In recognition of lifelong education
By Angela Tam

At the 29th Annual Dinner this year Ir Prof Cheung Yau-kai was awarded HKIE's very first Gold Medal for his outstanding contribution to engineering and, shortly afterwards, Ir Dr Lau Kin-tak was presented with the Young Engineer of the Year Award.

The two awards, along with the HKIE Student Prize and Trainee of the Year Award, again demonstrate the Institution's effort in encouraging lifelong learning. Youngsters are not just attracted to engineering through school activities and lured into choosing engineering as their career path through the HKIE Prize for Potential Engineering Student, the HKIE Prize for Higher Education Students, and the HKIE Scholarship. They are also given an opportunity to see the promising future those who have won the senior awards are carving out for themselves. What's more, Ir Prof Cheung shows them just what achievements can be made through a life dedicated to continuous education. Who knows - some of the youngsters may benefit directly from Ir Prof Cheung's wisdom if they find themselves studying at the University of Hong Kong!

Trainee of the Year 2004
The first-prize for this year's Trainee of the Year Award went to Fanny Ting Pong-yau, who was recruited by the Electrical & Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) under it's training scheme.

"I nominated Fanny because she's very proactive and participatory, in in-house as well as institutional activities," said Fanny's supervisor Ir Dr Arthur Wong. "She helped us out as the secretary for a symposium organising committee and she's involved in other activities as well. Fanny's also an all-rounder, that's why I nominated her.ˇ¨

Fanny, whose training involves liaison with the Drainage Services Department and Architectural Services Department, was one of more than 20 graduates recruited by EMSD."

"Of course I'm really happy to have won this award," said Fanny enthusiastically. "I enjoy the training, which is diversified, so I can learn different things. I see aspects of work contractors can't see and I learn so much from visiting the different divisions, like conducting energy audits. If possible I'd like to stay with EMSD.

Second-prize winner Chris Kum Chun-sing was equally thrilled to receive recognition for his efforts.

"I've been interested in engineering from a young age," Chris said. "My father was an engineer and I was influenced by him when I chose my career. The aspect of training I enjoy most is industrial management, which is what I studied. Towngas is very active in China so Ie gained some practical training in Zhongshan and learnt about local gas usage. I also enjoy my involvement in HKIE activities."

Chris was one of two trainees nominated by Towngas, which recruits eight to ten graduates for Scheme "A" Training every year. He nominated Chris because his performance in training was consistently good. He's an outgoing character who likes to take initiatives, for example by volunteering to help out on the Disney account," explained Chris's supervisor Ir Joseph Lai. "We want our trainees to be not just multi-skilled but also multi-specialist and Chris fulfils that. He has the technical knowledge, knows about safety and is also familiar with customer service requirements."

Third-prize winner Law Hoi-chee joined the Geotechnical Engineering Office's (GEO) training scheme because of the broad training it offers and her interest in geotechnical engineering.

"My training in the GEO is very good. I have good guidance and opportunities to learn different skills, like presentation, design and planning. I'm currently seconded to a consultant to have design experience... I really enjoy the experience because many things are decided during the planning stage. I'd really like to stay with GEO because the work makes such a contribution to public safety."

Hoi-chee's supervisor, Ir Dr Richard Pang, said he nominated her because of the good feedback he received from all her tutors.

"Hoi-chee's a very proactive trainee," Ir Dr Pang observed. "As a supervisor, I encourage my trainees to learn by their own initiative and to learn how to learn. Coaching only provides direction; they must be able to stand on their own feet, be aggressive in learning and interact with people within their discipline and with other disciplines... Hoi-chee's able to learn even when I'm not there."

Students of the Year 2004
Forty-eight students received a boost in their desire to pursue a career in engineering through winning the HKIE Prize for Potential Engineering Students, HKIE Prize for Higher Education Students or the HKIE Scholar award, some of them securing the second and third instalments as a result of maintaining their excellent academic performance. Here seven of them share their feelings about the awards.

Lau Kwok-kei
Lau Kwok-kei is among the first batch of students to receive the third instalment of the HKIE scholarship (the second and third instalments are disbursed only to awardees who are ranked among the top 10% of their class). Kwok-kei is an active student who has taken part in many academic exchange and outward bound programmes. He also exemplifies the community spirit HKIE encourages in all its members, having taken the initiative to set up a charity for the needy in Guizhou.

Following is an excerpt of his acceptance speech:

"It is my honour to be here tonight to share with you my joy of receiving the 3rd instalment of the scholarship for the HKIE Scholar. It really means a lot to me as it gives me significant recognition, encouragement and financial assistance.

"I still remember how surprising it was when I knew that I was selected for the prize two years ago. I did not believe that I would be able to obtain such a prestigious scholarship.

"Thanks to the HKIE Scholar Award, which is a strong proof of my achievements, I was awarded several other awards subsequently and was selected to represent Hong Kong for the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Program in New York. Hence, I regard the HKIE Scholar Award as the most important scholarship I have ever obtained.

"Thanks to the financial support from this scholarship, I can join many overseas exchange tours, overseas study programmes and Outward Bound Programme, through which I have greatly broadened my horizons.

"I am very happy that in January 2003, I established a charity in Hong Kong with my friends to help the needy in Guizhou. Being the chairman of the board of directors of this charity, I have the opportunity to further enhance my leadership skill and to widen my social network.

"I would like to thank the HKIE for giving me a chance to share my feelings and experience with you."

Fanny Ting (R) with supervisor Ir Dr Arthur Wong

Chris Kum Chun-sing (R) with supervisor Ir Joseph Lai

Law Hoi-chee (R) with supervisor Ir Dr Richard Pang

Coral Chan Yuen-han: "I never thought I would be one of the awardees of the HKIE Scholar 2002/2003. When I received the letter informing me about the award, I was very surprised. This award motivates me to try harder .... It's given me confidence in doing everything and to strive for the best. My good friends, family and professors have given me much support during the hard times. I won't succeed without them. I would also thank the HKIE for giving me this award."

Lo Chung-man: "The HKIE Scholar award ... not only recognises my achievements and enthusiasm for the engineering profession, but also reminds me of my goal to be a committed leader in the construction industry. With this scholarship, I will go on an overseas exchange next year in an effort to develop a global perspective and bring back any new elements I have learnt to complement my academic studies and future career. I am most impressed by the HKIE's continuing support of the younger generation."

Fiona Fong Hau-yin: "Since I was small, I have been fascinated by some of the great infrastructures and buildings in Hong Kong, such as the Bank of China tower, the new airport at Chek Lap Kok and Tsing Ma Bridge. During my interview for this award, the interviewers challenged me with many difficult questions that I did not know how to answer. I started to realise that I knew so little about engineering. Yet, this experience did not discourage me from taking up engineering, but increased my desire for learning more about it instead."

Leung Ming-wai: "Winning "The HKIE Prize for Higher Education Students" has made me think more carefully about my future. It's strengthened my will to further my study in the environmental stream at the University of Hong Kong. I have also learnt that I must equip myself with various knowledge to be a professional engineer. I need to equip myself with not only the theory, but the practical experience also."

Cheng Pui-ling: "Electronics is very amazing. It becomes a part of our life, everything around us uses electronics, including transport tickets, personal computers and the Hong Kong Smart Identification Card, etc... Since everything in electronics moves quickly, the HKIE Prize for Higher Education Students does motivate me to continue my study, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Institution."

Jeffrey Lung Cheuk-hon: "Being one of the most prestigious awards in the engineering field and the most significant achievement in my academic life, the HKIE Scholar has been a huge motivation .... My thanks go to the HKIE for their reassurance that I have made the right choice. As a result, it is my first choice to start my career as an electronics and electrical engineer after graduation from university."

Lau Kwok-kei (second from left) has devoted himself to helping the needy in Guizhou

The embodiment of lifelong learning: Ir Prof Cheung Yau-kai
By Angela Tam

But for an aversion to memorising long strings of Latin names, HKIE's Gold Medal winner might have been a respected doctor rather than a groundbreaking engineer.

After winning a six-year scholarship to study medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 1953, Ir Prof Cheung Yau-kai went through the first year of a medical degree.

"I could handle it, but I discovered I was better at engineering because there were problems of mechanics that I could solve and my engineering classmates couldn't, so I decided to switch," Ir Prof Cheung recalled.

Ir Prof Cheung began his engineering degree at a time when even the calculator was still a simple mechanical device, but that did not deter him from taking up challenging studies involving complex calculations.

His work at the South China Institute of Technology and Henan Provincial Design Bureau after leaving HKU put him in touch with a Soviet method for calculating beam on elastic foundations which was unfamiliar in the West, so he applied the Soviet method to a new area, for calculating elastic plates on elastic foundations. The method was subsequently adopted by the US and many other places; he and his mentor also received an Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) award for the research paper on elastic plates that was published in the ICE journal.

A spirit of adventure led to his next area of achievement.

"It was strange for me to be involved in finite elements because my mentor was famous for finite difference and I should have followed his path, but he said to me: ˇ§Prof Clough told me finite element is a good thing. You don't know what it is, I don't know what it is. Let's try."

In 1967, Ir Prof Cheung wrote the first comprehensive text on the finite element method with his mentor, Prof O C Zienkiewicz. Over 25,000 copies of the book were sold and the technique became widely accepted. Using the method, Ir Prof Cheung helped to analyse a buttress dam in the UK, the Clywedog Dam, becoming the first person in the world to use finite element calculations for the construction of such a structure.

The buttress dam was a trapezium sitting on rock. It the past it would have been calculated as a variable section cantilevered beam, but the finite element method worked out the correct stresses and displacements which included the effect of the foundation.

My colleagues said to me:ˇ¨How do we know your calculations were correct?" he recalled. "At the time I couldn't prove whether the results were correct or not so I thought: engineers are concerned with equilibrium. So when I proved that at several sections the horizontal forces were equal to zero, the vertical forces were equal to zero, and the moments were also equal to zero, then the engineers accepted it."

Ir Prof Cheung spent three years working as a full-time engineer but returned to academia afterwards. He said he didn't mind being a full-time engineer, but he obtained his doctorate and his mentor offered him a lectureship which gave him the opportunity to constantly discover new things.

"Practising engineers have to deal with existing issues. There aren't so many repetitions in research work," he observed.

Prof Zienkiewicz remained a world authority on the finite element method, but Ir Prof Cheung moved on to apply his analytical skills to new areas. He first proposed the finite strip method in 1968 and published the first text in 1976.

"With the dam, I only worked on a hundred unknowns, but with shear walls and other structures with a long side, using the finite element method would waste computing power; so I invented finite strip to reduce the number of unknowns to one-tenth that number. It was very meaningful given the computing power of those days, but it's still widely used today. It's particularly effective for calculating vibration and buckling," Ir Prof Cheung said, recalling how, as a PhD student at the University of Wales in Swansea, the UK, he had, for working on his thesis, only two hours' access to a big computer a day ("big" by the standards of yore, but small when compared to the power of today's computers). He had to check all data carefully before using it in order not to waste the precious resource; which gave him the impetus for inventing the finite strip method.

The method was widely used by bridge engineers in the UK, Australia and the US. Recently the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) has proposed it as the preferred method for calculating buckling stresses of thin walled members.

Ir Prof Cheung has received numerous awards for his contributions, including the Concrete Society Award (UK) 1994, the Order of the British Empire (OBE), the coveted China National Natural Science Award in 1990 and 1999, the Medal of Excellence in Engineering Education by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations 2003, and the Silver Bauhinia Star Medal, also in 2003.

Ir Prof Cheung believes that while the fields of civil and structural engineering are reasonably mature and offer fewer opportunities for new inventions, the fields of geotechnical and environmental engineering still offer room for the keen researcher. Bioengineering and nanotechnology will also have relevance to civil engineering in their exploration of smart/composite materials which are strong but lightweight.

Now 69, Ir Prof Cheung remains active in teaching, research and public bodies. He is currently special advisor to the HKU Vice-Chancellor and an Honorary Professor of the university. He was a member of the Consultative Committee on the New Airport and Related Projects and a member of the Air Pollution Control Appeal Board Panel. Ir Prof Cheung was the Senior Vice President of the HKIE in 1985-1987, though a bout of illness prevented him from assuming the presidency later. He is the author of nine books, 350 journal papers and more than 150 conference papers, and, apart from presenting papers at key conferences, is also actively involved in the organisation of numerous conferences, including the upcoming 4th International Conference on Advances in Steel Structures to be held in Shanghai in 2005 and the Fifth International Conference on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, to be held in Hong Kong in 2005/2006.

Despite all this, Ir Prof Cheung claims to have no secret to time management, other than being a quick worker with "an understanding wife" and good colleagues.

His three children may not have followed his path, all three having opted for the profession he forsook all those years ago, but thousands of BEng, MSc, MPhil and PhD graduates he has taught in many institutions in Hong Kong, UK, Canada and Australia have, and many more practising professionals will continue to benefit from his innovative work for a long, long time.

Ir Prof Cheung was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star Medal in 2003

Ir Prof Cheung Yau-kai (L) received the HKIE Gold Medal Award from Ir Dr Alex Chan, the HKIE President

Lifelong learner II: Ir Dr Alan Lau Kin-tak
By Angela Tam

Ir Dr Alan Lau Kin-tak shares an important trait with Gold Medal winner Ir Prof Cheung Yau-kai: his commitment to lifelong learning.

Ir Dr Lau, incidentally, started out as a Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co (HAECO) apprentice who did not particularly enjoy studying. But night school changed his mind and, after three years with HAECO, he went to Australia to study aircraft and space engineering. He remained there for a year and finished his masters degree before returning to join Polytechnic University (PolyU), to work in production design and study for his PhD. He has remained there since.

His research in nano materials dovetails with those areas which, in Ir Prof Cheung's opinion, still offers opportunities for exploration. He investigates the properties of these materials and provides a consultancy service to local manufacturers who are keen to make the leap from original equipment manufacturing (OEM) to original brand manufacturing (OBM). Most of all, he is involved in helping his students develop into creative engineers.

"Analysing what works and what doesn't involves design as well as engineering knowledge," he said. "The market demands this; manufacturers want graduates who are multi-disciplinary. The old perception of engineering involving just dirty work is no longer true. I teach product design as a process and my students are involved in some fancy projects. My aim is to produce graduates who can help the product design industry. There's been a great demand for such graduates over the last year or two."

Ir Dr Lau keeps up with industry trends through his consultancy work as well as his involvement in organisations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and the HKIE. He believes that involvement in various activities is essential if an engineer, especially one who is in the academic sector, is to avoid developing a narrow perspective. So while he encourages his students to stick to their areas of research, because it takes time to build up interest in an area, he also wants them to have the flexibility to change with the times.

Ir Dr Lau himself cultivated an interest in composite materials for repairing concrete structures, the subject of his PhD, after his network of colleagues and industry players informed him of a great demand for such expertise. Subsequently he has switched attention to other "hot" fields, such as nano and smart materials and structural health monitoring.

What with his teaching, consultancy work, research and involvement in activities like conference organisation, Ir Dr Lau estimates he works six and a half days a week. But the optimist has no complaints.

"Don't compare or complain," he advised. "Whatever you do, you're the one who benefits. Sometimes I use the results of my consultancy work as teaching material, so I learn something from them and my students learn something from them as well. It's a cycle: whatever you give you'll take back from somewhere."

Ir Dr Lau has set himself up as an example for his students. The award has just reinforced his positive message.

Young Engineer of the Year Award 2004 went to Ir Dr Lau Kin-tak

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