UT Physics Professor Emeritus
UT Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus
I was born May 19, 1940, which was near the beginning of World War II. Father was already a medical doctor. At the time, he was in the US engaged in his advanced training to be a specialist in chest surgery.
At right, is a photo which shows a family photo when I was one. In the photo from left to right, at back there is Grandma, Mother and Grandpa. In front, there is my oldest sister, Doris, second sister, Elsa, myself and brother, John.
We lived in the Tongkau village which belongs to the Bin-nan county in the northern part of the Fukien province of China. In Tongkau village, there were several western style buildings of the school, the hospital and the church (Anglican church which is related to the church of England), a part of British colonial influence in the northern/central part of the Fukien province, China.
Our grandma was the acting principle (the British officer Amy Xiao was the honorary principle) of the local school for 30 years, from 1913 to 1943. The school consisted of a six–year-elementary school and a three–year–middle school.
From 1938 to 1945, Fukien province was officially claimed to be occupied by Japanese invaders. In reality, the Japanese troops were present only in several cities. Bin-nan county was in the rural area; there were hardly any invading solders visible. There were occasional flights over Bin-nan. When there were more than one flight in a day, Grandma and Mother would round us up to huddle together and say prayers. During the war, under Grandma’s and Mother’s “protection”, we had a relatively peaceful childhood. We were raised in a religious environment with daily family devotion and prayer led by Grandma.
In 1945, after the war, Father came back from US; we move to Shanghai. Father was a professor in St John’s university teaching anatomy in the college of medicine. We lived on the St John’s university campus where I had my elementary school and a part of my middle school.
At left, is a photo of my family taken in 1949. From left to right, at back there was Father, Grandma and Eleanor, our youngest sibling (she was born in 1947), and Mother to the right. At front, there are John, myself, Elsa and Doris.
My father was a fervent Christian. During this period, he had regular informal bi-monthly meetings at home. There were feature speakers in various life-science disciplines such as in zoology, botany, biology in general and in astronomy. There were also feature films produced from Moody Institutes shown on occasions. Most of the films had the general theme of Wonders of Nature and God’s handy work in nature. Since my adolescent years, I became interested in nature, especially in science.
During this period, the extra-curriculum activities I participated in were playing trumpet and swimming. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was induced into Shanghai water-polo team.
During the senior year in high school, I had a great physics teacher. To this day, I still remember his explanation on the blackboard to explain
• The convex shape of the top of the mercury column in the test tube vs.
• The concave shape of the top of the water column in the test tube
What impressed me was that one could understand the phenomena in terms of forces between different groups of molecules. To appreciate the wonders of the nature, one must understand forces in the matter. This, together with other phenomena, led me to be interested in pursuit of physics.
• In 1957, in China, it was the period of the so-called “hundred flowers campaign”; during this period, the country was in a chaos. In the summer of 1957, my brother, John, and I left Shanghai.
• 1957-1958: We spent a year in Hong Kong. We were in Chung Chi College preparing ourselves to pursue higher education in the US. During the year, I kept up with my swimming. The photo at right shows my brother and me and the trophies we won.
• 1959-1961: Seattle Pacific College
I started my sophomore year in Seattle Pacific College in Seattle, Washington. I worked my way through college. At the start, I worked as a janitor. After the first midterm, my physics Professor Dr. Kerlee recognized that I was a good physics student and offered me to work in his lab as an undergraduate research assistant. I worked in his lab throughout my undergraduate years. I graduated in 1971 with a double major in physics and mathematics, summa cum laude.
Then I went on to UC Berkeley for my graduate work. Berkeley was well known for the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, where the high-energy proton accelerator, the Bevatron, is located, and where the antiproton was discovered. After taking the basic core courses, I joined the Moyer-Helmhotz group, working on the negative pion on proton change exchange experiment. I found the most enjoyable part of the experimental work was on the comparison between the data various models.
Personal life: Let me digress here to talk about my personal life. After I started my work in Berkeley, I became very fond of a Chinese girl student, Ching-Man Chow. Her short name is Ching. At the time, she was an undergraduate chemistry major. We got married in Feb. 1, 1964. Our first child, Minerva, was born in March 31, 1965. At left, is a photo of Ching and myself with Minerva when she was two year old.
After I completed my dissertation work, I switched to the Theory Group in the Lawrence Radiation Lab and worked as a postdoc under the supervision of Professor Geoffrey Chew.
The research work I engaged in with Chew’s group was the fashionable topics at the time on the Regge-pole model. I collaborated with Farzam Arbab and published my first paper in particle theory. The paper associated the dip in pion-proton exchange cross section with the rho Regge trajectory exchange, and, soon after that in collaboration with John Stack, I published the second paper that associated the dip observed in pion-proton backward scattering cross section with proton Regge trajectory exchange. These two papers were presented at the Internal conference held at Berkeley and enabled me to start my career in theoretical particle physics, on the application of phenomenological models.
• In 1967, I continued my postdoc work in the theory division in CERN. There, I collaborated with Jerry Finkelstein investigating exchange degenerate pattern of approximate linear Regge trajectories. Another topic we worked on was the hybrid model, identifying the Regge poles and the pomerons as the eikonal in the eikonal model. This leads to corrections to Regge pole contribution in the multiple scattering effect. This work was published in Review of Modern Physics in 1968 when I was visiting in Cambridge, England.
• I moved on to Caltech doing further postdoc work in 1969–1971 and joined the Center for Particle Theory at UT headed by George Sudarshan and Yuval Neeman in 1971.
Cultural Revolution and Beyond:
The cultural revolution took place in China from 1966 to 1976, which corresponded to my postdoctorate years and the first fivc years at UT.
During this period my brother and I lost our communication with our folks. We learned afterwards, several important events had occurred in our family in China. Let me detail three events.
Soon after 1966, our house in Shanghai was occupied by the red guards. Because my father was a relatively well-to-do medical doctor and who supported Christian work in China, he was publicly humiliated and punished by being placed under house arrest. He was confined to live on the top floor of the hospital he owned, and forced to work as a janitor. This continued for four years.
Grandma lived through some of the tumultuous years. She continued to be a resource of encouragement at least in earlier years, and passed away in 1971.
My sister Elsa was a fervent Christian. Because of her strong Christian stand, she was severely tortured by the Red Guards. This was near the beginning part of the cultural revolution Because of her medical school training, later on Elsa was sent to the country to become a barefoot doctor for several years until the time she took her maternity leave.
Sister Eleanor was sent to the country to become a farmer.
After the US-China diplomatic relationship was established in 1978, father and mom and three sisters immigrated to US. Our parents passed away peacefully in their old age.
Doris and Eleanor have since worked for John, a physician, in his California Spine Institute, and Elsa has since served full time in Christian ministry.
3. 1971-2013, My tenure at UT Austin:
1. Research Work
• Phenomenology and the classical string: My main research interest has been in strong interaction physics or the hadron physics. I followed closely the main stream approach. There are three key issues: the approximate success of the Regge pole model, the linear exchange degenerate Regge trajectories, and the dual resonance model. These issues were the very cornerstones which led to the discovery of the mathematical model of Veneziano, a model of the classical string, which is the precursor of the quantum string. The latter is the basis of the modern String Theory.
• QCD, Perturbative QCD and non-PQCD:
In the 1970s, there was the discovery of the fundamental theory of strong interaction: the quantum chromodynamics (QCD). One finds that hadron interaction is the consequence of interactions among elementary color partons, the color quarks and the color gluons. QCD has the property of “asymptotic freedom”, i.e., the harder the colliding partons and the larger the momentum transfer between the partons, the weaker is the interaction strength between them. Here “perturbation theory” (PQCD) can be used to calculate cross sections. On the other hand, when the collisions are soft, interactions between partons are strong. In this collision region, (also referred to as “the small-x region”) PQCD cannot be used.
• Soft Collision Phenomena:
It turned out the collisions observed in the particle accelerators are dominated by small momentum transfer events where collisions are soft. In the 1970s and 1980s, I researched the soft collision phenomena using multiple scattering models.
• CGC in soft hadron physics:
One and half decades later, taking into account the approach of “Color Gluon Condensations” (CGC), I revisited the theory of the soft-hadron physics. From 2006 to 2011, I supervised two doctorate students, Man Fung Cheung and Matt Haley. Cheung’s work, involves treating CGC contribution as one of the basic building blocks in the PQCD calculation. In Haley’s work the CGC contribution is incorporated through the use of a closed form traveling wave solution.
Due to the termination of the superconducting-supercollider (SSC) project by the US Congress in 1993, I shifted my research interest to plasma physics, joining the Institute of Fusion Study as an affiliated faculty member.
• Laser-Wakefield acceleration:
I collaborated with Professors Toshi Tajima and Mike Downer in the investigation of laser-wakefield acceleration and its application to radiation medicine. My paper with collaborators on the dose property of the electron beam was the recipient of the AAPM's Farrington Daniels Award in 2005.
• Electron trajectory in presence of shock waves:
I also collaborated with Professor Wendell Horton. Among their various projects, they investigated electron trajectory in the presence of shock waves. Through computer simulation, we demonstrated that the spiraling electron trajectory can travel over an extensive long distance.
Quantum Zeno Effects
Besides working in strong interaction in the strong interaction physics, I also collaborated with Professor Sudarshan and other contributors in the study of the Quantum Zeno effect. This is one of the Seven Scientific Quests of Professor Sudarshan. I worked out several examples based on the Lee-Friedrich Model, which illustrated how the Zeno effect arises in the Quantum Field theory.
• Heavy Ion Collisions:
Around 2012, the relativistic heavy ion collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab began its operation which provided abundant hadron data in soft, semi-hard and hard collisions. Consequently, my research interest has shifted back to hadron physics. Since 2004, I collaborated with Professor Rudolph Hwa. We have investigated various aspects of the two-particle correlation phenomena in relativistic heavy ion collisions, and the application of Hwa’s recombination model to the collision data. Important papers up to 2013 are given in his CV.
•Proton-nucleus collision at RHIC and beyond:
I also worked on the BCT model applied to the proton-nucleon collisions and collaborated with Valanju and Surdarshan on Zeno-suppression factor in field theory. This lays down the foundation for future investigation in heavy ion collision at LHC.
• Personal life: Our son Elbert (short name Elbie) was born on June 7, 1974. He has been afflicted with Autism since birth. At right, is a picture of Elbie with me when he was four years old. After years of marriage, Ching and I divorced.
On January 13, 1996, I married Lynda Handman and started a new chapter of my life. Lynda and I are shown at right in China. She passed away January 13, 2013.
• The CUSPEA program:
In the early 1980’s, I was the departmental coordinator for the CUSPEA (China-US Exam Program) which facilitated the selection of top Chinese students to pursue their doctorate program in US. During this period, I hosted Professor Dai Yuan Ben, a distinguished member of Chinese Academy of Science who delivered a lecture series in our department. I was also the host of Professor Xie Qu-Bing of Shang-Dong University. With Professor Xie, there was collaborative work in soft hadron physics.
China Trip: In 2009, at the invitation Professor Yuan-Ben Dai and Professor S. J. Xie of Shandong University in Jinan, my wife Lynda and I visited China. I lectured and held discussions in Beijing, in Jinan Shandong, and also later on visited Wu-Han University. During this visit, my work on Heavy Ion Collision Phenomena and the PQCD were the main physics topics of discussions. There were also discussions in Physics Education.
At right, is a photo of Lynda and me with Professor Dai and his wife, Hau-Jin, at Kumming Lake of the Summer Palace.
Above, is a photo of Lynda and me with Professor Xie Qu-Bing.
Above, Lynda is shown at the Great Wall.
2. Teaching Engineering Physics from 1991 to 2013
• Reorganization in Teaching Engineering Physics in 1991
Engineering Physics, i.e. Physics 303K/L is one of the important service courses in our department. In 1991, there were about 2000 students per year. At the time, there were growing dissatisfaction among students that there were too much variation in this course taught by different instructors.
In the Fall of 1991, Professor Austin Gleeson, then Departmental Chair, recruited me, together with Dr. C. Fred Moore, to supervise the teaching of 303K/L on a long-term basis. Since then until 2013, I mainly taught and supervised 303K/L.
• ClassTalk project in 1996 and beyond:
In the traditional large classroom, teaching is usually done with minimal interaction between the lecturer and the students. Some instructors are very skilled in capturing students’ attention, delivering well-organized eas- to-follow lectures. For engineering physics, since the lectures are delivered by different instructors, I, together with many other instructors in the department, believed that the proper use of a classroom communication device could promote interactions between the lecturer and students and improve the quality of teaching in 303K/L and increases the overall effectiveness of lectures.
In the summer of 1996, I supervised installation of the ClassTalk system in two of the lecture halls, Painter 2.48 and Painter 4.42. The ClassTalk system is a wired classroom communication system. This is how it works. For instance, during the lecture, the instructor may post a multiple choice question for the entire class. Each student can use his/her device to respond to the question. Then the electronic answers of the entire class will be collected and analyzed by the computer. The computer will then display a bar graph which shows the number of students who have chosen each answer. The bar graph gives the lecturer immediate feedback. It gives the instructor the opportunity to discuss the right answer and comment on reasons why other choices are incorrect.
Some instructors encourage “peer instructions”, i.e. allowing students to discuss with adjacent neighbors after the question is posted. The use of the ClassTalk device, when used skillfully keeps students more engaged during the lecture.
In addition to installation of the ClassTalk system for the Physics 303K/L, I also helped facilitate the use of the system in several classes, e.g., in biology, human ecology, and English. Soon after, I initiated the use of the classroom communication system on the UT campus, I started the UT Interactive Teaching Support Project. This project was extended later on to the use of the wireless cps system until 2005.
• Teaching Awards:
For these and other teaching efforts, I received numerous teaching excellence awards, including the UT President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award, a Special Teaching Award from the College of Engineering, Dad’s Association Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship and more. In 1998, I was nominated and became a member of the UT Academy of Distinguished Teachers.
• Development of the new M&I curriculum
It was around 2009, that a new textbook entitled “Matter & Interactions” (M&I) became available. This M&I textbook was one of the by-products of the National Science Foundation’s sponsoring Physics Education Research (PER). The textbook presents physics within a modern perspective and stresses the “understanding” of physics with an emphasis on comprehension. It makes an effort to steer students away from a “plug and chug” mentality, which has been prevalent in the minds of many engineering students as they go through the traditional physics education curriculum.
In the academic year (2009–2010), I experimented the teaching in 303K and 303L based on the M&I-textbook in my class. The implementation of the new 303L curriculum involves computer simulation modeling, adding many new concept questions in the present 303K/L data bank and reorganization of the recitation sessions. I worked closely with my TA, Matt Haley. With substantial efforts, I with the help of Haley, initiated the new MI-curriculum for our department, which gives the 303K/L instructors a choiceof either the traditional curriculum or the M&I-curriculum.
• Matt’s contribution was outstanding and unprecedented, for which he received the Livingstone Outstanding Graduate Student Award. Significantly, Dr. Keto, our graduate advisor, remarked that he believed this was the first highest honor of its kind to be received in our department in his memory.
• In the fall of 2012, two teaching teams were established. Dr. Harry Swinney and his associates supervised 303K M&I-program using M&I-textbook Vol I, and I have supervised the 303L MI-program. Since then, Dr. Chiu has devoted a more focused effort in the 303L M&I-program, using the M&I-textbook of Vol II. Subsequently, I have developed new M&I-303L curriculum supported by the Quest System and the corresponding Quest Library.
1. Science and Religion: My life story consists of two distinct threads,
• The Christian Faith and the Scientific Pursuit
From my narrations, the reader can see the outlook of my life is very much influenced by Christian faith. During World War II, with Gandma playing a dominant role in the family, I felt that we were living under the wings of God’s protection. During my adolescent years, my outlook was influenced by my father. I gradually developed a sense of appreciation toward nature. I saw nature as the footprint of God. Since I left China in 1957, the seed of Christian faith has stayed with me. From time to time, I would continue to pray to God for encouragement, for wisdom. I maintain certain circles of friends to be connected with people of Christian faith. There were times when I drifted away from my faith, but somehow various circumstances would always pull me back to it.
The second thread is that I am a physicist by training. I see the causal world we live in. Nature is governed by simple laws of physics. For instance, there is the law of gravity. When one takes one step farther in the balcony, one will fall off. Another example is the simple law F=ma. For example, given the forces involved, one can predict satellite trajectories and can send a satellite from earth to the moon.
The first thread is basically Bible-based knowledge, which I would refer to as the “spiritual wisdom”; the second thread is based on intellectual knowledge of physics. In principle, as I see it, there should not be conflict since we are trying to understand the ultimate truth (which may be referred to as “God”) from two different points of view.
The conflict arises when one looks at the content of the Bible, which is ancient writing. For instance, miracles describe in the Bible, when taken literally, contradict science since by definition they are supernatural phenomena.
It is helpful to look at Jewish scholars, the rabbis, to see their attitude toward science. The Jews are staunch defenders of their Hebrew Bible which is the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Apparently, in the 19th century and the beginning part of the 20th century, there were great debates between prominent Jewish rabbis and the scientists. The rabbis were scholars of books. They appreciated that scientists were also scholars of books.
On the knowledge of nature, scientists know more about nature. They are much more rigorous. They design experiments to verify their knowledge about nature. They develop more systematic understanding about natural phenomena. In comparison, the knowledge of the rabbis about nature is very limited. Once the rabbis saw this is the case, the rabbis had greater respect for science.
I was discussing this subject with a rabbi. He told me nowadays among rabbis there is basic rule of thumb—whenever there is conflict between literal interpretation of the Bible and science, the Jews will side with science.
When I adopt a similar attitude I can continue to maintain my Christian faith and no longer be bound by the dogma of the Christen church, such as the inerrancy of the Bible.
2. Closing: Let me now present the last few photos.
At right, is a family photo taken in 2012, 65 years after my youngest sibling, Eleanor, was born. This was the year when my generation was completed. In this generation, there are five of us, the three sisters and two brothers. Left to right in the photo are, standing: Eleanor Ruan, Charles, John C., Elsa Tseng, sitting: Doris. Thank God we are all alive. During our re-union, the following hymn written by Fanny Jane Crosby in 1875 reflected our sentiment,
“All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide? …
Photos of my next generation and beyond are shown in the next two figures.
Elbert (Elbie, son), 41, in 2015. Elbie has been afflicted with autism since birth. He is my dearest son. His intelligence stays at the level of his early childhood. He remains the happiest person in the family because he does not have the intelligence of worry. His favorite sport is bowling. When he visits me, he spends much of his time at the computer. The program I wrote is a hypercard program, which enables him to retrieve and recall his past life experiences,
At left is my daughter, Minerva, with my granddaughter, Irena, and me, in 2015.
Minerva is a brain cancer survivor. Her recovery is considered as a miracle in brain cancer. At one point, she was on the verge of being a fatal case. Through an MD Anderson Experimental innovative treatment program, Minerva’s hard work, and the support of many, she has made steady recovery. Presently she continues recovering.
My granddaughter, Irena, is the rising star of the family. She is presently an electrical engineering major at MIT. In 2015, she completed her freshmen year.
I will end with the thought from Blaise Pascal:
“Don't try to add more years to your life. Better add more life to your years.”