Obituary for Professor Khi-Rui Tsai

Pro­fes­sor Khi-Rui Tsai, a promi­nent pro­fes­sor of Xia­men Uni­ver­sity and a mem­ber of Chi­nese Acad­emy of Sci­ences, passed away peace­fully on Octo­ber 3rd 2016 in Xia­men at his age of 104.

Pro­fes­sor Tsai is a famous phys­i­cal chemist and catal­y­sis sci­en­tist. He is a pio­neer of coor­di­na­tion catal­y­sis and mol­e­c­u­lar catal­y­sis in China. In 1960s, he devel­oped the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts of catal­y­sis by coor­di­na­tion acti­va­tion, and applied the prin­ci­ples of coor­di­na­tion catal­y­sis to cor­re­late sev­eral types of homo­ge­neous catal­y­sis, het­ero­ge­neous catal­y­sis and metallo-enzyme catal­y­sis sys­tems. In 1970s, he and Prof. Jia-Xi Lu pro­posed inde­pen­dently, from dif­fer­ent approaches, essen­tially sim­i­lar cluster-structural mod­els of Mo-nitrogenase active cen­ters and multi-nuclear coor­di­na­tion acti­va­tion of var­i­ous types of known sub­strates of nitro­ge­nase. Pro­fes­sor Tsai led a team at Xia­men Uni­ver­sity with an aim to bridge the gap between enzyme catal­y­sis and het­ero­ge­neous catal­y­sis since 1970s. He and his co-workers sys­tem­at­i­cally car­ried out com­par­a­tive stud­ies on the mod­els of active cen­ters and reac­tion mech­a­nisms for nitro­ge­nase enzymes and for het­ero­ge­neous ammonia-synthesis cat­a­lysts. The team also stud­ied the effects of ionic pro­mot­ers in N2 hydro­gena­tion to ammo­nia and CO hydro­gena­tion to methanol and ethanol. Pro­fes­sor Tsai pro­posed a unique mech­a­nism for the direct con­ver­sion of syn­gas to ethanol. Up to 1997, Pro­fes­sor Tsai pub­lished more than 200 research arti­cles. He got three times the State Nat­ural Sci­ence Award owing to his out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to catal­y­sis sci­ence. In 1999, he was awarded the He-Liang-He-Li Foun­da­tion Award for Progress in Sci­ence and Technology.

In addi­tion to the sci­en­tific activ­ity, Pro­fes­sor Tsai also served as a mem­ber of the 3rd national com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese People’s Polit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence, the deputy to the 3rd, 4th and 5th National People’s Con­gress and a mem­ber of the Aca­d­e­mic Degree Com­mis­sion of the State Coun­cil. He was the vice pres­i­dent of Xia­men Uni­ver­sity and the direc­tor of the Sci­en­tific Aca­d­e­mic Com­mit­tee of Xia­men Uni­ver­sity. Pro­fes­sor Tsai also served as a coun­cil mem­ber of Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of Catal­y­sis Soci­eties (IACS). Pro­fes­sor Tsai is also a big edu­ca­tor. He was a remark­able ambas­sador for Xia­men Uni­ver­sity and a shin­ing exam­ple of what all edu­ca­tors should aspire to be. He imbued his stu­dents with firm ideals and beliefs, pro­vided them with a strong moral com­pass, guided them using his incred­i­ble wealth of knowl­edge, and treated them all with benevolence.

Pro­fes­sor Tsai’s pass­ing is a mas­sive loss not only to Xia­men Uni­ver­sity but also to the catal­y­sis com­mu­nity in China. Pro­fes­sor Tsai will be greatly missed by his fam­ily, friends, col­leagues, stu­dents and those who work in catal­y­sis field.