School 27

Sow-Hsin Chen

June 26, 2021

Obituary

CHEN, Sow-Hsin.  Age 86, Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), died peacefully June 26 of natural causes at his home in West Newton, Massachusetts, surrounded by family. 

Chen was born in pre - World War II Taiwan in the small rural town of Puzi (in Chiayi County), the youngest child of, Bi-Yu (father) and Liang-Hsu Chen’s (mother) twelve children.  Leaving home at the age of 11 for middle school, against the odds, he excelled academically and received a B.S. degree in Physics (1956) from National Taiwan University and a M.S. degree in Nuclear Science (1958) from National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), as a member of its first graduating class.  Later that year, he was awarded a highly competitive IAEA fellowship to the University of Michigan where he earned his M.S. in Nuclear Science in 1962.  Two years later, he received his Ph.D. in Physics from McMaster University with Nobel Laureate Professor Bertram N. Brockhouse, who pioneered the development of neutron scattering and spectroscopy for studying condensed matter.

In 1968, Chen joined MIT as assistant professor in the Nuclear Engineering Department, becoming a full professor in 1974.  Over a 50-year career, he made numerous original and novel contributions, employing small-angle neutron and X-ray scattering in fundamental studies of soft condensed-matter physics and was recognized as one of the premier scientists and experts in the international community for which he was awarded the 2015 Guinier Prize and the 2008 Clifford G. Shull Prize.

Some hallmarks of his distinguished career included advancing the understanding of the dynamical properties of supercooled and interfacial water, and the development of new methods for data analysis, together with pioneering experiments on the structure and mutual interactions of self-assembled systems such as micelles, microemulsions, and protein-surfactant complexes in solution.  He was a prolific researcher and authored or co-authored over 520 papers in leading peer-reviewed journals up until his passing.  In addition, he wrote or co-authored nearly 20 books on soft condensed matter physics and small-angle scattering.

Chen was also a devoted teacher and mentor to over 50 Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows, helping train the next generation of researchers in the field. Many of his students have gone on to be leading researchers in academia, government, and industry worldwide, representing a significant legacy, and fondly remember him for his lifelong passion for science, good sense of humor, and love of fine food and wine.  In 1987, he received the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Distinguished U.S. Scientist Award (Germany) in recognition of scientific achievement in research and teaching.  In addition to his numerous awards, Chen was also inducted in 2006 into the Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s preeminent academic research institution which reports directly to and advises the President.

Chen is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ching-Chih, and their three children and their families: Anne and her husband, Don DiMasi, of Lexington, Massachusetts; Catherine and her husband, Edward Chen, of Needham, Massachusetts; and John and his wife, Yi-Ling Jennifer Wang, of Menlo Park, California.  He is also survived by his five grandchildren – Emily, Jason, Christopher, Melanie, and Heidi.  

Funeral services will be held at the Newton Cemetery, Wednesday, July 7 at 10am EDT.  Memorial Services will be held later this year at MIT, in Europe, and in Taiwan.  In lieu of flowers, gifts in his memory may be made to the Sow-Hsin Chen Fellowship for Neutron Sciences Fund at MIT, https://giving.mit.edu/taxonomy/term/57#3294300 and the Sow-Hsin Chen Distinguished Lectureship in Neutron Science and Technology of the National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), https://givingday.site.nthu.edu.tw/p/412-1520-84.php for those in Taiwan. 

The Chen family would like to thank his long-time neurologist, Dr. Katherine Wang, and his geriatric doctor, Dr. Amanda Berling, for their care and support as well as the staff of Good Shepherd Community Care, especially Vasily and Melodie, for their kindness and excellent hospice care they provided to Sow-Hsin during his last months.


Services

Visitation
Wednesday
July 7, 2021

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Newton Cemetery Chapel
791 Walnut Street
Newton, MA 02459

Funeral Service
Wednesday
July 7, 2021

11:00 AM
Newton Cemetery Chapel
791 Walnut Street
Newton, MA 02459

Interment
Wednesday
July 7, 2021

12:00 PM
Newton Cemetery
791 Walnut St.
Newton, MA 02459

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