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Obituary of Dr. Tingye Li

Dr. Tingye Li

訃告:厲鼎毅院士逝世. Dr. Tingye Li, world-renowned scientist, technologist, visionary, philosopher and ski enthusiast, passed away at the age of 81 from a sudden heart attack on Thursday, December 27th, 2012 in Snowbird, Utah during an annual family Christmas ski trip. A family funeral was held at the Serenicare Funeral Home in Draper, Utah at 4:00pm on December 29th, 2012, before his cremation. Tingye’s ashes will be brought home to Boulder Colorado, where an official memorial service will be held for Tingye’s family, friends and colleagues to remember him and pay their respects to him.

A giant in the telecommunications industry, Tingye’s passing was a huge loss to mankind and the technical community he helped to establish. Without his foundational work in microwave, laser physics and fiber optic technologies, today’s Internet would not exist. Companies such as Facebook and Google etc. would not have been born.


Career and Achievements

Tingye Li was born in 1931 in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, the eldest son of a diplomat. His father was a senior officer of the Chinese Foreign Ministry (Before 1949, the Republic of China) and had served as an ambassador to several countries. At the age of 12, Tingye left China to join his father in Canada, where he lived for several years. Later he followed his father to South Africa where he obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Witwatersrand.


Tingye attended graduate school at Northwestern University, obtaining his PhD in Electrical Engineering. He then joined the Bell Telephone Laboratories (later AT&T Bell Laboratories) in 1957, and worked there for 41 years until his retirement from AT&T Labs in 1998. During his tenure at AT&T, Tingye not only made seminal technical contributions in the areas of antennas, microwave propagation, lasers and optical communications, but also mentored and cultivated numerous young scientists who would like to call themselves disciples of Tingye Li. Many of them have later become significant figures in their fields.

Tingye collaborated in developing crucial early understanding of laser cavities and subsequently made pioneering contributions to laser-based communication through optical fibers. In 1961, Tingye and his colleague, Gardner Fox, published their iconic paper Resonant Modes in a Maser Interferometer, which for the first time, predicted the different transverse modes in laser resonate cavities. The Fox and Li paper was fundamental to the theory and practice of lasers. For his work, he was among Nobel Laureates and other researchers highlighted during the 50th anniversary celebration in 2010 of the first successful demonstration of a laser.

From the late 1960s, Tingye engaged in pioneering research on lightwave technologies and systems, which are now ubiquitously deployed in the telecommunications industry. He was a visionary with strong perspectives on the practicality and real economic impact of cutting edge technologies. In the late 1980s, when the whole world’s attention on optical communication was still focused on a single-channel high speed solution, Tingye and his team developed the world’s first WDM (Wavelength Division Multiplexing) system at AT&T Bell Labs. With the understanding that a technique can only be put into real use if it remains backwards-compatible with existing technology, he directed his team to study and implement the use of optical amplifiers in WDM systems, which utilized the existing embedded base to create virtual fibers by putting more channels onto a single fiber. Their experiment in 1992 at Roaring Creek, Pennsylvania turned out to be a "roaring success" as Tingye claimed in an interview, allowing 2.5 Gbit/s transmission per channel, the highest rate available at the time. The use of optical amplifiers changed the paradigm of network economics and is considered to be of revolutionary significance (though evolutionary in design) in the history of lightwave communications. In the several years after the inception of WDM technologies, transmission capacities inside optical fibers increased exponentially, making today’s Internet possible; Tingye was regarded as the father of WDM technology.

Tingye Li was active in a number of academic societies. He was the initiator of many conferences in optical communications including the Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC), the biggest event in the field of optical communications. Until his death, Tingye never missed a single OFC since it was started in 1975, even after his retirement from AT&T. He had often been invited to give plenary speeches by major technical conferences. Because of his outstanding contribution and spirit of service, he was elected the President of the Optical Society of America (OSA) in 1995. He was also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Academia Sinica (Taiwan) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Tingye received numerous awards including the John Tyndall Award from OSA / IEEE LEOS.


Heritage, Life and Philosophy

Tingye Li’s father Sizhao Li was a diplomat who had served the Chinese Government for many years. His mother Weipeng Xie was one of the first generation of Chinese women who received a modern higher education and was an activist in the Chinese women’s liberation movement. Tingye Li was married to his wife Edith Wu Li in 1956. His father-in-law K.C. Wu is an important figure in China’s modern history who held the positions of mayor of Shanghai, Wuhan and Chongqing before and during WWII and Governor of Taiwan.

A naturalized US citizen, Tingye Li was also very proud of
his Chinese heritage and had contributed significantly to the technical exchanges between US and Chinese scientists and technologists at both sides of the Taiwan Strait. He introduced many world-class experts to lecture in China, bringing to the country the state-of-the-art technology in optical communications. His effort significantly benefited the research and applications of optical communications in China in the past 30 years. He was named honorary professor by numerous top-tier universities in China, elected as the first foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and member of the Academica Scinica in Taiwan, and was granted honorary doctoral degrees by National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan and his mother school the University of Witwatersrand.

Tingye nurtured many young scientists and selflessly helped them to succeed. He had been truly respected not only because of his technical achievements but also because of the attention, encouragement, inspiration, guidance and mentorship he gave to young people. Yet he always told people “I only hire people better than I”.

Tingye believed component research must involve good system understanding. One of his famous quotations was “good physicists upgrade themselves into system engineers.” He also coined the term phantomics referring to research efforts in photonic technologies that are looking for a use which is very unclear or unreal.

Tingye had a strong passion for life and his family. He started skiing at the age of 40 and became a ski enthusiast. After retirement, Tingye spend significant amount of time skiing every winter and skied many mountains in Utah, Colorado and California. Tingye and Edith had the model marriage for many of us. Throughout their 56 years of marriage, they had always been like a new couple. At multiple public occasions, Tingye repeated to people that he already proposed to Edith for the next life. Edith made her acceptance to Tingye’s proposal public at his 80th birthday party. Tingye lived a very full life and died while doing the things he loved at his favorite mountain. He was enjoying skiing at Snowbird the day before he passed away, and swimming at the resort before the heart attack took his life.


Survival and Memorial Arrangements

Tingye is survived by his wife Edith Li and his daughters Deborah (David Cohen) and Kathryn (Daniel Dessau), and several grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in the future.


國際著名的華裔科學家、技術專家、戰略家和哲人厲鼎毅博士(Dr Tingye Li),(他還是一名滑雪愛好者) 於2012年12月27日星期四在美國猶他州的Snowbird因急性心臟病不幸去世 ,享年81歲。厲鼎毅先生的遺體於12月 29日下午4時在他州Draper鎮的Serenicare殯儀館與家人告別,隨後火化。骨灰將運回 厲先生位於科羅拉多 州Boulder市的家中,並將於該市舉行追思會,供厲先生的親友和同事憑悼和懷念。

厲先生是電信行業的一位巨人,他的逝世是全人類、也是他親手參與建立起來的相關科技界的巨大損失。沒有厲先生在 微波,激光物理和光纖技術方面 的基礎貢獻,就不可能有今天的互聯網;Facebook 和谷歌 Google 等公司就不會出現。


厲鼎毅先生於1931年出生於中國江蘇省南京市一位外交家的家庭,排行長子。厲先生的父親是中華民國外交部的高級官員, 曾擔任中國駐多國的大使。厲先生12歲那年隨父前往加拿大居住,之後又遷往南非,在南非的 Witwatersrand大學完成 學士學位。

大學畢業後,厲先生在美國的西北大學電機系取得博士學位,並於1957年加入貝爾實驗室 (之後改名為美國電話電報公司 貝爾實驗室),一直服務了41個春秋,直到1998年由美國電話電報公司實驗室榮休。在該公司供職的期間,厲先生不但在天 線技術、微波傳輸、 激光和光纖通信方面做出了傑出的貢獻,更不餘遺力地培養了一大批的年輕科學家 ,他們樂意自稱為 厲先生的門徒,而且大多在各自的領域裡成為舉足輕重的人物。

厲先與他人一起發展了關於激光共振腔的致關重要的早期理解,其後對基於激光器的光纖做出了先驅的貢獻。他和Gardner Fox 於1961年發表的關於微波激射干擾中的共振模式 (Resonant Modes in a Maser Interferometer) 的論文, 首次預測了激光器共振腔中的不同橫向模式,是激光器理論和實踐的基礎性工作。由此, 在2010年紀念激光器誕生50 周年的慶祝儀式上, 厲先生與其他早期從事激光技術的科學家和諾貝爾獎得主一起受到高度讚揚。

從上世紀60年代末起,厲先生開始專注於光通信技術與系統的先驅性研究,其成果已無所不在的敷設於電信設施中。厲先生 同時兼具長遠的戰略思維和前沿技術實用性及其經濟影響力的眼光。 上世紀80年代末,當全世界對光纖傳輸的注意力還 仍然停留在單通道高速解決方案的時候, 厲先生和他的團隊在美國電話電報公司貝爾實驗室開發了全球第一套WDM (光波分復用或稱波分多工)系統。厲先生意識到:要想使新技術得到實際採用,必需與已有技術實現後向兼容。 他指導他的團隊致力於波分復用系統中光放大器的研究與實現,使得已有的光纖的容量可以通過增加波長數目而得以 平滑的提升(相當於新敷設了虛擬光纖)。正如厲先生本人在1992年的一次採訪中所說, 他們於1992年在賓夕法尼亞州的 呼嘯溪市 (Roaring Creek) 進行的那次每信道2.5Gb/s(千兆比特每秒)的傳輸實驗(當時最快的傳輸速率)是一次 輝煌的勝利(roaring success, 此處巧妙地利用了 “roaring”的兩個相近的意義)。光放大器在光纖通信中的的使用, 改變了網絡經濟成本的考量範式,被認為具有劃時代 的革新意義。 在WDM技術問世後的幾年裡,光纖系統的傳輸容量得以 指數增長,成就了今天的互聯網。厲鼎毅先生被公認為WDM之父。

厲鼎毅先生一生活躍於學術界。他是光通信領域裡許多國際會議的發起人,包括全球最大的光纖通信會議 OFC。自從厲先生 1975年發起OFC直到他去世之年,他從未有缺席過任何一屆OFC,即使是從美國電話電報公司貝退休後仍不例外。 厲先生 常常被各種重要的學術會議邀請作大會的全體報告。基於他的傑出服務和貢獻,厲先生於1995年被選為美國光學會 主席。厲先生是美國國家工程院院士,台灣中央研究院院士,和中國工程院院士。他一生中被授與無數獎項,包括美國光學 會和美國電電機和電子工程師學會共同授予的John Tyndall獎。


厲鼎毅先生之父厲斯昭先生是一名外交官,服務於中國政府多年;母親謝瑋鵬女士是最早接受高等教育的中國婦女之 一,曾致力於中國的婦女解放運動。 厲鼎毅先生與吳修蕙女士於1956年結為伉儷。岳父吳國楨先生是中國近代史上 的風雲人物,二次世界大戰前後曾擔 任過漢口市、上海市和重慶市的市長,以及台灣省省主席等要職。

做為一名旅美的美籍華人,厲先生一貫以自己的華人身分為驕傲。他一生為致力美國科學家和海峽兩岸華人科學家的 交流鞠躬盡瘁。為了提升中國的光纖通信技術,他邀請了許多國際知名的專家到中國講學。在他的努力下,中國的 光通信事業在過去30年裡取得了矚目的成就。 厲先生被許多中國一流的大學授予名譽教授的稱號。厲先生是被授予 中國工程院海外院士的第一人,也是台灣中央 研究院院士。他被台灣交通大學和 自己的母校 University of Witwatersrand 授予榮譽博士。

厲鼎毅先生培育了無數的年輕科學家,無私地幫助他們取得事業的成功。他所得到的敬仰除了他本人在學術上的成 就外,更來自於他對後輩的關愛、鼓勵、啟發指導和全方位的引領。 然而他卻總是對人說:“我只聘請比我傑出的人.”

厲先生堅信從事元器件方面的研究必然需要對系統有良好的理解。 他的一句名言是:“好的物理學家會自我提升為系統 工程師。” 他把phantom(幻影)和photonics(光電子學)這兩個英文字結合,創造了phantomics 這個詞,泛指目標 不明確或是沒有實際應用價值的光電子技術研究。

厲鼎毅先生熱愛生活和家庭。他從40歲開始滑雪,成為一名鐵桿的滑雪熱愛者。 退休後,厲先生每年冬天的大部分時間都在 猶他州、科羅拉多州和加利福尼亞州的山上滑雪。他和吳修蕙女士的婚姻是我們大家的楷模。他們結婚56年來始終相愛如 初。厲先生曾在許多公開的場合表示他已經請求吳修蕙女士下輩子還是嫁給他。在他80歲的家庭生日聚會上,吳修蕙女 士當著眾賓客的面前正式接受了他的來世求婚。厲先生的一生是豐富的一生,他在他喜愛的山上,做著他喜愛的活動的 時候平靜地離開了。在他去世前的前一天,他還在山上滑雪。當心臟病奪走他生命的那一刻,他正在度假中心的游泳池 中游泳。


包括厲夫人吳修蕙女士,大女兒 Deborah及女婿 David Cohen,二女兒Kathryn 及女婿 Daniel Dessau,以及數名孫兒孫女。




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