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Lay Nam stands at podium and speaks.
The Virginia Tech College of Science Celebration of Excellence Luncheon at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

In Memoriam: Lay Nam Chang

Honoring the founding dean of the College of Science

Lay Nam Chang: June 1, 1943 — Dec. 8, 2020

When Lay Nam Chang, the founding dean of the Virginia Tech College of Science, a professor and former department chair of physics, died on Dec. 8, 2020, at age 77, the Virginia Tech community responded with an outpouring of grief, support, love, and fondly recalled memories.

 Chang was dean of the College of Science from 2003 to 2016. Prior to that, he was the last dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, serving from 2002 to 2003 when he guided the academic restructuring that resulted in two new colleges — the College of Science and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Under Chang’s leadership, the College of Science emphasized the inherent unity in the scientific fields, launching both the Academy of Integrated Science and the School of Neuroscience.

 His research, work ethic, life, and their impacts touched many lives. He was a husband to Jeannie for 53 years, father to Ch’iu Lien Chang, a teacher and mentor to students, a friend to colleagues, an innovator, and so much more. He was also incredibly witty. His long-time license plate read “CIENCIA,”  Spanish for “science.” To honor his leadership and vision, the College of Science Roundtable established the Lay Nam Chang Dean’s Chair in 2016. Funds from this gift supported faculty research and educational projects totaling more than $510,000 to date.

Below, we share a few of the memories and stories posted to a Kudoboard set up online for the offering of condolences.

“Lay Nam [was] a singular figure who had a profound effect on such a broad spectrum of entities. … His brilliance, his humor, his empathy, all of his attributes will be greatly missed. He was unique.”

— Mayer Levy

“He [was] a great teacher, funny and engaging, one who is able to bring to life the most difficult concepts in physics. Not only is he a great teacher, he is also a great mentor who is ever so generous with his time, wise and caring.”

— Thomas Liew

“I first met you as a high schooler, and I still remember you saying something funny and welcoming about my punk rock patches. You convinced me to come study physics at Virginia Tech. Once there, you were always willing to make time to chat with me.”

 — Beth Reid

“There is a Chinese saying — we all encounter a few special people who change our lives. Dr. Chang is certainly one of my special people.”

— Michael Zhang

“Dean Chang always made sure he acknowledged the students. He would come in our class, ask me how I was doing as a student worker in the office, or ask us for feedback.”

— Kristin Cox

“I will miss Lay Nam dearly; but I will not cease to ponder upon the lessons learned and cherish the fond memories to look back. To have known Lay Nam as my advisor, my mentor, father figure, and my very dear friend, is to be truly honored and blessed.”

— Chopin Soo

“We’d moved across the country to Blacksburg, Virginia, for Chad to start what we thought would be an 18-month graduate program. Lay Nam was the Dean of the College of Science, and I got to be his receptionist. That was the first generous thing he did for me: he took a chance on a bubbly, optimistic, and extremely unpolished young woman. He was the first and constant mentor of what turned out to be many years of graduate school for Chad and I both.” 

— Nita Newswander