A Quantum Career

In a remote area of China with primitive roads and no running water, Chih-Yung Chen taught students who were the first in their families to attend high school. She recalls how hard they worked on their lessons, despite having to walk two hours to and from school then return home to help their families. This difficult and rewarding 10-year assignment inspired Chen to make teaching her life’s work.

Chih-Yung Chen

Chen left China to join her family in England, where she taught herself English and attended the University of Manchester, earning an MSc in physics then a PhD. Her research area is solid state physics, specifically high critical temperature superconductivity, an area with potential applications for high-density data storage. Chen’s work gave colleagues in the field some novel insights into the mechanisms by which superconductors work at unexpectedly high critical temperatures.

As a physics professor at Harvey Mudd College, a position she held for 27 years, Chen taught Special Relativity, Mechanics and Wave Motion, Solid State Physics, and Quantum Physics as well as laboratory courses. She has mentored research students, leading to senior thesis awards, conference publications and presentations.

“I’ve learned so much being at Harvey Mudd,” says Chen. “It’s made me more complete. I wouldn’t say I’m better, but I’m definitely more complete now.”

Chen spent a year as a visiting scientist at NEC Research Institute and has been a visiting professor at Shanghai University and at Nanjing University, the latter being where she has taught Quantum Physics since 2012. The book she uses in the course, Quantum Physics: A Fundamental Approach to Modern Physics, was written by HMC physics colleague John Townsend and translated into Chinese by Chen.

In retirement, Chen says she will continue teaching in China and do more traveling and gardening. She also plans to tutor students in physics and math. Chen says, “Nothing can compare with the joy of being a teacher.”