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Professor BAI Chunli

79th Congregation (2015)

Professor BAI Chunli
Doctor of Science


With a keen eye for seeing the big picture in minute detail, he has blazed a trail in nanotechnology development. With his passion for and devotion to scientific research, he has helped deliver China’s ‘springtime for science’.

World-renowned nanoscience expert Professor Bai Chunli is a pioneer of China’s scanning tunnelling microscopy. Under his leadership, China developed the first computer-controlled scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), the first low-temperature STM, the first ultrahigh vacuum-STM, the first laser atomic force microscope, and the first ballistic electron emission microscope. Thanks to these ‘firsts’, Professor Bai was elected an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) at a peak in his career in 1997, later becoming its President in 2011. He has also been elected academician of a dozen national science and engineering academies worldwide, including the United States National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. For his immense contributions in nanoscience, Professor Bai was appointed President of The World Academy of Sciences in 2012, becoming the first Chinese scholar to take this position.

Professor Bai Chunli, an ethnic Manchu, was born in Dandong, Liaoning province in 1953 and grew up in northeast China. A keen reader, he received a good family education, which helped him develop his high aspirations. As a youth, he joined the Down to the Countryside Movement, strengthening himself both physically and mentally in the vast, wild grasslands of Inner Mongolia. During the later stage of the Cultural Revolution, he got admitted to the Department of Chemistry at Peking University. Upon his graduation in 1978, he was admitted to the Institute of Chemistry of CAS, in what proved to be the prelude to his illustrious career at the Academy. Following his remarkable performance in scientific research, he received from CAS his MSc in 1981 and his PhD in 1985.

Professor Bai later undertook postdoctoral research in the United States at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He returned to China in 1987, gradually becoming a core member of the scientific research team of the Institute of Chemistry at CAS, where he was appointed Director, and later Deputy Director, of the CAS’s STM Laboratory. In 1991, Professor Bai became a visiting professor at the Institute for Materials Research of the Tohoku University in Japan. He received the 2nd China Young Scientist Award in 1994. The following year, the Hong Kong Qiu Shi Science and Technologies Foundation elected him one of its Outstanding Young Scholars. In 1996, he became the Vice President of CAS. In 2001, the Society of Chemical Industry awarded Professor Bai the International Medal. More recently, in 2010 he was awarded Medal of Contributions to Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, becoming the first Chinese scientist to receive this honour.

Professor Bai has dedicated himself to the study of polymer catalysts, organic compounds, molecular mechanics, and conductive polymers, and has made tremendous contributions to STM development. He has published twelve books and hundreds of articles in scientific publications, and holds a number of national patents. His research in macromolecules, supermolecules, molecular nanostructure and molecular interaction helped establish the methodology for the study of complex chemistry streams. This led to the revelation of relations between molecular compositions, structures and functions, in addition to numerous breakthroughs in nanotechnology. Through these discoveries, Professor Bai has improved mankind’s quality of life in the 21st century and paved the way for China’s scientific research development. Are today’s mobile phones becoming more and more powerful and attractive? Are today’s vehicles becoming more and more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly? These improvements have both been made possible by the advancement of nanotechnology, for which distinguished scientists like Professor Bai have contributed ground-breaking efforts.

Professor Bai is also a champion of green chemistry. He has advocated a ban on toxic and hazardous substances, and a stoppage in the production and disposal of waste. As the President of The World Academy of Sciences, he is committed to facilitating the exchange and collaboration between developing countries’ scientific researchers and institutes, as well as to drawing international attention to the issues these countries face. His ‘Take the Lead in Action’ programme at CAS has not only driven research institute classification reform, but also optimised China’s scientific research strategy. This programme aims to lay a solid foundation for China’s scientific and technological development by promoting ecological civilisation and urbanisation, by solving the Three Rural Issues, that is, problems concerning agriculture, rural areas and farmers, and by fostering a high-end technological think tank. Professor Bai has also contributed to the research on long-lasting toxic pollutants and food safety issues in both Hong Kong and the mainland China. In addition, he has spearheaded a collaboration between CAS and the China Association (Hong Kong) for Science and Society, to promote Hong Kong and mainland China’s scientific achievements to the world.

Professor Bai facilitated research collaboration and exchange between The Chinese University of Hong Kong and CAS. Ten joint laboratories have been developed in areas including stem cell and regenerative medicine, bio-resources, globalization of traditional Chinese medicines, chemical synthesis, pharmaceutical botany, material sciences, and the newly introduced biosocial psychology. CAS also vigorously supports the Chinese Academy of Sciences Academicians Visit Programme, in which more than 40 CAS academicians have visited CUHK to date.

In recognition of his contributions to the advancement of technology in China, as well as his remarkable efforts and achievements in facilitating international exchange and collaboration, it gives me great pleasure, Mr Vice-Chancellor, to present to you Professor Bai Chunli, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.