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Professor Lu Jiaxi: Pioneer of Structural Chemistry in China

ICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2012-5-22
On April 6th, a bust of Professor Lu Jiaxi was unveiled in front of the Xiamen University Chemistry Department Lecture Hall as one of the events in celebration of the University´s 90th anniversary. The bronze bust was donated by the Guangdong Alumni Association as a memorial to the great scientist and an inspiration to students. In his address, Xiamen University Chairman Zhu Zhiwen honoured Professor Lu, referring to him as the pride of Xiamen University, who had made outstanding contributions to the development of both the university and structural chemistry. Professor Lu had been a great patriot and an eminent scientist. His spirit of overcoming all difficulties and pursuing truth was a great inspiration to both teachers and students.

Lu Jiaxi was born in Xiamen on October 26th, 1915. He graduated with a B.Sc. from the Xiamen University Chemistry Department in July 1934, and received his PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of London in July 1939. He then went to the California Institute of Technology and studied under Linus Pauling, the eminent chemist and winner of two Nobel Prizes, those in Chemistry and for Peace. In 1945, he rejected many job offers and overcame difficulties to return to China, where he was appointed Head of the Xiamen University Chemistry Department, his alma mater. Through his hard work, China has reached international standards in transition metal cluster compounds research.
Professor Lu´s work involved physical chemistry, nuclear chemistry, materials chemistry and structural chemistry, making notably significant contributions in the latter field. In particular, he produced a structural model of the active centre of nitrogenase, and researched the relationship between structure and performance, significantly driving forward development in cluster chemistry and crystal material science in China.

An Eminent Scientist
In 1944, Lu Jiaxi worked at the Maryland Research Laboratory of the National Defence Research Committee in the USA, with such success that the NDRC recognised his work with an Achievement Award. After his return to China and Xiamen University in 1945, he held in succession the positions of Professor of Chemistry, Head of Department, Dean of Science, Assistant Dean of the University, Assistant Head and then Head of the Department of University Research, Assistant to the University President and then Vice-President. In 1955, he was elected a Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 1960 he was made Vice-President of Fuzhou University, Head of the Fujian Institute of Research in Structural Chemistry under the CAS, Assistant Head of the Fujian Provincial Department of Science and Technology, and Vice-Dean of the Fujian Branch of the CAS.
Professor Lu´s research in the chemical modelling of biological nitrogen fixation is well-known internationally. He published extensively and trained many prominent Chinese experts. He headed the Taiwan delegation to the National Science Fair in 1978 and was was awarded the honour of National Model Worker in 1979. Professor Lu was elected an Honorary Member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1984, and in 1987, he received an honorary DSc from City University London, and became a Non-native Academy Member of Académie royale de Belgique. Professor Lu was also a winner of the Scientific Achievement Award of the Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation for his extraordinary contributions to structural chemistry.
Professor Lu was a pioneer, and was the father of structural chemistry in China. He used to say that a scientist should conform to the molecular formula C3H3, meaning that a scientist should have ´a clear head´, ´clever hands´, and ´clean habits´. He also had another theory of ´estimation´: a scientist had to learn to estimate the result of mathematical problems, otherwise he or she could easily make mistakes.
As long ago as the 1970s, Professor Lu proposed the idea of visiting scholars, and put it into practice. At that time, it was impossible for Chinese scholars to go to foreign countries, so he invited famous scholars from home and abroad to come to the university to give lectures. Professor Lu was way ahead of everyone else in his thinking on education.
In 1950, he opened the first chemistry research centre in China, for the first time recruiting postgraduate students in physical chemistry, thereby pioneering postgraduate education in China following the establishment of New China. He focussed on both teaching and research, believing that research should enhance teaching, and teaching should pass on research achievements. Thanks to Professor Lu, the Xiamen University Chemistry Department has upheld the fine tradition of promoting both teaching and research.

A Much-loved Teacher
In Xiamen University, Professor Lu taught a whole range of courses including physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, advanced physical chemistry, chemical thermodynamics, statistical thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, structural chemistry, cluster theory and its application within chemistry, mathematical crystallography, X-ray crystallography and a number of other experiment-based courses. His very inspiring and creative way of teaching physical and structural chemistry, has had a significant positive influence.
Professor Lu would lecture without pages of notes, simply holding a card with listing key words. In this way, he brought his classes to life using clear logic and vivid description. He would write the mathematical formulae for the processes of induction on the blackboard, enabling students follow him easily. His classes generally occupied the biggest available lecture rooms because he attracted huge audiences, often including students from other departments. He always gave out assignments in English, typing them out himself, and required the students to answer.
Professor Lu used to say that ´a teacher who cannot teach students to surpass his or her own achievements is not a good teacher´. He did all he could to encourage talented students, even working to get many teachers and students abroad as long ago as the late 1940s. These included Cai Qirui and Chen Guozhen, who received more advanced education abroad and then went on to pioneer their own respective disciplines when they returned to China. Professor Lu´s contributions to education influenced a whole generation.
During his working life at Xiamen University, Professor Lu had many titles, and undertook teaching and research, as well as administrative responsibilities. His easy-going nature and considerable management skills made him an excellent leader. A strong team of teachers formed under his leadership, thereby contributing significantly to the Chemistry Department at Xiamen University.

A Wise and Witty Person
Anyone who ever met Professor Lu loved his personality and looked up to him. His actions influenced everyone around him. Bespectacled, of medium height, always smiling - these were people´s first impressions of him. As both a teacher and as an administrator, he never put on airs and was always happy to chat with his students and other teachers. He was also an efficient doer who cared greatly about his subordinates, who found him approachable and were not afraid to ask for help. Professor Lu would give a definite answer as to whether there was anything he could do to help, and, having said ´Yes´, he would solve the problem for them very efficiently.
Because of his approachability, Professor Lu was loved by generations of students, including some not in the Chemistry Department. Amazingly, he could always name every one of them. In his roles as administrative leader of the university, he greatly respected the students´ opinions. In the early 1950s, a student in the Mathematics Department voiced the opinion that ´Mathematics majors should not be required to learn chemistry´. Professor Lu found this suggestion reasonable and approved it, despite the fact that he himself was Head of the Chemistry Department.
Professor Lu lived a frugal life. For a long time, his family were not well-off, and yet he would still give away his travel subsidies and purchase equipment for the university. He was so preoccupied with his work that he did not give enough time to looking after his wife who had serious health problems. He returned from Beijing to see her when she was seriously ill, but immediately hurried back to work. Sadly, his wife died the next day, and the fact that he had not been with her at the end was Professor Lu´s biggest regret for the rest of his life.
Professor Lu Jiaxi gave his whole life to science and to his beloved country.

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