It was the year
1054 A.D., when an astronomer from the Tang dynasty stared
into the clear night sky and was stunned by the sudden
appearance of a bright object in the otherwise familiar
constellation. "A guest star invaded the constellation!" The
astronomer entered onto his log.
years later, this was confirmed to be an eye-witness report of
the supernova explosion at the Crab nebulae. Similarly, an
American graduate student, on a cold night, peering at heaven
on top of the Andean mountain in 1987, was also lucky enough
to perceive this rarest of the rare cosmic phenomenon, except
that astrophysicists now want to know more than the light that
predicted that in a supernova explosion, when a massive star
collapsed into its core, and then blew off the entire shell,
an elusive particle, called "neutrino" would emerge before
photons, the quanta of light. To study this mysterious
particle, particle physicists have constructed huge water
tanks buried deep underneath the earth, in an attempt to catch
the almost totally non-interactive particle which can pass
through practically everything we know.
American scientists checked at their 10 story by 10 story pure
water tank, alas, they found to their utter horror that it was
not turned on, a result due to previous budget cuts approved
by the Congress. Indeed, the only laboratory in the world that
made an accurate record of the supernova neutrinos, showing
the birth of the resultant neutron stars, was found in
Twice observed by Asians.
"When you look
at such cosmic phenomena, you wonder at God's creation," Prof.
Ngee Pong Chang asked rhetorically, "does it matter whether it
was Asians who observed it?"
that he merely wanted to point out the historical trend of
scientific endeavors, when Asians were at the apex of
scientific discovery, then fell into decline, and subsequently
made a strong comeback. "The rise and fall of scientific
progress," Prof. Chang remarked, "is closely related to the
resources allocated to basic research." Americans have seized
the lead in physics from the Europeans since the Second Word
War, but due to recent budget crisis, have slowly allowed the
Europeans and Asians to regain their prominence in fundamental
cited statistics that showed the difficulty for Asian physics
Ph.D.s to teach in the university. Whereas Asians constitute
over 30% of the entering Ph.D. in physics, statistics show
that Asians only hold 10% of the academic positions in
universities. Many more Asian physics Ph.Ds enter into
industry and business than other ethnicities. This is
manifested in industrial labs all across the United States.
"In Silicon Valley," Prof. Chang smiled wryly, "the running
joke is that IC doesn't mean Integrated Circuit but refers to
Indians and Chinese." "But what positions do they hold there?"
he sighed, "For those who find jobs in industry, many are
prevented from rising to managerial positions because of the
glass ceiling, themselves being relegated to high tech work
Despite a long
list of Asian high achievers in physics, beginning with Bose,
Raman, Yukawa, to Lee and Yang, and the many Nobel physicists
that followed, Prof Chang believed that Asians have a long way
to go to assert themselves in the scientific world. He
expressed the wish that more resources and attention be
showered towards Asian American physicists to further the
scientific and economic progress in the American society.
"Brilliant minds are terrible things to waste," Prof. Chang
presentation, Prof. Chang regaled the audience with wonderful
anecdotes about how S. Chandrasekhar, used to drive two
hundred miles round trip each week to teach a graduate course
at University of Chicago signed up by only two young graduate
students: T.D. Lee and C.N. Yang, who later entered the Nobel
pantheon. Chandrasekhar himself was awarded the Nobel Prize
some years later for his work on stellar dynamics. And he
expressed deep disappointment about how Madame C. S. Wu, a
great physicist who confirmed the breakdown of mirror
symmetry, was chivalrously excluded from the Nobelist circle.