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Remembering Tsung: Professor, Colleague, Friend

“Frank was a fount of energy,” according to Ben Williams. Chia-Kuang “Frank” Tsung—associate professor of chemistry at Boston College who died on Jan. 5 from COVID-19 complications at the age of 44—was a beloved colleague and mentor with a unique gift of creating long-lasting connections, according to those who knew him. 

 Williams, a current postdoctoral research fellow, was Tsung’s advisee when he was in graduate school at Boston College. After a difficult research experience as an undergraduate student, Williams knew he was in need of a very particular type of adviser. He had heard nothing about Tsung before arriving on campus, but it quickly became apparent that he had lucked out. 

“From the moment I met him, he was so excited about science in a way that was so contagious,” Williams said. 

Graduate school is no easy feat for any student, especially those pursuing a career in the STEM field, Williams said. Though there were times of darkness, there was always a source of light he could count on to brighten his day—that light was Tsung.

Image courtesy of Ben Williams

Tsung led the research group Williams was in while attending graduate school at BC in January of 2016. Tsung’s background in synthesizing metal particles made him an adept leader for Williams’ group. Under his guidance, Tsung’s group aimed to build off the work he had done in previous years, specifically in his graduate and postdoctoral studies involving nanoparticles with particular shapes and sizes. 

Throughout his career, Tsung had no shortage of duties. He was very involved in the department as the director for graduate studies and the Steering Committee. He also taught a mixture of graduate and undergraduate courses, including honors general chemistry. Tsung’s research group of four undergraduate students was submitting research grants and publishing papers up until Tsung was hospitalized last fall. 

Tsung had a unique gift of making intellectual and communal connections while he was at BC, according to Dean of MCAS Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., in an email to The Heights

Professor Tsung was a gifted teacher, a creative scientist, a generous collaborator, and an integral contributor to our physical chemistry group,” Kalscheur said. “Over these last few weeks I have been deeply moved by how many colleagues on campus recognized Frank’s important role as a mentor and as a friend.”

Image courtesy of Allison Young

Tsung was just like the drink he used to order at the bar—an Old Fashioned, according to third year graduate student Victor Lo. Tsung would consistently dress up for their outings, reflecting his unique and creative side that made him stand out in any crowd.

“He was always willing to sacrifice to provide a better career for his students,” Lo said. “I think that’s pretty rare for faculty, which is a great loss for the community. I am really honored to have had him as an adviser and mentor.”

In addition to the profound impact he had on his students’ lives, Tsung’s ambition inside the lab made strides for the collaborative efforts of the department. When he first began working in the lab, Williams said, there was just one joint project in the works. By the time he graduated, there were five. 

“Now, you can see different professors working together in all different ways,” Williams said. “It hasn’t always been like that in our department. Frank was a big driving force for that. He was so good at dealing with different personalities. He got everyone to focus towards a common goal and work well together.”

Dunwei Wang, Vanderslice professor of chemistry and department chair, also said Tsung made a lasting impact on him and many others. 

“[Tsung] was one of the key members in [the] chemistry community and in the community worldwide. I can’t say enough about how important he was to all of us,” Wang said.

Tsung was a beloved colleague, collaborator, and close friend to many, according to associate professor of chemistry Eranthie Weerapana. 

“We will forever miss his laughter, his energy, his companionship, and his thoughtfulness,” she said.   

Tsung, according to Wang, was very easy to get along with, and was someone who could always be heard laughing and making jokes, even in recorded lectures. Tsung frequently joked that he was a “cartoon chemist,” according to Allison Young, a former member of Tsung’s research group

“As mentors go, he was hands down one of the best,” Young said. “He truly felt and believed science to be a beautiful thing and one of the best ways to share that with people was to make beautiful visuals and to do beautiful chemistry that could ultimately have so many applications.”

Wang said that Tsung was the reason many undergraduate students decided to pursue science in their careers, and that they would frequently ask him for advice. 

“He put himself in students’ shoes in trying to work with them,”  Lo said. “That was a big part of his personality.”

Tsung radiated kindness and he left a legacy of warmth and humility. He was always engaging those around him in conversation and making them laugh, Young said.

“Every time we would go to conferences if I got there first, when I was his graduate student, the entire conference would be asking if he was coming and when he was getting there because everyone loved him,” said Young. “Beyond that, he was also an incredible scientist and mentor.”

There will be a void in BC’s chemistry department without Frank Tsung, Lo said. 

“He was the best mentor of all time,” he said. “I think what he taught us, what he achieved, and his legacy will be passed down.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Allison Young

February 7, 2021