Vanderbilt physicist wins China’s top international science prize

NASHVILLE,Tenn — A collaboration that started in the early 1970’s when a Chinese physicist wrote Joe Hamilton to request some reprints of his recent papers on physics culminated in a ceremony in Beijing on Sept. 22. At the official occasion, presided over by China’s Minister of Science and

Technology and broadcast on national television, Hamilton, who is the Landon C. Garland Distinguished Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt, received the National Prize of International Scientific and Technological Collaborations of China ñ the highest award that the Chinese government bestows on foreign scientists.

"As early as the very beginning of the 70’s, Professor Joseph H. Hamilton set about bridging the wide gap between Chinese and American scientists. During the past 30 years, he has kept high-level long-term, substantial and fruitful collaborations with many Chinese physicists in basic research frontiers," states a letter supporting his nomination drawn up by five eminent Chinese scientists.

The letter continues, "He is one of the very few internationally respected scientists who have made earliest efforts to help China to open up the door for international scientific exchanges and collaborations between Chinese scientists and the West and made exceptionally profound contributions to the development of basic science research of China."

When Hamilton began corresponding with Professor Fujia Yang of Fundan University in Shanghai, China was in the middle of the cultural revolution. So it wasn’t until 1978 that he made his first formal trip to China. During that three-week visit, he gave a series of lectures that were translated into Chinese and published in booklets that were used for many years. That same year, he hosted the first group of Chinese physicists to visit the United States. The visit included a stop at Vanderbilt.

"One of the most important things that I did," Hamilton said, "was to encourage the Chinese to submit articles for publication in international journals and allow foreign scientists to publish papers in their journals. That helped move them into the international scientific community." In 1979, he co-authored the first publication by a western scientist in a Chinese journal. Over the years, he has coauthored more than 200 publications in western journals with Chinese collaborators and given more than 70 invited presentations with Chinese colleagues at international scientific conferences. Many of these papers were initiated by his Chinese collaborators.

Initially, he was interested in learning more about China and the Chinese people, Hamilton said. At the final dinner of his first China visit, however, he was inspired further by the high-level party member who had arranged Richard Nixon’s first visit to China. "You and I know that the lectures you have delivered are not the most important reason for you being in China today. The most important reason for you being in China today is that people who know each other can learn to live together in piece," the party member told him.

"Since then, helping the American and Chinese people to get to know each other better so we can learn to live in peace has been an important motivating factor, along with the great science we have done together in our two countries," Hamilton said.

Media Contact: David Salisbury, (615) 343-6803

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