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In Memory of Master Xu Guangxian

MAY . 09 2015
Peking University, May 6, 2015: The Chinese Academy of Sciences has lost one of its most renowned, and celebrated, chemist and scholar.

Xu Guangxian, the father of rare earth in China, passed away on the morning of April 28th, 2015, at the age of 95.

After attaining his doctorate at Columbia University in 1951, Xu and his wife, Gao Xiaoxia, returned to China to begin his teaching career at Peking University. Until his death, Xu dedicated his life to chemistry, attaining outstanding achievements in fields such as quantum chemistry, coordination chemistry and nuclear fuel chemistry.

His research is credited to have contributed to a technical revolution, and initiated the mass production of rare earth in China. The series extraction theory, a pioneering methodology in the process of rare earth mining, has enabled China to export highly pure rare earth, instead of relying on foreign factories and import products; thus gaining recognition by the International Rare Earth Society.

Over the course of his academic career, Xu Guangxian published over 400 thesis articles, and more than 10 monographs. He was founder and contributing writer to The Journal Of The Chinese Rare Earth Society, and co-author to widely used Chemistry textbooks such as Material Structure. His outstanding work won him numerous accolades, including being the first chemist to be bestowed the 2008 State Pre-eminent Science and Technology Award.

As a teacher, Xu Guangxian has trained approximately a hundred PhD students, and an even larger group of skillful technicians. He was a mentor to his students, and often took them to academic meetings, where he would recommend them to his peers. Xu once said that cultivating a group of students whose abilities and achievements were greater than his was his biggest pride because, “China would go no further if students could not surpass their teachers."

Despite his impressive achievements, Xu Guangxian was known to be a modest and selfless man. Yan Chunhua, Xu’s former student, and currently a renowned chemist himself, states that whenever there was an academic conference, Xu seldom talked about his own contribution, but modestly expressed his gratitude for the attention from his country and university.

Not only was Xu Guangxian a mentor to his students, he was also a father figure to many. He constantly pushed his students to attain excellence in their studies. One of his students recalled a time when Xu once took a student who was having trouble keeping up with his academic demands to his home, and coached him. In another instance, Xu Guangxian gave one of his students facing financial difficulties, 100 Yuan, monthly, and often bought his family groceries. Li Juan, the financially struggling student who Xu helped in 1989, is now a famous scholar living in America.

Master Xu Guangxian will be remembered by his family, scientific community, and country, as a man who led by example. May the master rest in peace.

Written by: Jin Panzhu

Edited by: Alice Namu