusetts; and John and his wife, Yi-Ling Jennifer Wang, of Menlo Park, California. He is also survived by his five grandchildren – Emily, Jason, Christopher, Melanie and Heidi.
Donations in memory of Chen can be made to the Sow-Hsin Chen Fellowship for MIT Neutron Science Fund and the Sow-Hsin Chen Lecture Fellowship in Neutron Science and Technology at Tsing Hua National University.
NSE will host a memorial service at a later date, when it is possible to meet in person on the MIT campus.