Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Reflections

I am thankful for what I have - family, friends, the community we live in, the work and job we have .....This Thanksgiving I am particularly thankful for my teachers over the years of my education.

On November 1st, Dr. Jim Knowles, my Ph.D. thesis advisor passed away, at age 78. Jim was a superb teacher, he made any subject he taught seemed so clear and simple. Graduate students in engineering at Caltech loved to take his classes. He always had a full classroom of students for any course he taught, from principles of engineering mathematics to much harder ones, such as finite elasticity. Jim is well known for his seminal contributions to the theory of linear and nonlinear elasticity, he is also famous for not putting his name on students' papers originated from their thesis. His more than 100 published papers were all his own work.

As Jim's student, I had many interactions with him. He was always kind, and listened patiently to whatever I had to say on my mind, research or otherwise. After qualification, like all his students, I was trying to select an appropriate topic for my thesis within the general framework of his research funding. It was hard initially. I did not have a clue to what would be a good topic, trying everything, anything I could think of. He was always encouraging, probing my work, he never discounted any idea I had even when he did not like it - he just did not go back to talk about that idea any more. After over a year of hardship and frustration in searching for a thesis topic, I was finally on track. I made major breakthroughs in my research when he was on sabbatical at MIT. With trust, he trained his graduate students to be independent, self reliant researchers. That training is a benefit of life time. I am blessed to be associated with Jim.

I started my career at my second hometown, Pasadena, California. The adventure into the world of science and technology, however, started much earlier at my hometown, Wuhan, China, at the No. 15 middle school of Wuhan. Ms. Peng, the biology teacher, Ms. Wang, the math teacher (grade 6-8), Mr. Liu, the English teacher, Ms. Li, the chemistry teacher, Ms. Zhang, the Chinese teacher, Mr. Zhang, the math teacher (grade 9-10), all had profound impact on my education and development. Their cares, appreciations, encouragements and mentoring, made my adolescent period a wonderful time in my life. I don't remember their full names, I do remember their voices, their images, their smiles, and their kindness.

In this Thanksgiving, I want to say thanks in my heart, to all my teachers, from elementary school, to middle school, to college, and from graduate school at Tsinghua University to graduate school at Caltech.

Thank you, my teachers! Happy Thanksgiving!

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