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Xie Xide: A talented female physicist

ICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2012-5-22
On the afternoon of April 6th, 2011, an unveiling ceremony for a statue of Xie Xide was held in front of the Physics Building. Professor Xie was an outstanding alumna of XMU. She her field was research into and teaching the physics of semi-conductors and surface physics to which she contributed many important achievements. She was a pioneer and major organiser in these fields. However, her great success as a researcher never outweighed her love for her alma mater. She founded the XMU Shanghai Alumni Association in 1985, of which she was the first president, always deeply concerned with and supportive of the development of XMU. Professor Xie also left behind the priceless spiritual wealth of her patriotism, personal charm, academic skill, profound wisdom and perseverance in solving difficulties. In all of these she was and remains an outstanding example in China´s academia.
Professor Xie Xide (1921-2000) was born in Quanzhou, Fujian. She graduated from the Xiamen University Department of Mathematics and Physics in 1946, then pursued further studies abroad. She received her PhD from the Massachusets Institute of Technology. On her return to China, she held a number of top level positions, including President of Fudan University, Deputy Director General of the Chinese Physical Society and Chair of the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology. She was elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Division of Mathematics and Physics, in 1980. Her research concentrated on solid state physics, semi-conductor physics and surface physics, and she made outstanding contributions to theoretical research in surface and interface physics and the properties of quantum devices and electron transport in hetero-structures. She was passionate about the development of higher education in China, the establishment and development of research institutes in physics, furthering international exchanges and co-operation, and carrying out her duties for the different associations and societies. She did all she could to foster talents, and her academic legacy included four major works, among them ´Semi-conductor physics´, ´Solid state physics´ and ´Group theory and its application´.
´Only when China becomes strong and prosperous will the Chinese people be respected on the international stage. A strong motherland is the pride of every Chinese person, and all Chinese people should do their utmost to build the glory and prosperity of their motherland.´

Early years: a talented student
Professor Xie Xide was born into a scholarly family in Quanzhou. Her father, Xie Yuming, was a well-known physicist and professor at Yanching University. Under her father´s influence, as a child Xie Xide developed an enthusiasm for learning. When she was about six, her family moved to Peking, where she was an outstanding pupil at primary school. However, that period proved short-lived. The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937 and her family had to flee to Guiyang. While there, she unfortunately contracted a tubercular infection of a hip joint, which kept her in bed. Yet, she did not abandon studying. She was supported in her determination to go to university by her father, who suggested she apply for a university close to home. Finally she chose Xiamen University, and the family moved to Changting in 1942.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Xiamen University was relocated to Changting in the mountains of West Fujian. The University had to confront great upheavals and overcome a lot of unprecedented difficulties, including frequent Japanese air raids. However, the very difficulties of the academic environment merely fired the teachers´ and students´ enthusiasm for learning. The then President, Sah Pen-Tung, called on everyone to lead a simple life and devote themselves to research and the development of their academic abilities. Despite the harsh war-time conditions, most teachers diligently persevered with their teaching and research out of patriotism and passion for science. Xie Xide truly loved her academic institution, the ´Strength of the South´; she recognised the basicness and simplicity of the University and her life, and yet she felt fulfilled. In fact, the tougher the environment, the more determined she was to build up her own strengths.
In 1974, Xie Xide went to Smith College in the US in 1947, where she graduated in 1949 with a Master´s degree. She then went to MIT, where she received her PhD in theoretical physics in 1951.

Working life: devotion to her motherland
Xie Xide kept the spirit and philosophy of her alma mater in mind and made it her principle in life and guide for every action. After receiving her doctorate, Xie Xide tried every means to return to her motherland to contribute to its development. Eventually she was appointed Professor of Physics at Fudan University.
At Fudan, she took on a very heavy teaching load; between 1952 a 1956, she taught six basic and major courses for which she wrote the textbooks and produced the class materials herself. She was good at organising the content of her courses, her lectures fitted the level of her students, going from simple to complex, were full of information and clearly structured, all of which, combined with her fluent speaking ability benefited the students greatly. Among her students were many outstanding Chinese scientists, including Fang Shouxian, Ding Dazhao and Wang Qiming. In 1960 to 1962, she wrote ´Solid State Physics´ - a two volume work - in collaboration with Fang Junxin, which has proved popular with both teachers and students at universities across China.
In response to the goals set in the ´12-year national science and technology development plan´, the professors of physics at Peking, Fudan, Xiamen and two other Universities met at Peking University and established a teaching and research team on semi-conductor physics with Professor Xie being appointed Deputy Director. She wrote ´Semi-conductor Physics´ in conjunction with with Huang Kun, the Director of the team. It was published in 1958, and was considered an authoritative work in the international arena, and one which came out just at the time when China was badly in need of such materials.
Scientific research in the newly established PRC had to start from scratch. Professor Xie founded the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics where she held the position of Deputy Director from 1958 to 1966. Under her meticulous guidance and management, it developed rapidly in both basic research and applied technology, based on a highly-qualified team, which made possible the rise of the semi-conductor industry in Shanghai. In the early 1960s, silicon planar processing techniques were a hot research area internationally. Professors Xie and Huang launched research into that promising area. In 1986, she published a monograph, ´Group Theory and its Applications´, which was later adopted as textbook for graduate students in many universities.

Tribute to her alma mater: a life-long treasure
Ever since its foundation, Xiamen University has been known for its patriotic tradition, which has had a profound influence on generations of students. Professor Xie once said, ´Overseas Chinese felt more respected following the foundation of the PRC. When I visited the US in 1979, all the Chinese scholars I met hoped China would develop rapidly… they were all willing to help build China. They all missed China just like a child missing its mother…´
For Xie Xide, life in the hard years had left her a priceless treasure, and to the end of her life she expressed her appreciation to her alma mater for both the knowledge and the perseverance she had learned. ´During the Second Sino-Japanese War, our living conditions were very poor. We had to hide in the valley and read books by the light of tung oil lamps … During my time at Xiamen University, the whole department had only one oscillograph, while at that same period, every student in a foreign university had access to an oscillograph. Even though the equipment was poor, we were all well-trained when we graduated. This was no different from Yang Zhenning, the Nobel laureate, who endured no difficulties during his further studies in the US. What that tells us is that the key to learning lies in the learner him or herself, rather than in external circumstances.´
Professor Xie returned to her alma mater on April 6th, 1981, on the occasion of its 60th Anniversary. She was struck by its beautiful environment and much better research facilities in such sharp contrast to those of her former times. She was greatly impressed by the celebrations, especially by the wonderful lectures given by scholars and experts from all over China and from foreign countries.
In September 1995, the ´Collected works of Sah Pen-Tung´ edited by Xu Qiaozhen and Lin Hongxi was published by Xiamen University Press, with a foreword by Professor Xie. She wrote, ´I was fortunate to study in the Changting-based Xiamen University from 1942 to 1946, where I took the course of calculus given by President Sah. At that time, the textbooks used in many universities were ´General physics´ and ´Applied calculus´ by President Sah. We truly learned so much … I have always thought that Professor Sah would have made a much greater contribution to the development of education and science in the new China if he had not passed away at such a young age. His achievement is partly reflected in this book. We will always miss him.´
´Actions speak louder than words.´ Over the decades, Professor Xie maintained her deep love for and kept in close contact with Xiamen University. She regularly came back to give lectures and be on the panel for graduation thesis defences. She recommended excellent graduates to work in Xiamen University, including Professor Huang Meichun and Dr. Zhu Zizhong. In addition, she was deeply involved in the work of the Xiamen University Shanghai Alumni Association and did everything she could to helping with the development of her alma mater.

Honours: Recognition across the world
Professor Xie Xide was President of Fudan University from 1983 to 1988, and remained an advisor to the University until her death in 2000. She helped to set up Fudan University´s Centre for American Studies, and founded its Modern Physics Institute in 1977. She was a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Physical Society and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her achievements in the sciences, humanities and education were recognised by honorary degrees from prestigious institutions around the world including Smith College in the USA, the University of Leeds in the UK, Tokyo University in Japan, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
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