2019 Alumni Legacy Award

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Alumnus Dr Shyr-Jin “Jim” Tsay (PhD ’77) was honored with the 2019 Alumni Legacy Award at the Departmental Awards Ceremony on April 22nd.

The award honors distinguished UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry alumni who have received a graduate-level degree from UCLA, in recognition of their achievements in life, and generous support and service to the university.

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Department Chair Professor Catherine Clarke (left) with Dr. Shyr-Jin “Jim” Tsay.

Tsay JimA native of Taiwan, Dr. Shyr-Jin “Jim” Tsay excelled in academics, graduating first in his high school class which gained him admission to the most prestigious university in Taiwan, the National Taiwan University. After graduation, he received a scholarship to attend graduate school at the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and in 1968, he moved to Los Angeles with a pregnant wife, two young daughters, and only $700 in his pocket. Eventually, as his family grew, Tsay was forced to look for work outside of academia, and with capital borrowed from friends, family, and banks; he purchased a small motel in the city of Compton, CA. With hard work and dedication, his business grew and he found himself with too much work on his plate and very little time to devote to his dream of obtaining his Ph.D. in chemistry. Pictured right – Barbara and Jim Tsay holding their wedding photo.

Tsay’s thesis advisor Professor Daniel Kivelson knew of Tsay’s dreams and talent and he encouraged him to finish his Ph.D., warning him that he would regret it for the rest of his life if he passed up the opportunity.  With support from Kivelson, both emotionally and financially, Tsay was able to make it through the difficult final two years at UCLA and he received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1977. After completing his Ph.D., Tsay went on to open several more successful businesses and today he finds himself “living comfortably in a house on the hills in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Los Angeles”.

Inspired by the memory of how difficult it was to have to choose between money and education, and the profound impact that Kivelson’s kindness and selflessness had on his life, Tsay was inspired to help others.  In 2006, the Jim and Barbara Tsay Foundation was established to help those in less fortunate situations to receive the tools and education that they need to improve their circumstances.  Thanks to the many years of support from the Foundation, numbers of chemistry and biochemistry students have been able to complete their degrees and to go on to have successful careers.

In 2017, the Tsay family established the Jim and Barbara Tsay Computer Study Lab. Located on the 4th floor of Young Hall, the study lab has become the gold standard for modern computer educational spaces. The Tsay family and their friends gathered with faculty on December 10, 2017 to celebrate the establishment of the computer study lab.


Jim and Barbara Tsay pose for a photo with friends and family at the celebration of the Jim and Barbara Tsay Computer Study Lab.

Tsay and his wife Barbara have five children: Susie Tashiro, Lily Lin, Ingrid Kim, Karen Lum, and Robert Tsay, and eleven grandchildren Audrey Kim, Ayrton Kim, Emerson Kim, Jenson Kim, Camila Blank, Mark Lin, Sydney Lin, Teddy Lum, Toby Lum, Andy Lum, and Mia Tsay.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.