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Dr. Ku, Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering Dies

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Yu-Hsiu Ku


【UPENN Almanac, September 24,2002】Dr. Yu-Hsiu Ku, emeritus professor of electrical and systems engineering, a renowned educator, scientist, author and poet, died on September 9 in Oklahoma City due to complications from pneumonia.


Dr. Ku was born in 1902 in Wushi, Jiangsu Province, China. He entered the Tsing Hua School in Beijing, China, at the age of thirteen. After graduating from Tsing Hua School, (later named NationalTsinghua University) he received a special scholarship to study electrical engineering at MIT.


At MIT from 1923-28, he was awarded the Bachelor, Master and Doctor of Science degrees in electrical engineering. He completed all three degrees in three and one-half years, a record at the time, and also had the unique distinction of being the first Chinese to be awarded a doctoral of science degree (ScD) from MIT. Two of his advisors at Harvard were Nobel laureate P.W. Bridgmen and philosopher A.N. Whitehead.


Returning to China in 1928, he became professor and chair of the Department of Engineering, Zhejiang University (1929-30); dean, National Central University (1931-32); chair of Electrical Engineering and Founding Dean of Engineering of Tsinghua University (1932-37). He was also director of the Aeronautic Research Institute, China(1934-37) and director of the first Electronics Research Institute, China(1935-37). During the war against Japan, he was Principal Deputy Minister of Education (1938-44) and president of China's National Central University (1944-45).


Dr. Ku was the Education Commissioner of the Shanghai Municipal Government (1945-47). During this period, he was an adjunct professor and taught electrical engineering courses at the National Jiaotong University in Shanghai. It was at that university that the current President of the People's Republic of China was one of his students and they started a unique life-long relationship which had a significant impact on US-China and China-Taiwan cross-strait relationships. From 1947-49, he was the president of National Chengchi University in Nanjing. Prior to his tenure, President Chiang Kai shek himself was the only one to occupy that position.


In 1950, he left China and was professor of electrical engineering at MIT from 1950-52. In 1952 he joined the faculty of the Moore School of Electrical Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was professor of electrical engineering until 1972 when he retired.


It was his unique relationships with top leaders of both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China over several decades that led to remarkable developments which directly impacted both US-China and China-Taiwan relationships. Examples include the US-China Hainan incident and direct and confidential contacts with President Jiang of PRC and President Chen of Taiwan.


He was an internationally recognized authority and made major technical contributions in the areas of electrical energy conversion, nonlinear systems and the theory of nonlinear control. In recognition of his scientific achievements, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE) awarded to him the prestigious IEEE Lamme Medal in 1972. In 2000 at the age of 98, he was awarded the IEEE Third Millennium Medal.


"Dr. Ku was one of the last polymaths. He made technical contributions in areas as diverse as electrical machinery, Liapunov methods and Volterra equations for nonlinear mechanics and nonlinear control, and boundary-layer heat transfer. Additionally, Dr. Ku served as president of the China National Music Conservatory. We should be proud that he is a part of Penn Engineering history," said SEAS Dean Glandt.


He is also a renowned writer, playwright and poet. Twelve volumes of his collected literary works were published in 1961, followed by eight volumes of poems. At his retirement from Penn 1972, he was awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree in Literature and Humanities.


He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Wei-Zing Wang Ku, and his sons, Wei-Qing, Walter Wei-Hua, EE' 67, John Wei-Chung, and his daughter, Anna Wei-Ming, CW'67, MArch'69, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


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