Dr. Simon Hsin Chang, age 91, a long-time resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, passed away on Wednesday, January 19, 2022.
Born in Wuhan, China in 1930, Simon overcame a childhood of war, political strife, poverty, dislocation, and tragedy. Despite the adversity, Simon went on to create opportunity for his family and achieve great success in his career and life.
As a boy, the will to learn drove him to pursue his education even when it was disrupted for years at a time. And while it may be hyperbole for some, young Hsin Chang actually walked 20 miles each way to school, by himself, on a weekly basis. By his late teens, without a high school diploma, a determined Hsin Chang self-studied, ultimately passing numerous college entrance exams.
Following his studies at university in Taiwan, Simon completed two years of laboratory work at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit in Taipei – thus launching his five-decade career in Biochemistry. In 1959, he received admission to Oklahoma State University’s graduate program. He sailed from Taiwan aboard an oil tanker for more than a month to reach California, where he took a Greyhound bus to Oklahoma. Simon then bypassed the department that admitted him and instead talked his way (and tested his way) into the Biochemistry department at OSU. While at OSU, he began a correspondence relationship with his future wife, Ling Ing Chow. They met in person when he returned to Taiwan, this time by air.
Simon was accepted into the prestigious Institute for Enzyme Research, Nobel award winner Dr. Gobind Khorana’s lab, at University of Wisconsin. His work there solidified his research interest in the organic synthesis of DNA and transfer RNA, and helped him land a faculty position at Louisiana State University in 1968. There, his lab grew with the department, from small beginnings in a chemistry lab, to the basement of the Agricultural Administration Building, and finally to Choppin Hall in a lab space he helped design. He was awarded numerous grants from the National Institutes of Health, and published in countless prestigious journals. Simon’s initial research at LSU centered on the structure and function of transfer RNA molecules, and this nucleic acid work eventually broadened to include site-directed mutagenesis of a key enzyme in the critical glycolytic pathway, phosphofructokinase. Later in his career, he was the first ever to crystallize a mammalian PFK molecule and publish its crystal structure. At age 89, he was still investigating the effects of mutations on this enzyme’s kinetic properties when the pandemic started.
Beyond research, Simon was dedicated to teaching biochemistry. He originated the current LSU undergraduate biochemistry laboratory course and continuously updated it. Simon brought recombinant DNA technology to LSU from one of his sabbaticals, using it in his own research and introducing the technology to students in graduate and undergraduate laboratory courses. He obtained a grant to revamp the teaching laboratory as well as all the instrumentation used, giving students a true window into the nature of research and an understanding of the methods behind advances in medicine. Even after his retirement in 2000, Simon redesigned the undergraduate biochemistry laboratory experiments into a semester-long cohesive project, providing students a sense of the overall flow of biochemistry investigation. Throughout his years of teaching, Simon loved sharing his knowledge, and inspired students with his enthusiasm and joy in learning. In addition to his research contributions to science, Simon helped train dozens of research scientists and science professors, hundreds of doctors and other medical professionals, and thousands of college students. As the first in his family to graduate from college and then earn a PhD, and as an immigrant, Simon paid it forward by giving opportunity to and mentoring women, immigrants, and others who might otherwise have been overlooked.
A life-long learner, Simon could fix anything including cars, televisions, and all electrical and plumbing in the house. He could draw and paint. He loved classical music, especially Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Simon loved travel and visited Europe and China on multiple occasions. He also had a profound appreciation for his adopted country and visited 43 states driving across the U.S. on family vacations. In retirement, Simon loved to visit his daughters and their families (and cats) in the mountains of Vermont and the beach in California. He took his U.S. citizenship very seriously, and was an informed voter who didn’t miss a single presidential election since gaining his citizenship in 1971 through 2020.
Deeply passionate about his work, Simon was at his lab daily. He trusted and appreciated Ling’s dedication to and decisions in raising their three children. His kids enjoyed going to LSU with him, feeding the ducks at the lake and experimenting in the lab. During his time in Wisconsin, he developed a love for NFL football, mostly for the Packers. On Sundays, he made peanut noodles for the kids and taught them the rules of football. He’d jump up from the couch, put both arms in the air like the refs, and shout, “Touchdown!” Most mornings, he was a short-order breakfast cook for his kids.
Simon is survived by his wife of 57 years Ling Ing Chang, their daughters Lily Wei-Hwa Chang (Jeffrey Konsmo) of Manhattan Beach, CA, and Maria Chang Nichols (Kris Nichols) of Hoboken, NJ, his siblings James Chang, Ben Chang, and Christie Lee, and his grandchildren Owen Konsmo and Lucy Konsmo.
He was preceded in death by his beloved son, David Wei-Hwa Chang, his brothers Su Chang and Ming Chang, and his parents, En Tseh Chang and Jui Hwa Chang.
Simon was buried in a private service next to his son, David, at Resthaven. In lieu of flowers, in celebration of his life through a living legacy, please consider making a donation to the Dr. Simon H. Chang Scholarship in Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University.
Family and friends may sign the online guestbook or leave a personal note to the family at www.resthavenbatonrouge.com.