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Professor Hung Cheng pledges $1 million for a new MIT scholarship

Inspired by writing his novel, "Nanjing Never Cries," Cheng hopes scholarship helps MIT students work toward a better world.
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Professor Hung Cheng
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Professor Hung Cheng
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Photo: Allegra Boverman

MIT professor of applied mathematics Hung Cheng has pledged $1 million to establish a new scholarship for MIT students. The Hung and Jill Cheng Scholarship Fund will fully support undergraduates beginning this academic year.

Cheng was inspired to establish the scholarship through writing his novel, "Nanjing Never Cries" (MIT Press, 2016), which follows four people as they survive the 1937 Nanjing massacre and cope with its aftermath during the Sino-Japanese War. The scholarship will give first preference to students from Nanjing, China, and then to students from China and to students of Chinese descent.

MIT plays a special role in the lives of the characters of Cheng’s novel. John Winthrop, an American, and Calvin Ren, a Nanjing native, meet at MIT, where they build a close friendship as they study, physics, aeronautical engineering, and mechanical engineering. When Winthrop accepts Ren’s invitation to work with him on designing and building airplanes in China on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, they discover that their strong bond and strong education in science and technology have given them the means to make a significant practical contribution to the Chinese war effort.

Cheng believes that MIT is uniquely qualified to prepare students to do the kind of world-changing work accomplished by the characters in his novel, and hopes that his new scholarship will enable more students access the valuable education and supportive community that MIT offers.

“You have a lot of very smart and hardworking people here, talking to each other and being friends, and they all benefit from each other,” Cheng says. “To be nurtured by this environment helps us grow and to become a more useful person. MIT students can do a lot of good — to help wipe out poverty, develop energy, and to help implement medical sciences. If you learn a science or technology background very well from MIT, you can turn it into a very valuable experience and do something useful for humanity.”

Although Cheng’s book is fictional, its characters and events of the book draw in part on Cheng’s own experience growing up in China and as a professor. Born in China in 1937, just a few months after the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War, Cheng moved to Taiwan as a teenager and then moved to the United States to pursue undergraduate studies at Caltech. After earning his BS in 1959, he stayed at Caltech, earning his PhD in in only two years. After postdoctoral appointments at Caltech, Princeton University, and Harvard University, he came to MIT as an assistant professor in 1965 and rose to the rank of full professor four years later. Since then, he has made significant contributions to gauge-field theory, working with Harvard’s T. T. Wu to formulate an unexpected prediction that the cross-section of colliding protons increases with energy, which The New York Times announced was experimentally confirmed at CERN in 1973. He has also worked on problems in unified field theory related to scale invariance and general relativity.

“I am delighted that my friends Hung Cheng and Jill Tsui have made this gift to MIT,” said Michael Sipser, dean of the MIT School of Science. “Professor Cheng has been my colleague at MIT for many years, and we both know that to solve our most difficult and important problems, MIT needs motivated and creative students. Endowed scholarships make it possible for all brilliant students — even those with limited financial resources — to join our community.”

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