Lui Lam: 2017 Distinguished Service Award

By Julia Halprin Jackson

“I am using my training in physics to tackle and understand problems in the humanities.”

Photo: David Schmitz

Photo: David Schmitz

Professor Lui Lam sees physics and humanities as part of the continuum of the human experience. An accomplished scientist credited with inventing bowlics, the third classification of liquid crystal molecule, and developing the multidiscipline of science matters (“scimat”), Lam believes it is critical to study science in the context of history, economics and philosophy because scientific discoveries would not otherwise carry any weight.

“If you look at Socrates, his research method was to walk to the center of the city and challenge people to debate,” Lam says. “That was his way of conducting research. Science, by its definition and by its tradition, is about talking, debating and engaging with people.”

The 2017 Distinguished Service Award recipient knows how to engage with others. Throughout his career Lam made San Jose State the destination for physicists and academics to share research, discuss real-world applications, and connect students to potential employers. In 1990, he established the International Liquid Crystal Society, a professional association for scientists and academics engaged in liquid crystal research.

“I am using my training in physics to tackle and understand problems in the humanities,” he says. “I appreciate SJSU because we have enough freedom and encouragement from our department and the president to do this.”

Starting in the late 1980s, Lam brought the Liquid Crystal conference series to San Jose State, involving IBM Almaden, Greyhawk Systems, Taliq Corp., Lockheed M&S, National Semiconductor and Stanford University. Both the Nonlinear Science conference series and the Institute for Modern Optics, which he helped establish, created additional opportunities for SJSU students to engage in scientific debate and discover career pathways. Lam has also founded and edited the Partially Ordered Systems and Science Matters book series.

“Science is done through competition and collaboration, and so you have to engage people,” Lam says. “Also, science is about understanding nature. Humans are a part of nature.”

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary service in a leadership capacity to the university and/or community or profession that brings credit to San Jose State University. This year’s winner comes from the College of Science. He will be honored at the 18th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 9, 2017. Tickets are available for purchase.


Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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