Heritage makes academy selection 'special'

Updated: 2015-12-24 12:13

By Paul Welitzkin in New York(China Daily USA)

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For University of Minnesota professor Larry Edwards, his selection as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is more than just a recognition of his accomplishments in scientific research.

"This is a very special honor for me because of my heritage," Edwards told China Daily in an interview. "My mother was Chinese and she grew up in Shanghai."

Earlier this month, the Chinese Academy of Sciences appointed Edwards and 11 others as newly elected foreign members. Membership in the academy is China's highest academic honor in science and technology. It is also highly selective as the academy has only 82 foreign members representing all scientific disciplines. Of the 82, 21 are Nobel laureates, noted Edwards.

"It's quite an honor in China," he said. "Many of the domestic members advise the Chinese government on scientific matters."

The US equivalent to the Chinese academy is the National Academy of Sciences in Washington (started in the 1860s), said Edwards, who is also the first member of the Chinese academy from the University of Minnesota.

Edwards is known for his precise methods that measure the ages of rocks and how that relates to climate change. "I am an expert in dating cave deposits which can tell you climate history. We have worked on deciphering the climate history of China," he said.

To determine the age of rocks, Edwards uses the "uranium-thorium" (also called the "thorium-230") dating method, in which he must detect incredibly small amounts of the elements uranium and thorium. He uses this method to date rocks found in Chinese caves to document historical climate-change patterns.

"A lot of my research went into the monsoon rainfall," Edwards said. ""We are seeking what factors can cause the rainfall to be weak or strong. We also worked on an analysis of Chinese cave deposits to determine the origin of the ice ages."

Some of his research assesses the relationship between climate change and cultural history, drawing plausible links between global shifts in rainfall patterns and major cultural changes. For example, his cave research suggests that dry conditions contributed to the demise of the Tang, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties in China.

Edwards' membership in the Chinese academy is for life and at the age of 80 he will become an emeritus member. He teaches and conducts his research as a member of the university's college of science and engineering's department of earth sciences.

Edwards, who has been to China many times, said "it is a wonderful country and I always look forward to my next visit."

His mother, Vee Tsung Ling, came to the US during World War II and eventually met his father. "My mother served as a translator for the Chinese ping pong team that visited the US in the 1970s," said Edwards.



 Heritage makes academy selection 'special'

Larry Edwards is the first foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing from the University of Minnesota. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 12/24/2015 page2)