American dream: Taiwan-born UF professor wins prestigious NASA award

In Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Featured, Honors & Awards, NewsBy Emily Hinds and Benjamin Crosbie

The UF 2024 Flight Team poses with an aircraft that flies a parabolic trajectory to simulate a microgravity environment.

The team poses back on the ground.

The UF 2024 Flight Team poses with the Microgravity Pool Boiling and Helium Subsurface Pressurization Experimental System. The parabolic flight experiment was done in an aircraft to simulate a microgravity environment that can be achieved inside the cabin of an airplane that flies a parabolic trajectory.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (June 28, 2024) — On this Fourth of July, University of Florida professor Jacob Chung, Ph.D., stands as the epitome of the American Dream.

In 1971, at age 23, he moved to the United States from Taiwan with one suitcase and $1,000. He had earned his bachelor’s degree from National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and planned to become an aerospace engineer in America. He entered the master’s program in the nuclear engineering department at the University of Missouri.

“The feelings that I had at that time basically were excitement, hope and thankfulness about the opportunities ahead,” recalled Chung.

Now an esteemed professor with the UF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Chung was awarded the Exceptional Public Service Medal from NASA in late June. The award is among the highest honors bestowed by the NASA Glenn Research Center Awards Office and is “an acknowledgement of significant contributions to NASA’s mission and purpose,” according to the award letter.

“As an immigrant, I have been telling myself that I need to pay back my adopted country,” Chung said. “With this award, I feel that I have done my share of making contributions toward NASA’s mission and purpose, and also my patriotic work has been recognized.”

The UF Flight Team poses back on the ground.

Chung earned the award due to his “exceptional, sustained, and multi-faceted contributions advancing NASA’s in-space cryogenic fluid management science and technologies over multiple programs and 30 years.”

“Dr. Chung’s exceptional research and his contributions to NASA are shaping the future of space exploration, bringing new possibilities to human discovery and tremendous pride to Gator Nation,” said UF President Ben Sasse. “As we continue to explore the moon, Mars, and beyond, innovators like Dr. Chung will drive us forward.”

“We are tremendously proud of Dr. Chung’s extraordinary contributions to NASA’s mission and purpose, epitomizing dedication and excellence in advancing in-space cryogenic fluid management over three decades,” said Forrest Masters, Ph.D., interim dean for the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “This prestigious award not only recognizes Dr. Chung’s illustrious career but also underscores the significant impact he has made at the University of Florida.”

Chung’s work is primarily centered on in-space thermal-fluid management of traditional chemical rocket propulsion systems. He and his students have been conducting research for NASA on space thermal-fluid management technologies since 1992.

His contributions to NASA have focused on optimizing the use of propellants in rocket engines, which is essential for longer-distance space exploration. It is critical to human exploration of the moon, Mars, and, potentially, asteroids. NASA sees this exploration as a major focus going forward, which makes the effective, sufficient, and reliable supply of cryogenic propellants crucial.

“This prestigious award not only recognizes Dr. Chung’s illustrious career but also underscores the significant impact he has made at the University of Florida.”

Forrest Masters, interim dean for the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering 

“The sole objective of my propellant work is to conserve propellant and minimize the ‘propellant boiloff losses’ as the rocket engine can only use 100 percent liquid form of propellant,” Chung explained.

“All the accomplishments would not have been possible without the hard work of the former students in my lab,” Chung said, naming Trevor Snyder, Jeff Sitter, Yue Ma, Rick Moehrle, Kun Yuan, Hong Hu, Sam Darr, Chase Camarotti, Jun Dong, Hao Wang, and Bo Han Huang.

Chung and his wife have two sons, one a physician and the other an engineer. Chung started working at UF in 1998 after 19 years on the faculty of Washington State University. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

“In a nutshell,” he said, “I have achieved my American Dream.”

Jacob Chung, Ph.D., UF Mechanical and Aerospace professor, recipient of the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal.
Jacob Chung with his wife and two sons.
Jacob Chung poses with his family after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Taiwan in the early 1970s. He moved to America shortly after this photo was taken.