UC Berkeley lectureship established in honor of professor emeritus Yuan Tseh Lee

Photo of YT Lee
Dennis Galloway/Courtesy
A lectureship was instituted by campus professor Daniel Neumark to make a platform for international scientists and to honor UC Berkeley professor emeritus and physical chemist Yuan Tseh Lee. The lectureship will include a wide array of speakers to discuss a diverse array of topics.

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Chemistry professor Daniel Neumark honored his Doctor of Philosophy advisor, Nobel laureate and professor emeritus Yuan Tseh Lee by establishing a lectureship with an inaugural gift to UC Berkeley.

The lectureship will feature speakers in the field of chemistry every year and has been fully endowed with additional donations from campus alumni Ted Hou, Laura Smoliar and Ronald Silva and their spouses. According to Neumark, in addition to honoring Lee, the lectureship was also founded in memory of Neumark’s parents, George and Miriam Neumark, and their investments in his education.

“Family was everything to George and Miriam — they would travel the world to go to birthdays to celebrate and be with the family in three different continents,” said Neumark’s wife, Ellen Neumark. “I now feel so grateful to be able to give back to our Berkeley family because it has been so important in both of our lives.”

On top of providing a platform for distinguished international scientists, the lectureship is a way of saying “thank you” to Lee for all that he has done for campus, according to Silva, a donor and College of Chemistry Advisory Board member. He added that Lee was not only a great lecturer and mentor to graduate students, but a “truly unique and wonderful” person.

Lee was also a “guiding light” as a Doctor of Philosophy advisor for Smoliar, donor and founding partner at Berkeley Catalyst Fund. Smoliar added that Lee has been an influential force for her, as well as for society as a whole.

“He taught us to be scientists of the highest caliber and he taught us to be independent in our science and our thinking,” Smoliar said. “It was very helpful to have someone like that as an advisor, especially at the time I was in school.”

Lee was involved in the field of chemical dynamics and has former students in faculty positions all over the world, according to Daniel Neumark.

He added that Lee was a very hands-on professor and knew how to operate the machines better than any of those on their research team.

“Unlike many people of his stature, he was very involved in the lab experiments,” Daniel Neumark said. “We have these mechanical pumps with oil on them that get pretty filthy — he delighted in coming in and showing us how to change the oil.”

Though Lee is a physical chemist, the lectureship is not singularly focused and will host speakers presenting on a wide range of topics, according to Mindy Rex, senior director of development in the College of Chemistry.

The first lecture will be given by Lee in fall 2021, Rex added, calling him one of the “most distinguished people” to represent the College of Chemistry.

“I’m really excited to attend his inaugural lecture,” Silva said. “Even if it goes completely over my head, just to have the privilege of listening to one of our Nobel laureates would be amazing.”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.