Presentation of Professor Daniel C. Tsui for the Honorary Degree

Doctor of Humane Letters

Augustana College Commencement, Rock Island, Illinois
May 23, 2004

In 1961 a young man who had spent his first 12 years on a farm in China, proudly walked across the stage at Augustana College to receive his bachelor's degree.  In 1998 this same man, Daniel Tsui, walked across a stage in Stockholm, Sweden, to receive the highest honor in scientific research - the Nobel Prize in Physics.  He is the first and only graduate of Augustana to receive the Nobel Prize.  He is currently Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University.

Prof. Tsui was born in the remote village of Henan, China.  At the age of 12, he was sent by his parents to live with his two older sisters in Hong Kong and study at Pui Ching Middle School.  He did very well in this school and passed the Chinese High School Certification Examination with a distinguished record.  Although he had good teachers in mathematics and chemistry, the school did not have a physics teacher.  Dan and two of his classmates were very concerned about passing the physics examination that was required to enter the University of Hong Kong.  So they each obtained a copy of "College Physics" by Sears and Zemansky and met regularly to encourage each other.  They were especially fascinated by the fact that light sometimes acts like a wave and sometimes like a particle.  Ah, the seeds were planted.

In 1958 Dan came to Augustana College, which offered him a full scholarship.  He double majored in physics and mathematics.  He took heavy loads, studied hard, did extremely well and was able to graduate in three years.

Dan distinguished himself not only in the classroom but also in the social life of the campus community.  By his senior year he was well-known and a popular guy on campus.  By campus-wide ballot, he was elected "Mr. Friendship" at the college's annual Friendship Fair.  This fair was a fund raiser held in the old gym each spring to provide a scholarship for foreign study.

Motivated by a sense of common ground with other international students and a desire to serve, Dan was an active participant in the fellowship and service initiatives of the Cosmopolitan Club, the Lutheran Student Association, and the Society for Christian Missions.  Thomas Benson, a classmate and close friend, recalls that scripture and music were staples in his spiritual life, and if you sat next to him in the daily chapel services, you heard a remarkably fine tenor voice. 

Prof. Tsui earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1967 and stayed there to do postdoctoral work for a year. Then he joined the Solid State Electronics Research group at Bell Labs in New Jersey.  In 1982 he and his colleague Horst Stormer discovered that at low temperatures (very close to absolute zero) and in very strong magnetic fields (about 30 tesla), electrons confined to move along the interface between two different semiconductors behave in a unique fashion.  They move in sort of a cyclotron path with charges that are only fractions of the normal electron charge.  Here was a new example of electrons exhibiting wave characteristics best described by using quantum mechanics.  This has become known as the Fractional Quantum Hall Effect.

Prof. Tsui's  work on the collective behavior of sheets of electrons essentially moving in a two-dimensional space, has profoundly influenced the direction taken by condensed matter physics over the past two decades.  It has fostered fundamental connections to plasma physics and modern field theories.  His discovery of the Fractional Quantum Hall Effect has opened new experimental and theoretical vistas.  His own experiments continue to reveal the essential quantum nature of materials.

I have tried to give you a glimpse into his life and work.  For further information on his research and personal life, I refer you to a paperback book that you will find in Augustana's Tredway Library, "The Joy of the Search for Knowledge, A Tribute to Professor Dan Tsui", November 1999, World Scientific Publishing Company, ISBN: 9810240376 (cover).  This is a collection of 38 essays written by his friends and relatives.  18 are written in English; 20 in Chinese.  One essay is written by his academic advisor, Donald E. McLaughlin, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Augustana College.  These essays paint a portrait of Dan's outstanding personal attributes.

In 1984 he was honored by the American Physical Society with the Buckley Prize, a tribute paid to his pioneering work in condensed matter physics.   Four years later, he won the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics, which is deemed the highest honor in physical science in the United States.  In 1989, he returned to Augustana to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award.  As further indication of our high regard for his outstanding accomplishments, we have installed a plaque bearing his name on the Electron Microscope Lab - Science 115.  Dan, we are very proud of you!

Today we wish to add one more honor to this list.  On behalf of the faculty and the Board of Trustees, it is my pleasure to present Dr. Daniel C. Tsui for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Written and read by

Dr. David R. Renneke, Chair
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Augustana College
Rock Island, IL 61201