Chen Changyan, Geologist
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.
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