Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 23
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  • LEROY L. CHANG 1936-2008


    LEROY LI-GONG CHANG, a major figure in solid state electronics, long-term leader of semiconductor electronics, eminent engineering researcher, and educational leader, died August 10, 2008. He was 72.

    He was born January 20, 1936, in Kaifeng, Henan Province, China. His father, Shenfu Chang, was a well-known geologist and an official in the former Republic of China in the 1930s and 1940s. After Shenfu Chang was assassinated by the Communists in 1946, the family in time moved to Taiwan, where Leroy completed his schooling and, in 1957, his under-graduate studies in electrical engineering at National Taiwan University. He emigrated in 1961 to the United States (where he eventually became a citizen) and completed his master’s degree at the University of South Carolina and his PhD in solid state electronics and electrical engineering at Stanford in 1963. For the next 30 years he worked as a research physicist at the IBM Research Laboratory at Yorktown Heights.

    At IBM he worked closely with Leo Esaki, leading to Esaki’s Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 with Ivar Giaever and Brian David Josephson for their invention of the tunnel diode. During this period of very active research Leroy spent a year (1968–69) of sabbatical leave in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Electrical Engineering, and it was then that I got to know him quite well.

    During his time at IBM, the industrial semiconductor electronics research laboratories were in their heyday, bringing new physical principles, technologies, and electronic devices to new products and advanced computation. From 1976 to 1992 Leroy was a research manager for the molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) and quantum structures sections, a period when the IBM Yorktown Heights lab was an international leader in semiconductor electronics research.

    Leroy moved with the times, from MBE materials prepara­tion and resonant tunneling studies to new kinds of ­heterostructures. But the IBM Research Lab became increasingly interested in computer science software research at the expense of hardware, and it seemed time for a career change to an academic position.

    In 1993 he was appointed dean of science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where he remained until his retirement in 2001. He continued his research on semiconductor superlattices and quantum transport and built up programs in these areas, while addressing broader issues in quantum science and technology in his work setting up the Research Center for Applied Sciences in Hong Kong and the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. He also held several administrative positions, such as academic president of the Hong Kong Institution of Science (1996–98). After 2001 he retired from administrative positions but remained active in HKUST activities as an emeritus professor of electrical engineering and physics until his passing. He coauthored many highly cited publications and 19 patents.

    He was a member of the American Physical Society (APS) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and became a fellow of the APS in 1984 and the IEEE in 1990. He won the APS International Prize for New Materials (which he shared with Leo Esaki and Raphael Tsu) in 1985, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1988. Two years later he received the IEEE David Sarnoff Award for his “pioneering contributions to the realization and development of quantum wells and superlattices.” There followed a number of honors and awards in rapid succession—the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal (Physics) in 1993, election to the US National Academy of Sciences (1994), and in 1995 foreign membership in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, membership in the Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Academia Sinica of Taiwan, and an honorary doctor of sciences from HKUST.

    He was active in several National Research Council ­activities: the Steering Committee on Army Basic Research (1987–88), US Liaison Committee for the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (1989–91), Panel on International Benchmarking of US Research: Materials Sciences (1997–98), and Panel on Artificially Structured Materials (1984–85).

    Leroy Chang is remembered as a major international figure in applied physics and engineering who was passionate about his work, his colleagues, and the new Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which he helped build from scratch to a major institution of international scientific importance. He moved to Hong Kong in 1993, at the age of 57, to help establish a suitable academic infrastructure for HKUST in preparation for Hong Kong’s transition from a British colony to Chinese control, a change that he approached with high optimism and altruism, and he was influential in attracting many important scientists to Hong Kong to work with him in this endeavor. In addition, he played a pivotal role in guiding and mentoring young PhD and postdoctoral scholars in both mainland China and Taiwan, introducing them to the academic and industrial worlds in the United States and Europe, which reflected his ability to operate equally well in vastly different cultural contexts.

    He was survived by his wife Helen Hsiang-Yun Chang, son Justin (Amanda Brown), daughter Leslie T. Chang (Peter Hessler), and six granddaughters.

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