An IBM Distinguished Inventor Nurtured in the Practically-oriented Academic Climate at NCKU

/ Richard C. Chu / Academia Sinica Academician

As a prominent alumnus of NCKU, Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu was also appointed as an IBM Fellow, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and an academician of Academia Sinica in his lifetime. His immeasurable contributions to the development of cooling systems based upon the principles of heat transfer were manifested in more than 200 patents and publication of 150 patent papers. He also contributed toward shrinking the size of the computer.

Major Contributions to Shrinking Computer Sizes

Born in 1933, Dr. Chu graduated from the Department of mechanical engineering in the first graduating class at Taiwan Provincial Cheng Kung University in 1956. In 1960, he received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Purdue University and was employed with IBM. He passed away in the United States on September 8th, 2012, leaving a lasting legacy as an NCKU alumnus characterized by a modest personality and an image of accepting honors with humility.

In the early stage of the development of large-sized computers, Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu applied his expertise in heat conduction and cooling systems to the heat dissipation and cooling of computers, and made great contributions to the reduction of computer size, allowing for more portable computers.

Dr. Hong-Sen Yan, former vice president of NCKU and former chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was given the opportunity to receive Dr. Chu when the latter returned to Taiwan to receive NCKU’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1986. With similar backgrounds—alumni of NCKU and Purdue University—they quickly developed a close friendship after that. In Dr. Yan’ eyes, Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu was a typical engineering student, who was very grounded and down-to-earth, and tended to give undivided attention to any problem at hand until a solution was found. This may explain why he had been employed with IBM throughout his life, dedicated to his chosen research paths.

First Chinese-born Scientist Appointed as an IBM Fellow, Leading the Development of Computer Cooling Systems

As a prominent figure in his research field, Dr. Chu was honored with the title of an IBM Fellow in 1983, which was IBM’s highest recognition given to best-performing employees since 1962. Every year, a few top performers are appointed as IBM Fellows who are allowed to present new topics for pioneering research funded by the company’s R&D expenditures budget. He was recognized as a distinguished alumnus of NCKU in 1986 and appointed as a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1987 and a member of AAAS in 1988.

In charge of the development of computer cooling systems, Dr. Chu served as the principal investigator for all research projects conducted jointly by IBM and 12 universities, generating more than 200 patents and 150 published patent papers. He also administered IBM Research, an R and D division, as the first deputy director and later the first director, contributing greatly to the development of computer cooling systems across the world.

The practical-minded academician Chao-Fan Chu attached great importance to innovative thinking for scientific applications. He gave an example of early computers with a downward flow condition of heat transfer, yielding a disappointing result in heat dissipation. To address the problem, he tried to think heuristically and worked out a new heat dissipation mechanism. Academician Chu also emphasized the importance of collective brainstorming to solicit new ideas for product innovation within and beyond his team. This was how he led IBM to continue to innovate.

Father and Son, Both of Them NCKU Alumni, Thankful to Their Alma Mater

In 1996, Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu was elected an academician by Academia Sinica on its 21st annual roster of academicians. Dr. Chu said gratefully that his father and uncle had taught at NCKU, and he was also a graduate of NCKU. It had always been his ardent dream to be an academician of Academia Sinica, so he was very grateful for the dream to come to pass. Dr. Chu’s father, Prof. Liang-Hsi Chu, had served as the chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering when he was enrolled at the university. Father and son were working together diligently in the same field, leaving an interesting anecdote to contemporaries and later generations.

Though Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu lived in the Unite States most of his lifetime, he once described his college years at TPCKU as the most treasured memory of his life. Whenever he came back to Tainan, he felt like he was reliving the best times once again. In addition to taking leisurely strolls around old dorm buildings, he also paid visits to his respectful professors, Xiang-Xian Zhang and Chen-Jiu Ma.

The Key to His Success: Perseverance at Work

Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu once remarked, “I have been asked by many people, including my children, about the key to my seemingly uncomplicated and successful career. Honestly, I do not know the answer. But it is my conviction that the key to success lies in your perseverance at work. Of course, luck also plays a role in success, but my experience told me that the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.”

NCKU’s former vice president Dr. Hong-Sen Yan described Dr. Chu, a close friend for thirty plus years, as a role model worthy of emulation by young students. He demonstrated how a truly grounded professional might behave in the workplace by turning his job into a passion and building his career with perseverance, and ultimately achieving personal success and improving the standard of living for many. All his hard work paid off in the end, and he has set a great example for all NCKU students to admire and imitate, as our alumni all share a dream to achieve the common good for society. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Chu’s family)

References:
NCKU Alumni Association Center
NCKU Magazine Issue No. 179
Academia Sinica Website
Chu’s public speech delivered on NTU campus in 2003
Chu’s keynote speech delivered at CMEE, National Taipei University of Technology in 2010

NCKUer |
Class |
Achievements and Honors |

Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu

Class of 1956, Department of Mechanical Engineering

・Appointed as a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1982.

・Appointed as an IBM Fellow in 1983.

・Received the Distinguished Engineering Alumni/Alumnae Award by Purdue University in 1984.

・Received NCKU’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1986.

・Appointed as a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1987.

・Appointed as a member of AAAS in 1988.

・Received the Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award by Purdue University in 1990.

・Appointed as an academician by Academia Sinica on its 21st annual roster of academicians in 1996.

Dr. Richard Chao-Fan Chu / Class of 1956, Department of Mechanical Engineering

・Appointed as a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1982.

・Appointed as an IBM Fellow in 1983.

・Received the Distinguished Engineering Alumni/Alumnae Award by Purdue University in 1984.

・Received NCKU’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1986.

・Appointed as a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1987.

・Appointed as a member of AAAS in 1988.

・Received the Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award by Purdue University in 1990.

・Appointed as an academician by Academia Sinica on its 21st annual roster of academicians in 1996.

arrow-left
Department of Chemical Engineering, Class of 1952

Jer-Ru Maa

Former President of NCKU
Department of Electrical Engineering, Class of 1956

Chung-Laung Liu

國際知名計算機科學家、An Academia Sinica Academician
arrow-right