Joseph Needham, (born Dec. 9, 1900, London, U.K. - died March 24, 1995, Cambridge, U.K.), biochemist, and creator of the monumental Science and Civilisation in China; the greatest Sinologist of the 20th century, and one of the greatest thinkers of all times. Beginning in 1918 he studied chemistry then biochemistry at Cambridge University. By 1924 he was awarded a PhD and was elected a Fellow (equivalent to gaining tenure) at Gonville and Caius College, part of Cambridge University.
In the midst of Word War II in 1943, while working to support Chinese educational institutions as the Director of the British Scientific Mission in China, he began traveling throughout China—often putting his life in danger—collecting and studying ancient Chinese texts, and visiting historical sites. This led to the creation of the astonishing and enduring Science and Civilisation in China, which presently consists of twenty-seven books in seven volumes, making a total of 15,000 pages and three million words.
Always maintaining his home base at Cambridge University, Dr. Needham held many positions at other institutions over the years, including Yale, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Oberlin in the United States; the universities of Warsaw, Lvov, Cracow and Wilno in Poland; and the University of Lyons in France. He was Master (equivalent to "President") of Caius College (part of Cambridge University) from 1966 to 1976.
He married fellow Cambridge University scientist and author Dorothy Moyle in 1924 (she died in 1987); then he married his long time collaborator and mistress, also a scientist and author, Lu Gwei-Djen in 1989 (she died 1991).
His work is being continued at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, U.K.
For Further Information
Encyclopedia.com: Joseph Needham
Obituary: Joseph Needham. The Independent, 27 March 1995.
Wikipedia: Joseph Needham
Rise of the West: Needham
Video: "Simon Winchester on The Man Who Loved China"
Simon Winchester. The Man Who Loved China, Harper, 2008.