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21 September 2020

Interview with Prof. Tung Chai (Bill) Ling, Hunan University, China, USA, 2020 Robert L'Hermite medallist

This interview took place after Prof. Ling’s presentation at the 74th RILEM Annual Week “in” Sheffield, UK, in September 2020. The video of this presentation, titled “Development in the active use of CO2 in wastes and cement for sustainable construction products”, will soon be available on the YouTube RILEM channel.

RILEM Implementation Manager (RIM): Thank you for your time for this interview, Bill. Let’s start from the beginning! We know you are the 2020 Robert L’Hermite Medallist and as such, a researcher younger than 40. Could you please tell us more about you?

Prof. Ling: I am originally from Malaysia. I received all my academic degrees (Bachelor, Master and PhD) from the University of Technology Malaysia. After completing my PhD in 2009, I had the opportunity to join the Hong Kong Polytechnic University as my research background matched the one of Prof. CS Poon on building and construction recycled materials. In 2012 I was appointed as lecturer at the University of Birmingham, UK, and subsequently I assumed roles as project leader at the Nano and Advanced Materials Institute (NAMI) in Hong Kong and as NRC senior research associate at the Federal Highway Administration in the US. In early 2016, I joined Hunan University in China as professor. I am currently leading a team of 25 postdocs and research students. 

RIM: They say you should travel around and gain some experience in different positions before you settle down… and gosh! You travelled indeed! Are you settled now or your feet are still hitchy?

Prof. Ling: For my age it is an appropriate time to settle down and focus on developing my research team. This is the main reason I joined Hunan University, as I received a good start-up funding and support from the government and university to establish my own research team, and I believe in such a way my academic career can grow faster. 

RIM: Now… tell us more about you and RILEM. When did you come across with RILEM for the first time?

Prof. Ling: I will tell you the full story, it is up to you to decide what to write.

RIM: Ok, go ahead, please!

Prof. Ling: I learned about RILEM for the first time when I was in Hong Kong. I remember it was the RILEM Annual Week held in Hong Kong in 2011. I had the chance to meet different people from RILEM and got the opportunity to meet Pietro Lura in person and to introduce my work to him at HK PolyU. As for the Robert L’Hermite medal, I got to know about this prestigious award from a retiring staff member, Prof. Christopher Page when I first met him at the University of Birmingham.  We had a short chat before he handed his course on concrete technology to me and then he suggested that I could apply for this award. Prof Page was the winner of the Robert L’Hermite medal in 1983. Actually, since then I applied 4 times (2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018) before I received the medal this year.

RIM: 4 times! Perseverance is the key word here!

Prof. Ling: YES! Perseverance is very important. This is the spirit I always apply to my research and publications too.

RIM: Never give up!

Prof. Ling: Yes, Never give up! I know that RILEM has many good candidates for this award and they all are doing amazing research. It is very competitive. For us, as researchers, we have to do our best and never give up... who knows what can happen!

RIM: I know that you are a very active RILEM member, so your relationship with RILEM goes beyond the award received this year. When did you become a RILEM member?

Prof. Ling: Actually, I became a RILEM senior member in 2017.

RIM: When you were already at Hunan University, China, am I correct?

Prof. Ling: Yes! about the same time when I started to focus on developing my own research team, because I believe a more active link with international experts is very important. The first TC I joined was TC 258-AAA on Alkali aggregate reaction, which was my research topic during my stay in the US. Currently, I am more active in TC 281-CCC on “Carbonation of concrete with supplementary cementitious materials”, participating in the inter-laboratory tests with other 24 labs across the globe. Now, about 70-80% of my students are working on carbonation or CO2 related topics. 

RIM: Do you enjoy being part of a TC?   

Prof. Ling: Absolutely! It is interesting because you can learn and communicate with 40-50 experts from the same specific field, and I think for TC-CCC we have now over 100 members.     

RIM: Have you met them all?

Prof. Ling: Nowadays we meet online. You can imagine that in every meeting there are at least 30-40 people brainstorming, having good discussion, sharing the latest data through presentations. I can really gain a lot by participating in a TC meeting. Usually, after each TC meeting I will share what I learnt and the excitement with my team members.

RIM: I believe you have sent so many valuable messages in such a short interview, like for instance the importance of perseverance and joining RILEM at the right time according to your academic needs. Thank you so much! Would you like to send one last message to the readers of this interview, and especially to all young researchers out there?

Prof. Ling: This is something that I always tell my students, but I think it is also my personal life philosophy. 1) Optimism: we need to keep a positive spirit all the time and be thankful for what we have! Because very often we will and have to face different failures and challenges along our research career, 2) Self-evaluation: whether it is a success or a failure, we have to evaluate ourselves, not to keep complaining but keep improving, and finally 3) Determination: never ever give up!

RIM: How much being Malaysian has to do with this life philosophy and these three rules?

Prof. Ling: I think the environment in which I grew up impacted me a lot, and I think it is also strongly related to my belief.

RIM: Thank you so much again, Bill! Just one last question… have we met already in 2019 in Croatia at the 2nd RILEM Spring Convention by any chance?

Prof. Ling: Actually, yes! We did!

… but this is another story!

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