Born in Taiwan in 1936, Yuan T. Lee received his B.S. degree from Taiwan University in 1959 and Doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1965. He joined Prof. Dudley Herschbach at Harvard as a post-doctoral fellow in 1967. He is President Emeritus and Distinguished Research Fellow of Academia Sinica in Taiwan and is the Immediate Past President of the International Council for Science (ICSU). He has held positions as Professor of Chemistry at University of Chicago and UC Berkeley, University Professor at the UC Berkeley, and Principal Investigator in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He has received numerous awards and honors, including the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the U.S. National Medal of Science, Faraday Medal from the Royal Chemical Society of Great Britain, the Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Medal from India, the Ettore Majorana-Erice-Science for Peace Prize from the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture of Italy, and Kolos Prize and Medal from Poland. He has received Doctor Honoris Causa from 40 universities and is an elected member of various academies throughout the world.

Aside from his scientific interests in the elucidation of dynamics of chemical reactions and photochemical processes, he also directed much of his attention to the advancement of international scientific developments and to the promotion of general public affairs. He has served as advisory board member on numerous national and international organizations, including US Department of Energy, Welch Foundation, Chief Advisor of the Science and Technology Advisory Group to the Prime Minister of Taiwan, International Scientific Council of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, Science and Technology in Society Forum, RIKEN, and Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.