December 3, 2007
Edmund Chang, consulting professor in geological and environmental sciences, dead at 72
By Louis Bergeron
Edmund Chang, a consulting professor and research scientist in geological and environmental sciences at Stanford, died Nov. 12 of natural causes in Beijing, where he had been teaching a course at the China University of Geosciences. He was 72.
Chang first came to Stanford in 1981 to pursue a PhD in metamorphic petrology and geochemistry. He was among the first Chinese scientists to travel to a western country to further his education after the Cultural Revolution.
Earth sciences had undergone its own revolution beginning in the late 1960s, as the theory of plate tectonics gained broad acceptance. But science in China was hobbled during the Cultural Revolution, and plate tectonic theory had little impact there. Chang nonetheless was one of the first adherents of the theory in mainland China, and it was this interest that prompted his attendance at an international conference on geology in Cyprus, where he crossed paths with Robert Coleman, now professor emeritus of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford.
The meeting with Coleman resulted in Chang coming to the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, where Coleman then worked, as a visiting scholar in 1980. Chang was admitted to Stanford the following year. He was 46 at the time.
While at Stanford, Chang, along with co-authors Coleman and Juhn Liou, a professor of geological and environmental sciences (now emeritus), published in 1984 one of the first comprehensive papers on the plate tectonics of China to appear in a major English language journal. Stephan Graham, chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, characterized the paper as "one of the seminal works" in that area.
Chang returned to China in 1986, after completing his PhD and a year as a postdoctoral scholar. He was a senior investigator at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and worked as a senior geologist for British Petroleum from 1986 to 1989. In 1990, he came back to Stanford, where he served as a consulting professor and research associate in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.
Chang remained affiliated with Stanford for the rest of his life, and his contributions went far beyond his own research and publications.
"He was a remarkable gentleman in the finest sense of that word," Graham said. "He was really quite selfless and put students before himself all the time, trying to facilitate their research."
Chang was a key player in the Stanford-China Geosciences Industrial Affiliates Program, which helped fund much of the research done in China by Stanford faculty and graduate students, Graham said, noting that for 20 years Chang conducted critical negotiations and participated in difficult field expeditions in China.
"He, quite frankly, really made possible dissertations of a huge number of our students," Graham said.
Chang was born in Beijing in 1935. His proper name was Zhang Zhimeng. His family members were landowners and intellectuals, and his father was the interpreter for Gen. George Marshall in the 1940s during the last attempt by the United States to broker peace between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. As a result of this background, they felt the full weight of the Cultural Revolution, and, like many others with similar histories, Chang had to contend with repeated upheavals during that time. Nonetheless, he maintained a deep affection for his homeland.
"He had a great desire to foster relationships between China and the U.S., and he spent a lot of effort at that," Coleman said. "He had a great love for China and a great love for the U.S."
"And he loved geology," Graham said. "I really think geology was his passion, and it remained so to the end." Chang had been studying and speaking on ocean energy as a source of clean energy for China at the time of his death.
An informal memorial for Chang will be held by the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in the Hartley Conference Room in the Mitchell Building. The memorial is open to the public.
Chang is survived by his wife, Sheila Chang (Zhang Taoshi) of Palo Alto; daughter Grace Chang of Shanghai, China; daughter Alison Wang and son-in-law Libing Wang of Palo Alto; and father Zhang Pei-ru of Palo Alto.
The family requests that any inquiries about possible donations in memory of Chang, or other information, be directed to Grace Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a photo of Chang, visit http://newsphotos.stanford.edu (slug: "chang").