Professor Shih Choon Fong Awarded 2018 Harvard Centennial Medal

Professor Shih Choon Fong was conferred the Centennial Medal from Harvard University for his contributions to society through research and higher education.

AsianScientist (Jun. 7, 2018) – Professor Shih Choon Fong of the National University of Singapore (NUS) has been honored with the Harvard Centennial Medal for his work in the field of fracture mechanics as well as the leadership roles he took on in driving the success of not one, but two universities.

The Harvard Centennial Medal represents the highest honor bestowed by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) at Harvard University. First established in 1989—a century after the school’s founding—the award honors two to four alumni annually for their contributions to society following their graduate education at Harvard University. Past recipients of the award include former Nobel Prize laureate Roald Hoffmann, Turing Award winner Frederick Phillips Brooks Jr. and Kyoto Prize recipient Martha Nussbaum.

Shih, who was given the honor this year, was raised in Singapore. In 1973, he earned his doctorate degree in applied mathematics at Harvard University, before going on to helm the Fracture Research Group at the General Electric Research Laboratory, the first industrial research facility in the US.

During that period, his research focused on understanding how very tough metals fracture under extreme stress. With more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed leading academic journals to his name, Shih is a respected and widely-cited expert in the field of fracture mechanics.

Shih’s mentor, John W. Hutchinson, who is the Abbott and James Lawrence Research Professor of Engineering at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, commented in Shih’s Centennial Medal citation that Shih’s work was of great importance, especially to the nuclear energy sector which was concerned with the safety of nuclear power plants at that time.

Shih eventually returned to Singapore in 1996 to take on a joint appointment as professor of NUS and founding director of the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Singapore. Five years later, he was appointed the president of NUS. Shih’s leadership quickly proved instrumental in helping to expand the university’s capabilities to become a global leader in research.

During his tenure, he built strong, international networks that fostered innovation and collaboration across international borders. This display of leadership would later land him a similar role as the first president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in 2008. Shih returned once again to NUS in 2013 as a university professor in the faculty of engineering.

Commenting on the award in an interview with NUS News, Shih acknowledged the talented people he has had the privilege to work with over the years and expressed that “Excellence is not an end-goal—it is a continuing, never-ending journey of imagination, discovery, learning and service to the larger community. My hope for NUS too is that it continues to see excellence as an inherently worthwhile journey.”


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: National University of Singapore/Harvard University.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Lim Zeng Hao completed a degree in biological sciences at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. In his spare time, he dabbles in new languages and daydreams about the eventual publication of his epic fantasy book series. Zeng Hao is a science writer with Asian Scientist Magazine.

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