Professor Shi Yigong
Doctor of Science, honoris causa (2018)
A world renowned structural biophysicist, Professor Shi Yigong is the President of the Westlake University, China. Before this appointment, he was Chair Professor and Vice President at Tsinghua University. Besides being a Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Professor Shi is, in the international arena, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences, and Foreign Associate of the European Molecular Biology Organization. For his phenomenal accomplishments in research, he was awarded numerous honours, including the 2010 Raymond and Beverly Sackler International Prize in Biophysics, the 2014 Gregori Aminoff Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the 2016 You Bring Charm to the World Award, the 2016 Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation Prize for Scientific and Technology Achievements, and the 2017 Future Science Prize—Life Science Prize.
After receiving undergraduate training at Tsinghua University, the young Professor Shi went to the US to further his studies and in 1995, got a PhD degree from Johns Hopkins University. He was appointed Assistant Professor at the Department of Molecular Biology of Princeton University in 1998. It only took him five years to attain full professorship at Princeton. In 2008, Professor Shi left Princeton for his alma mater, Tsinghua University, to head its Biology Department. He subsequently rose through the academic ladder to the deanship of the School of Life Sciences, and finally became the Vice President of Tsinghua University. In the past years, Professor Shi has been making connections and securing support in the academic circle to promote the setting up of world class private research universities in China. He worked diligently with his peers and succeeded in establishing the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study and the Westlake University in Hangzhou, China, an university which aimed at cultivating high-level talent in advanced technology and scientific research. Professor Shi became the founding President of the Westlake University in April 2018.
Professor Shi has made outstanding and innovative contributions in several scientific areas, using structural biology tools and biochemical techniques like X-ray crystallography and cyro-electron microscopy. His research outputs have vastly advanced our knowledge of the molecular mechanism of apoptosis, and the structures and functions of important membrane proteins and eukaryotic messenger RNA splice complex. In the research area of apoptosis, Professor Shi has systematically elucidated the molecular mechanism of the regulation of apoptosis protease activity, which has promoted a better understanding of the mechanism of tumorigenesis. In the area of membrane protein, he has laid down important foundation for the understanding of the mechanism of the action of γ-secretase, and the pathogenesis of the Alzheimer’s disease. He solved the first high resolution three-dimensional structure of the eukaryotic RNA splicing complex, which led to the clarification of the basic mechanism of the splicing of messenger RNA precursors. The finding has advanced the understanding of the “central dogma” of biology. The above research results provide essential knowledge of protein structures for the understanding of various kinds of human diseases and the development of the pertinent clinical drugs. Professor Shi has published, as corresponding author, more than 180 research articles, 50 plus of which in the Nature, Science and Cell.
Professor Shi’s association with the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has been long and valuable. In 1990, HKBU and Tsinghua University jointly set up the Wei Lun Academic Exchange Centre, which is tasked with the work of supporting exchanges between the two institutions. Since then, around one hundred HKBU students from the China Studies programme are sent to Tsinghua each year for a month-long summer sojourn to get to know more about the contemporary issues in China from different perspectives, and to gain first-hand understanding of the capital city and China at large. A total of nearly 2800 students have completed the sojourn at Tsinghua since its inception. Meanwhile, there are also Tsinghua students coming to the HKBU campus for a summer study tour each year, totalling over 300 students so far. In addition, the Centre supports the academics of the two universities for academic exchange and co-organizing international conferences. During the time when Professor Shi was Vice President of Tsinghua, he co-chaired the Joint Administrative Committee of the Tsinghua and HKBU, a committee which oversees the operation of the Wei Lun Academic Exchange Centre. Professor Shi provided steadfast support for both the exchanges between the two universities, their internationalization and the development of HKBU.
Professor Shi has profoundly influenced and made significant contributions to the fields of science, technology and higher education. For his efforts and achievements, he has won recognition worldwide and is a role model for both budding scholars and every one of us.