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Taiwanese-American scientist wins prestigious NASA award

07/06/2024 03:32 PM
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Jacob Chung poses with the Exceptional Public Service Medal awarded by NASA in June. Photo courtesy of Jacob Chung
Jacob Chung poses with the Exceptional Public Service Medal awarded by NASA in June. Photo courtesy of Jacob Chung

Washington, July 5 (CNA) Taiwanese-American scientist Jacob Chung (莊念祖) has been honored with a prestigious award by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for advancing space exploration through his research on cryogenic fluid management science.

The Exceptional Public Service Medal, the highest honor bestowed by NASA to non-federal employees, was awarded to the 77-year-old Chung at a ceremony held on June 25. He was also the only recipient of the award this year.

Thanking his alma mater

Speaking to CNA via a recent remote interview, Chung said he moved to the United States at the age of 23 with only one suitcase and US$1,000 after graduating from Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) with a degree in nuclear engineering.

From there, he went on to earn a master's degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Missouri, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 1979.

Chung credited NTHU for having provided him with a solid foundation in science and engineering, which made his studies in the U.S. a relatively smooth experience.

At the time, there were only four departments at NTHU, whose professors had mostly returned from the U.S. to pass on their advanced knowledge, Chung said, adding that he was able to attain a 4.0 grade point average for both his master's and doctorate degrees.

Rocket fuel research

Since 1998, the Taiwanese-American scientist has been teaching at the University of Florida (UF) after 19 years on the faculty at Washington State University. He is currently the Andrew H. Hines, Jr./Progress Energy eminent scholar chair professor at the UF.

Chung has been conducting research for NASA since 1992 in the field of space thermal-fluid management technologies, which include effectively reducing the vaporization of rocket fuel during storage and transportation.

Photo courtesy of Jacob Chung
Photo courtesy of Jacob Chung

By enabling rockets to travel further with limited fuel, his findings assist human exploration of the Moon, Mars and asteroids.

The liquid fuels used in rockets must be stored at temperatures ranging from minus 250 degrees Celsius to minus 200 degrees Celsius. The storage tanks for the fuel, as well as the pipelines used to transport the fuel from the storage tanks to the engine combustion chamber, operate in ambient temperature conditions, he explained.

Chung said his research aims to discover effective cooling methods to lower the temperatures of storage tanks and pipelines, thereby reducing fuel losses caused by high-temperature vaporization.

According to NASA, he earned the Exceptional Public Service Medal due to his "exceptional, sustained, and multi-faceted contributions advancing NASA's in-space cryogenic fluid management science and technologies over multiple programs and 30 years."

Helping Taiwan in its technology research

Although having only US$1,000 in his pocket when he moved to the U.S., Chung said he arrived in 1971 to chase his American dream.

During the interview, Chung said that he hoped to give back to the country [U.S.] that nurtured him, and following the recent NASA recognition, he viewed this as a fulfillment to his American dream.

Chung was born in China, but moved to Taiwan at the age of 2 with his parents, who were both originally from China's Jiangsu Province. Chung is married to a Taiwanese woman and has two sons.

The 77-year-old scientist said he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

Photo courtesy of Jacob Chung
Photo courtesy of Jacob Chung

"Our greatest joy is to make a discovery and help people with their knowledge," he said, adding that there is still one thing that he wishes to do, which is to assist Taiwan's electronics and computer companies in developing effective cooling systems for their devices.

From central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs) to servers, microchips and quantum computers, they all require robust and efficient cooling systems to prevent overheating and achieve optimal performance, he said.

Chung said he hopes to expand his liquid cooling technology from the realm of rocket fuels to cover technology products, thereby helping Taiwan maintain a leading position in the global technology industry.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Ko Lin)

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