Chemist Ying Kao Lee, 87, died on April 13 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, of complications related to COVID-19.
Lee, who spent his entire career at DuPont before retiring in 2000, invented an acrylic dispersion lacquer that helped prevent automotive paints from fading. The organic solvent–containing coating composition earned DuPont a patent in 1999. Lee’s invention also helped reduce emissions in the painting process by 70%. DuPont sold its performance coatings division to the Carlyle Group in 2012.
Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Leeds in 1957. After immigrating to the United States, he joined a doctoral program in physical organic chemistry at the University of Cincinnati and earned his PhD in 1961. He joined DuPont in 1965 and spent his entire 35-year career there working to improve automotive refinishing products.
Lee’s children say that chemistry was his life. “Growing up, my dad would quiz us kids on principles of chemistry at the dinner table, asking questions like, ‘Would it take more, less, or the same time for rice to cook at sea level compared to on a mountaintop? And why do you think there should be a difference?’ ” recalls one of his daughters, Annette Lee. “All of us kids would groan, roll our eyes, and say, ‘Really dad, can we have a normal conversation?’ He did get his way, though, because although none of his three children ended up as chemists, we all eventually got at least a little of his scientific inquiry bug. My older brother became a geology professor, I became a fertility doctor, and my little sister became a psychological scientist.”
Lee earned numerous awards, including DuPont’s Distinguished Scientist Award and Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. He was also awarded an honorary professorship by the Institute of Chemistry in Beijing, and the Achievement Award from the Chinese Institute of Engineers.
Lee is survived by his wife, Theresa; his children, Arthur, Annette, and Angela Duckworth; and nine grandchildren.