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Last updated::2016-12-12    



The Gracefully Flowing Philosophy of Life—Professor Philip Liu Li-fan

By Secretariat
After being awarded the membership of the National Academy of Engineer.. After being awarded the membership of the National Academy of Engineering in the United States last year, Professor Philip Liu Li-fan has been elected as an academician of Academia Sinica. He takes this honor respectfully and peacefully. Photo by Wen Li-an

After being awarded the membership of National Academy of Engineering in the United States last year, Philip Liu Li-fan, chair professor of the Graduate Institute of Hydrological and Oceanic Sciences, has been elected as an academician of Academia Sinica in this year. Even as busy as a bee, he enjoys the pleasure in his work. Staying curious is his key to staying joyful. Even though faced with difficulties sometimes, he learns to be “flexible with a mature attitude.”

A Long and Solitary Academic Journey
Professor Liu said that studying abroad in the United States really widened his vision in those years when the Internet was not yet created. It was particularly the interdisciplinary learning that ignited his academic passion. Applied mathematics was the field that intrigued him the most, especially the subject of fluid mechanics. “Not so abstract, but not so intuitive as well,” said Professor Liu; fluid mechanics made him obsessed with its mystery. He said he was fortunate to have met Professor Mei Chiang-chung, the academician whose attitude of "be strict with yourself but be lenient with others" has influenced him greatly, and he also followed Professor Mei’s research on ocean waves.

With the support from National Science Foundation in the United States, Professor Liu coordinated research projects on tsunamis involving five prestigious universities in the United States for more than 17 years. His own research team at Cornell successfully developed a COMCOT numerical model with the ability to accurately simulate how a tsunami travels across an ocean, approaches a shore, and floods the coastal area causing damage to infrastructures and life. This model has been widely adopted by many countries to predict the areas vulnerable to tsunamis and to make plans for disaster prevention and evacuation.

“A tsunami is not the most popular scientific subject since it does not happen very often. However, once it occurs, it could lead to a cross-ocean catastrophe and result in severe casualties and damages,” said Professor Liu, pointing out the importance of understanding tsunami science. From late sixties to late eighties, although no damaging tsunami has happened, the US government has, nevertheless, been willing to invest resources in supporting the fundamental scientific research in tsunami. It is not untilthe 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which shocked the whole world, have scientists been aroused with a strong sense of responsibility.

The Scientists’ Missions
Searching for a Sustainable Tomorrow for Humans

Two weeks after the South Asian Tsunami happened on December 26, 2004, Professor Liu organized an international team and took the team to Sri Lanka to conduct the post-tsunami survey, only to find a scene of devastation and ruins everywhere. When remembering his interviews with the local people, he said, “my heart was heavy and my mind was complicated, but I knew that the purpose of conducting scientific research is to minimize the damage of disasters humans are faced with, and there is still much about tsunamis we do not know.”

After the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, many projects for deploying ocean observation stations around the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean were initiated. The spread of tsunamis could be as fast as an airplane flying over an ocean . Through precise numerical simulations and analyses, the time of a tsunami’s arrival can be estimated, and thus there will be time for precaution and evacuation in advance. With the international support, the tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean has been gradually set up, and about twenty new stations on the Pacific Ocean have been established as well. However, from a global perspective, Professor Liu is very concerned about the lack of tsunami warning system in the South China Sea, where in spite of existing geo-political tension more attention is required.

Think Globally and Develop the Capacity of Independent Thinking and Sound Judgment
With rich experience of traveling around the world, Professor Liu has accumulated international academic prestige and has been appointed as the Vice President of the National University of Singapore. Professor Liu has been affiliated with NCU since 2007. The reason why Professor Liu is willing to devote himself to NCU is because of Professor Tsai Wu-ting, who also graduated from the MIT, and Professor Ip Wing-huen (He was the Vice President of NCU then and he was also elected as an Academician this year), who challenged Professor Liu “to put NCU on the map.” Professor Liu also works with Academician Professor Norden E. Huang on promoting NCU’s research in the fields related to oceans, hydrological sciences, and hazard mitigation technologies.

“Although Taiwan claims itself to be an ocean country, its investment in coastal oceanic research is relatively small,” said Professor Liu. He took it as a good thing that the Graduate Institute of Hydrological Science was renamed into the Graduate Institute of Hydrological and Oceanic Sciences in 2008, because the cycle of water can thus be systematically studied, including hydrology/meteorology, surface/ground water, ocean waves/currents and so on.

The precious value of science lies in its seeking for the truth. Professor Liu hopes that those who are interested in doing research should not be subject to idolatry or believe blindly on authorities. To develop the abilities of independent and critical thinking and sound judgment is of great importance. When faced with difficulties, it is okay to slow down for a while and think. “Don’t take things too seriously, and don’t consider yourself a person too important.” Maybe another opportunity is around the corner.