A legacy of service and the scientific spirit: In memory of Emeritus Professor Huang Hsing Hua

Former NUS Deputy Vice-Chancellor and eminent alumnus, Emeritus Professor Huang Hsing Hua, passed away on 1 July at the age of 89.

A graduate of the University of Malaya (B.Sc. (Hon)), NUS’ predecessor institution, and the University of Oxford (DPhil/ PhD), Emeritus Prof Huang returned to his alma mater in 1957 and commenced an illustrious career of service to NUS. In his capacity as Deputy Vice-Chancellor from 1981 to 1994, he worked tirelessly with Professor Lim Pin for the betterment of the department and the University, and it is to him that a sharp rise in student enrolment, research activity and funding, and number of staff can be credited.

For his decades of unwavering service to University and country, Emeritus Prof Huang was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 1988 and the Distinguished Science Alumni Award in 1999. In conjunction with the Department’s 88th anniversary celebration in 2017, and in honour of his contributions to the field of Chemistry, the Huang Hsing Hua Chemistry Merit Scholarship Fund was also established in his name.

A pioneering chemist

He was renowned for his research in the field of physical organic chemistry and spectroscopy, his sterling contributions to the field burnishing NUS’ global reputation and elevating the name of NUS to the ranks of global tertiary institutions in the early years. Ever a trailblazer in the international scientific community, Emeritus Prof Huang was a scientific pioneer of towering stature, and a prolific writer who had over 140 papers to his name in internationally refereed journals. He held the Queen’s Scholarship (1956) and the University Council Fellowship at the University of Cambridge. A passionate and dedicated mentor beloved of generations of NUS students, he also supervised nine PhD students and 21 MSc students, among them a fellow recipient of the Distinguished Science Alumni Award, Dr Yeo Ning Hong.

“It’s a real privilege to have Emeritus Professor Huang as one of my PhD supervisors. He is respected as a scientist who quests for truth and innovates for new knowledge,” wrote Assoc Prof Chin Wee Shong in a dedication page set up by the Department of Chemistry at the NUS Faculty of Science.

Emeritus Prof Huang served as President of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (FACS) from 1985 to 1987 and as President of the Singapore National Institute of Chemistry from 1973 to 1974 and from 1976 to 1992, organising programmes that helped promote the discipline of chemistry in Singapore and on the international scene. In 1985, he organised the first Asian Chemical Congress under SNIC at NUS which attracted the late Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling as the plenary speaker.

“We persisted on SNIC largely because of Emeritus Professor Huang’s support and encouragement,” recalled Prof Andy Hor Tzi Sum on the dedication page. “Despite his stature and accomplishment, over the years, he remained humble, approachable and generous, to peers and juniors – key attributes that have gained our utmost respect. His vision was extraordinary. The development of Chemistry in Singapore owed a great deal to his dedication and advice.”

He was also a driving force in the promotion of multidisciplinary research and the establishment of such research centres, and continued to support Chemistry Alumni activities even after his retirement. An ardent champion of education, he started scholarships for ‘O’ and ‘A’ level pupils to encourage and reward achievements in the subject.

Citing Emeritus Prof Huang’s invaluable service and dedication to Singapore and NUS, NUS President Prof Tan Eng Chye said, “I am saddened to hear of the passing of one of Singapore’s scientific pioneers and a close friend of our University, Emeritus Professor Huang Hsing Hua. Prof Huang taught generations of students at the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Science. He will be greatly missed by many of us at NUS.”

Visit the dedication page to Emeritus Prof Huang, and read more about the Huang Hsing Hua Chemistry Merit Scholarship Fund.