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News Release

Number: 03-77
Released: October 24, 2003
Contact: Diane Greenberg, 631 344-2347 or Mona S. Rowe, 631 344-5056

Tsung-Dao Lee, Director Emeritus of RIKEN-BNL Research Center at Brookhaven Lab, Appointed as Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Upton, NY – Nobel laureate Tsung-Dao Lee, a physics professor at Columbia University and Director Emeritus of the RIKEN-BNL Research Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been named a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope John Paul II. The Pope will give Lee the insignia of his appointment at the academy’s headquarters in Rome on November 7, as part of the ceremonies to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the academy.

Consisting of 80 members, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences promotes the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences as they relate to epistemological problems. Members in the academy are chosen on the basis of “their eminent original scientific studies and their acknowledged moral personality, without any ethnic or religious discrimination, and are nominated for life by sovereign act of the Holy Father.”

“I am not religious, but I am happy to be elected to the Pontifical Academy,” Lee said. “While religion is based on faith and science is based on rational thinking, it is gratifying to be assured that scientists and people of faith are not disassociated from each other. I believe that today’s scientific discoveries may be able to help the world. But in order to make our world a better one, we need our convictions. Science alone is not sufficient.”

Lee has met Pope John Paul II on several occasions before. The last time was in 1992, when the Pope acknowledged publicly that the Roman Catholic Church had wronged Galilei Galileo, one of the first members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, for denouncing the famous scientist because he espoused the Copernican theory of the solar system in 1611. During that time, the Roman Catholic Church took the prevailing view that the Earth, not the sun, was the center of the solar system.

Lee has devoted his long career to the study of the theoretical aspects of particle and nuclear physics. In 1957, Lee and Chen Ning Yang won the Nobel Prize in physics for disproving a tenet of physics known as the conservation of parity. Their finding was based on research carried out at Brookhaven’s particle accelerator, the Cosmotron, while they were visiting scientists at the Laboratory in 1956.

In 1997, forty years after receiving the Nobel Prize, Lee returned to Brookhaven Lab as Director of the RIKEN BNL Research Center. Japan’s Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and Brookhaven formed the collaboration to work on basic questions in physics. In addition to developing physics theory, the collaboration studies data produced by Brookhaven’s newest accelerator, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, to understand the properties of quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that scientists theorize existed near the beginning of the Universe.

Born in Shanghai, China, Lee attended universities in China before coming to the U.S. in 1946, where he became a student of Enrico Fermi and received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1950. After working as a research associate at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, Lee joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1951. Then, in 1953, he joined Columbia University, where he is currently University Professor.

After serving a six-year term as Director of the RIKEN BNL Research Center, Lee stepped down as of October 1, becoming Director Emeritus. In addition, Lee is Director of the China Center of Advanced Science & Technology in Beijing; the Beijing Institute of Modern Physics; and the Zhejiang Institute of Modern Physics, all in China. He holds twelve honorary degrees and 15 honorary professorships and is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and several other academies.