Chen Changyan, Ge­ol­o­gist

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Shasha Edited by Roger Brad­shaw Pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin

Chen Changyan and his team have im­proved re­search meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies for con­struc­tion safety and risk as­sess­ment of ur­ban un­der­ground dis­as­ters, pro­vid­ing tech­no­log­i­cal sup­port for en­gi­neer­ing projects.

The land we live and work on of­ten sends us sig­nals from up close or from deep down in the earth. Some sig­nals are as plain as day­light and some are ob­scure. Whether we want to put up a bun­ga­low or pave a road, build a sky­scraper, build a bridge across a body of wa­ter or a tun­nel through the moun­tains, we must know in ad­vance the prop­er­ties of the land we're build­ing on.

There are ex­perts who can have a “di­a­logue” with the earth—ge­ol­o­gists, for ex­am­ple, but not ev­ery­one can han­dle it with ex­per­tise. One man who can “read” the earth in this way is Chen Changyan, chief en­gi­neer of Bei­jing Geotech­ni­cal In­sti­tute's (BGI) En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants Ltd., who han­dles the tech­ni­cal end of ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ters, geotech­ni­cal stud­ies and test­ing, and safety risk mon­i­tor­ing.

Chen con­sid­ers his work to have given him a strong sense of achieve­ment, from com­pli­cated en­gi­neer­ing projects to key sci­en­tific R&D pro­grammes for the Peo­ple's Gov­ern­ment of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and var­i­ous min­istries and com­mis­sions.

His ac­com­plish­ments in­clude 38 award-win­ning re­search projects, such as the Bei­jing Sci­en­tific and Tech­no­log­i­cal Progress Award, Bei­jing mu­nic­i­pal prize for ex­cel­lent projects, Min­istry of Hous­ing and Ur­ban-ru­ral De­vel­op­ment award and other na­tional awards. Chen won the Capital Labour Medal in 2012 and was a Model Worker for Bei­jing in 2015.

In re­sponse to these, he says with a smile, “I just take the earth's pulse.”

Get­ting to Work af­ter Grad­u­a­tion

In Chen's of­fice, his large book­shelves lin­ing one wall are par­tic­u­larly eye­catch­ing, mak­ing peo­ple feel like en­ter­ing a small read­ing room. On the op­po­site side of the room there's a low ta­ble with stacks of sur­vey maps, about half-a-me­tre high. Even when he's away from the of­fice and on busi­ness trips for half of the year, he still sees read­ing as an im­por­tant part of his life and says that it deep­ens his thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ences.

Chen ex­plains that he draws in­spi­ra­tion from his pre­de­ces­sors, and that the books teach him how to “take the earth's pulse” cor­rectly, while the sur­vey maps are his “case­books” and that it is only by study­ing them thor­oughly that he can ac­cu­rately doc­u­ment the earth's move­ments. He com­pares these case­books to med­i­cal records that con­tain meth­ods for cur­ing a pa­tient.

How did Chen Changyan reach this point? In look­ing back, he com­ments that, af­ter he took the col­lege en­trance exam, he ap­plied for the ge­ol­ogy pro­gramme just be­cause he wanted to “travel around.” Then, slowly, the young man be­gan to see that his ma­jor was more than sim­ply a mat­ter of “trav­el­ling around” and that it could help peo­ple's lives. Af­ter his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies, he went on to postgraduate stud­ies and got a PHD from the Chi­nese Acad­emy of Sci­ences' In­sti­tute of Ge­ol­ogy and Geo­physics, cov­er­ing the earth's com­po­si­tion, struc­ture, ex­ter­nal char­ac­ter­is­tics, re­la­tion­ship of the earth's shells, and its evo­lu­tion, a brand-new land­scape open­ing be­fore his eyes.

Chen says he's al­ways been grate­ful to all of his teach­ers who taught him ge­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­ena on-site. Dur­ing that pe­riod, he did a bunch of draw­ing and laid the foun­da­tion for the work that fol­lowed and for re­lated prob­lems, which played a clear role in his later ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ter mon­i­tor­ing.

Chen be­gan work­ing for BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants, in 1997, start­ing with dis­as­ter mon­i­tor­ing, a form of tech­nol­ogy that com­bines ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ter for­ma­tions, mon­i­tor­ing, space-time tech­nol­ogy, and fore­cast­ing. They col­lected in­for­ma­tion on space-time evo­lu­tion of ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ters and pos­si­ble causes, and spa­tial de­for­ma­tion to study and as­sess ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ter sta­bil­ity and do fore­cast­ing. Whether dur­ing a hot summer or freez­ing cold win­ter, Chen didn't hes­i­tate to go to any re­gion to ex­plore with his in­stru­ments on his back. For ac­cu­racy's sake, Chen stuck strictly to pro­ce­dures for mon­i­tor­ing, de­sign­ing, and de­vel­op­ing dis­as­ter con­trols and to un­cover ge­o­log­i­cal con­di­tions be­neath the sur­face.

The mon­i­tor­ing of ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ters is im­por­tant, com­bin­ing data from in­stru­ments and on ab­nor­mal ge­o­log­i­cal oc­cur­rences. Some ab­nor­mal ge­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­ena can be used for warn­ings or fore­casts. Dur­ing his school time, Chen col­lected reg­u­lar traces of ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ter de­for­ma­tions and ab­nor­mal phe­nom­ena, try­ing not to miss any de­tail, such as frac­ture de­vel­op­ment, land sub­si­dence, up­lift­ing, earth sounds, un­der­ground wa­ter anom­aly, and even the un­usual be­hav­iour of an­i­mals. All these pro­vide the solid foun­da­tion for his fol­low­ing work.

Emer­gency Res­cue and Re­lief

Dig­ging around for ge­o­log­i­cal in­for­ma­tion can be te­dious, cum­ber­some work, but Chen would of­ten give up hol­i­days or week­ends just to get out and do some prospect­ing. The jour­ney was his method

As a ge­ol­o­gist who has a on­go­ing “di­a­logue” with the earth, Chen Changyan han­dles ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ters, geotech­ni­cal stud­ies and test­ing, and monis­tors safety risk.

and a ho­tel was his of­fice, a place where he could draft and re­vise project ideas and re­sults. Even if he had some spare time, he would go look­ing for data at a li­brary or go on­line for fur­ther study. He likes be­ing busy, af­ter all, the work is di­rectly con­nected with peo­ples' lives.

In more re­cent times, in cop­ing with the col­lapse of ur­ban streets and as­sess­ing var­i­ous risk pos­si­bil­i­ties and their de­vel­op­ment, eval­u­at­ing the safety of roads and buried pipe­lines and re­lated ques­tions have be­come more ur­gent is­sues.

Chen came up with the idea of de­sign­ing a “test field” where he could in­struct staff mem­bers with sim­u­lated ge­o­log­i­cal con­di­tions. The test re­sults could then be com­pared with ac­tual sit­u­a­tions of ge­o­log­i­cal dig­ging. While this may sound sim­ple, it's too cum­ber­some to con­struct.

Be­cause of his ex­per­tise in trans­port, sub­way lines, and other mu­nic­i­pal work, it's hard to say how many times Chen was called out for an emer­gency res­cue sit­u­a­tion or for con­sul­ta­tion, or en­gi­neer­ing ac­ci­dents in the capital. For ex­am­ple, there was ground de­pres­sion at the city's Suzhou­jie Sub­way Sta­tion, Jing­guang Bridge, Guo­mao Bridge, and Dawang Bridge, and a gas prob­lem at Heping East Street on April 11, 2011. Chen or­gan­ised a re­sponse team and pro­vided sug­ges­tions for the res­cue and re­lief head­quar­ters.

In an­other in­stance, Chen re­called in 2009, for the 60th an­niver­sary of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China, that BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants had some ma­jor projects with the safety eval­u­a­tion of roads which the mil­i­tary pa­rade was go­ing to use. This was a se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion and, as chief en­gi­neer, Chen had to work with his col­leagues day and night, at­tend­ing to the plan­ning, or­gan­i­sa­tion, anal­y­sis, and eval­u­a­tion, and in the end man­aged to guar­an­tee safety of the 60th an­niver­sary mil­i­tary pa­rade.

For many years, he also worked with his team in deal­ing with dis­as­ters such as land­slides and reser­voir bank prob­lems in the coun­ties of Zhongx­ian, Wanzhou and Yun­yang in the city of Chongqing, near where the Three Gorges Dam was built. This was the first time Chen worked on this kind of lo­cal work with­out know­ing much about lo­cal ge­ol­ogy. His solid knowl­edge and prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence al­lowed Chen to con­duct re­search on sim­i­lar dis­as­ters with com­pli­cated ge­ol­ogy, and he was able to or­gan­ise an ef­fec­tive work method and tech­no­log­i­cal ap­proach.

De­vel­op­men­tal In­no­va­tion

In 2010, when Chen was as­sis­tant chief en­gi­neer at BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants, he had an in­no­va­tion stu­dio named af­ter him, which opened up more pos­si­bil­i­ties for the pi­o­neer, and he led a re­search team on a num­ber of projects with vary­ing de­grees of dif­fi­culty. The team con­sisted of nearly 40 peo­ple, including pro­fes­sors, se­nior en­gi­neers, and other en­gi­neers, who were ex­pected to im­prove the re­search meth­ods and tech­nol­ogy in re­la­tion to con­struc­tion safety in geotech­ni­cal en­gi­neer­ing and de­tec­tion and risk as­sess­ment of ur­ban un­der­ground dis­as­ters. These days, Chen and his re­search team are still mak­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances and have in­flu­enced mar­ket prod­ucts and tech­nol­ogy with typ­i­cal BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants char­ac­ter­is­tics, while meet­ing na­tional strate­gic de­mands and deal­ing with is­sues in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing con­struc­tion, en­gi­neer­ing geo­sciences, and pro­vid­ing tech­no­log­i­cal sup­port for large na­tional en­gi­neer­ing con­struc­tion projects.

This en­gi­neer­ing geo­science em­ploys in­no­va­tive the­ory and re­search to greatly re­duce fa­tal­i­ties from ge­o­log­i­cal dis­as­ters and prove the­o­ret­i­cal re­sults. Ac­cus­tomed to con­fronting prob­lems by think­ing and re­solv­ing them, Chen has writ­ten many es­says in this field. These cover many as­pects of en­gi­neer­ing ge­ol­ogy and are ap­plied to the ship­ping locks of the Three Gorges Dam, or to road sub­si­dence area de­tec­tion.

One thing Chen doesn't like is

keep­ing all those pa­pers to him­self, locked up in a drawer or ap­pear­ing in a jour­nal, so he's of­ten seen at aca­demic meet­ings where he can dis­cuss his achieve­ments in per­son. In his opin­ion, these meet­ings func­tion as a way for learn­ing about other de­vel­op­ments and their re­search di­rec­tion, and as a win­dow to his com­pany's re­sults, which may give rise to new find­ings. In re­cent years, he's given aca­demic re­ports at an­nual en­gi­neer­ing geo­physics and en­gi­neer­ing ge­ol­ogy meet­ings and the na­tional non- coalmine ex­pert group. Chen be­lieves these re­ports can't help but add ben­e­fit.

Ded­i­cated to Train­ing

BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants Ltd. is now an in­dus­trial leader af­ter more than 60 years of de­vel­op­ment and it has paid as much at­ten­tion to de­vel­op­ing pro­fes­sion­als for re­serve tal­ent as it has to tech­nol­ogy.

In this, Chen took on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of train­ing new em­ploy­ees and de­signed suit­able train­ing mod­els based on his ex­pe­ri­ence. He says he be­lieves that, while large lec­ture rooms for train­ing em­ploy­ees might get quick re­sults, it has limited goals and ef­fects. While man­ag­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion of tech­nol­ogy for a con­crete project, in con­trast, it can al­low those with cer­tain tal­ents to go di­rectly into a the­ory of tech­no­log­i­cal man­age­ment.

BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants also es­tab­lished a third-party risk mon­i­tor­ing team un­der Chen's guid­ance and, when­ever there was a ma­jor prob­lem dur­ing train­ing, Chen would be the first to show up and would work with the trainees on risk anal­y­sis and eval­u­a­tion, as well as geotech­ni­cal con­di­tions, con­struc­tion, while mon­i­tor­ing data on-site. He also got trainees to at­tend sym­po­siums to im­prove their an­a­lyt­i­cal and judge­men­tal abil­ity.

He would make strict re­quire­ments for the tech­ni­cians, and each had to have a thor­ough sense of en­gi­neer­ing de­sign, con­struc­tion plans, and im­ple­men­ta­tion meth­ods. Chen also made the par­tic­i­pants sum­marise and an­a­lyse project mon­i­tor­ing meth­ods quickly, and got the project mon­i­tor­ing team to pay closer at­ten­tion to site in­spec­tions, con­struc­tion meth­ods, and the mon­i­tor­ing, anal­y­sis and eval­u­a­tion of site data to de­velop spe­cific mon­i­tor­ing meth­ods for geotech­ni­cal en­gi­neer­ing and un­der­ground con­struc­tion work.

His team mem­bers have by now be­come ex­pert third-party safety risk mon­i­tor­ing spe­cial­ists, af­ter two years of prac­ti­cal on-site train­ing. Chen is adept at un­der­lin­ing ma­jor points to make his train­ing more pur­pose­ful. Var­i­ous BGI En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants branches like to point out that he was a pi­o­neer in es­tab­lish­ing a geo­phys­i­cal prospect team.

Geo­phys­i­cal stud­ies has many ap­proaches, but Chen likes to high­light the use of ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar, high- den­sity elec­tri­cal meth­ods, shal­low earth­quakes, multi- chan­nel Rayleigh waves, and bore­hole wave ve­loc­ity tests, and he in­sists that geo­phys­i­cal prospect­ing per­son­nel pay at­ten­tion to ge­o­log­i­cal con­di­tions in their on­site in­ves­ti­ga­tions and have a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of key is­sues.

Chen has also found ties to some out­side train­ing and was asked by the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal City Ad­min­is­tra­tion and En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sion to pro­vide an­nual train­ing of util­ity own­ers on un­der­ground util­ity checks. He is con­sci­en­tious in his prepa­ra­tion for these train­ing ses­sions con­cern­ing un­der­ground work.

In a more prac­ti­cal sense, he has worked as an ex­pert con­sul­tant with emer­gency res­cue per­son­nel on high­ways in moun­tain­ous parts of Bei­jing and for ur­ban road sink­holes.

Al­though it's been 20 years since Chen Changyan left school, he of­ten re­calls those school days. Nowa­days, he passes on his knowl­edge to oth­ers in the same way his teach­ers did for him—to ex­pand the team, which, no mat­ter what the cir­cum­stances, is al­ways tak­ing the earth's pulse.

Chen Changyan points out some fig­ures to his team

Chen Changyan ob­serv­ing ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions

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