A Passion for Physics

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 to Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Professor Ling-Lie Chau (喬玲麗) Ph.D. ’66, whose motion through space and time has been ever-forward, graduated from Berkeley in 1966 with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics — amongst the earliest of Berkeley’s female graduates in that facet of the discipline.

Her story, her love of physics, and her path to Berkeley began early. In 1949, at the age of ten, she and her family were forced to flee Shanghai for Taiwan. In a fortunate turn, this brought her to the Tainan Girls’ High School in Taiwan, where similarly uprooted elite intellectuals taught many classes. Her attraction to physics was cultivated in the classroom of an outstanding science teacher: “I still remember my joy when I could understand centrifugal force!” She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in physics in 1961 from National Taiwan University — and to gain admission as a graduate student at Berkeley.

“Berkeley’s physics department was at the top of the world,” says Professor Chau. In the midst of her time at Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement galvanized the campus. She was “an alert observer” during the crux of the Free Speech activities in 1964, and the movement further shaped her own spirit, fueling a career that would simply not acknowledge the possibility of boundaries.

As a first-year graduate student at Berkeley, she was awarded the IBM Fellowship — a pivotal moment in her education enabling her to live in International House and fully concentrate on her studies as she transitioned from life in Taiwan to Berkeley.

Her research at Berkeley evolved under the mentorship of Professor Geoffrey F. Chew. She and her cohort of 13 would gather weekly for a seminar with Professor Chew in the Lawrence Laboratory — a popular event attracting postdoctoral researchers and faculty alike, and whose meetings were eventually moved to the professor’s own home and hosted by he and his wife, Ruth. “Those meetings were so interesting and stimulating — not only discussing physics, but also anything under the sun,” recalls Professor Chau.

Read entire article here.