Prof Lee grew up and attended high school in Hong Kong. In 1969 he went to USA on a scholarship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he obtained his BSc, MSc and PhD degrees in Civil Engineering (1969-1977). For his postgraduate studies he conducted research in environmental hydromechanics in the MIT Ralph Parsons Laboratory of Hydrodynamics and Water Resources under the supervision of the late Professor Donald R.F. Harleman and Professor Gerhard H. Jirka. After three years of teaching as Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering in the University of Delaware he joined University of Hong Kong (HKU) as a Lecturer in 1980, where he rose through the ranks to Redmond Chair Professor of Civil Engineering in 1995. At HKU, he was Dean of Engineering from 2000 to 2003, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President from 2004-2010. He is currently Vice-President for Research and Graduate Studies and Chair Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
During his academic career in Hong Kong he has also held visiting appointments as a Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellow at Imperial College of Science and Technology, London (1985-86), Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Institute of Hydromechanics at the University of Karlsruhe (1992-93), and Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (1998).
Prof Lee's research revolves around the use of hydraulics to solve environmental problems, in particular the prediction and control of water quality. His work has been published in over 150 theoretical, laboratory and field experimental papers in the leading peer-reviewed journals, with 3218 Google Scholar citations. Awards and honors he received include the Senior Research Fellowship Award of the Croucher Foundation (1998), Innovation Award for Construction Industry of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (2002), Best paper award of the 14th IAHR APD Conference (2004), IAHR-APD Distinguished Member Award (2010), the 2010 China State Scientific and Technological Progress Award (Second Class), and the 2013 Karl Emil Hilgard Hydraulic Prize of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He is also the first Asia-based academic to receive the ASCE Hunter Rouse Hydraulic Engineering Award (2009). He is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, and Past President of the Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences. He was elected into the Royal Academy of Engineering, United Kingdom in 2008, and was bestowed Honorary Membership by the International Association for Hydro-environment Engineering and Research (IAHR) in 2015. He is an Honorary Professor of Nankai University and advisory professor of Hohai University.
Prof Lee has served on numerous national and international committees. He was chairman of the IAHR fluid mechanics section (1996-2002), Chairman of the IAHR Asia and Pacific Division (APD) (2003-2007), and IAHR Vice-President (2007-2011). He started the International Symposium on Environmental Hydraulics (ISEH) in Hong Kong 1991 which has become a major triennial conference series hosted by IAHR fluid mechanics section. In 2007 as founding chief editor he led the launch of the Elsevier Journal of Hydro-environment Research (JHER) – which gained SCI journal status within 3 years (2013 impact factor: 2.94). He is also Associate Editor of Environmental Fluid Mechanics (2013-), Journal of Hydraulic Engineering (1997-) and China Ocean engineering (2007-). Past editorship memberships include Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science, Journal of Engineering Mechanics, Ecological Informatics and Korea Journal of Civil Engineering. He also serves on the Selection Committee of the International Climate Protection Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2009-), International Advisory Board of the Glasgow Research Partnership in Engineering, Scottish Funding Council (2007-2012), and the Advisory Board of Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute of Nanyang Technological University (NEWRI; 2011-).
Prof Lee was the Principal Investigator of an inter-disciplinary group research project on the Dynamics of Algal Blooms and Red Tides (2000-2004), and a Co-PI of the Hong Kong Area of Excellence (AoE) in Marine Environment Research and Innovative Technology (MERIT; 2006-2011). He is the mastermind behind the development of the WATERMAN – coastal water quality forecasting and management system funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust (2009-2013), and a Co-PI on a theme-based group research project on Smart Urban Water Supply Systems (2016-2020). Prof Lee has served as expert consultant on numerous hydro-environmental projects and contributed to the design of several major urban environmental management and flood control infrastructure in Hong Kong – including the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme, Tai Hang Tung Storage Scheme, Kai Tak Transfer Scheme, and Yuen Long Bypass Floodway project.
Prof Lee has also served on a number of Hong Kong government committees that include Vice-Chairman of the Assessment Panel of the Public Policy Research Scheme (2014-), Steering Committee for Research Themes under the Research Endowment Fund, University Grants Committee (2009-2015), Land and Development Advisory Committee (2009-2015), Advisory Council on the Environment (2009-2012), and the Construction Industry Council (2010-2012). He has also been appointed as independent expert or panel member in several high profile investigations that include the 3-person tribunal of the Environmental Impact Assessment Appeal for the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) Sheung Shui – Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (“Long Valley”) project (2000-2001), the Tai Po Sha Po Tsai Village Debris Flood (2010), and the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water of Public Rental Housing Estates (2015).