|Talented academic: Son is the 19th person in the history of Chicago University to hold the title "University Professor".
by Trong Nhat
An exciting new challenge awaits one of Viet Nam's most decorated scientists, Dam Thanh Son. The physician has just been appointed a professor of physics at the renowned University of Chicago where he will lend his considerable expertise from this month.
This is the latest step in a remarkable career that has seen Son record a string of achievements.
He was born into a family of intellectuals in Ha Noi in 1969, and soon became recognised as a child prodigy. He could solve Grade 10 maths problems when he was only in Grade 2 and such was his exceptional talent, the city's education authority allowed him to skip the secondary years of maths. Son was interested in broadening his knowledge from an early age, inspired by the famous journey of Professor Chandresekhar from India to Europe.
He was admitted to a special maths class with input from Ha Noi National University and at the age of 15 he took part in his first Olympiad Mathematics Competition, hosted in Prague, capital of then Czechoslovakia. He won a gold medal with an absolute mark of 42/42.
His passion soon turned to physics after reading a Russian book called Vat Ly Vui (Funny Physics), and he began to pursue a career in this field. He studied a master's degree at Moscow University in 1991 and earned his doctorate in physics from the city's Institute for Nuclear Research five years later. He has claimed that he was deeply influenced by the lectures of physicist Enrich Farm during these years.
Son left Russia to go to America, where he became a postgraduate at the University of Washington, and later worked at their Institute of Nuclear Theory there. He also studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He taught at Columbia University from 1990 to 2002 and also spent time as a researcher at the US Department of Energy, where he was presented with several awards for outstanding work. Additionally he has authored or co-authored 92 articles and reports.
When asked about his complicated field of research, Son said, "My research tools are just simple: a ream of draft paper, a pen and a dustbin to throw papers with wrong or useless calculations. Of those, the dustbin is seemingly the most important thing to me!"
|Tall among peers: Professor Dam Thanh Son ( rear, left) poses a photo with former President Tran Duc Luong (front, centre) and others at a meeting with scientists. — VNS File Photos
Paul Wiegmann, a distinguished professor in physics and director of the James Franck Institute, has said that Son has a rare ability to explore physics as a universal, undivided disciple. This is one of the abilities that drew the attention of the University of Chicago.
His latest role is particularly prestigious as 'University Professor' is the highest title Chicago can bestow on a scholar. They are selected from outside institutions when they became recognised and have potential for worldwide impact. Son is the 19th person to hold the title in the university's history, and six others who share the honour currently work there.
"The work that Son does has created excitement in many corners of the department," Edward Blucher, professor and chairman of the Physics Department told the ChicagoNews.
"We had a clear idea of what we were hoping to accomplish with our physics initiative and he is the best person to start things off in a very strong way.
"He has done great work, but we're excited about having him come here because we anticipate that his best work is still to come." — VNS