Travelling with Water - Joseph LEE (I)
It is often said that water can both float and overturn a boat. The relationship between men and the nature is sometimes competitive and sometimes interdependent. The essence of environmental hydraulics lies precisely in the application of hydraulic methods to environmental issues, as well as the use of environmental factors in tackling floods. Environmental hydraulics is closely linked to everything from city management to everyday life, including beaches along the coast, sewage in drains, levees in valleys and drinking water in households.
LEE Hun-wei, Joseph, is a world-renowned scholar in environmental hydraulics. Formerly the Dean of Engineering at The University of Hong Kong, he is currently a Chair Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He has, for many years, been participating in and leading multiple water engineering projects in Hong Kong, engaging himself in harbour area treatment, management of water quality and warnings of red tides. Knowing that knowledge and application are equally important in engineering, Joseph LEE insists on bringing theory and practice together however disorderly the situation is. The theory of “buoyant jets”, which he has been devoted to for years, even became the theoretical foundation of numerous engineering projects.
It is fitting to describe Professor LEE as a small boat that has passed ten thousand mountains. His academic journey of four decades started at the place he first received education in engineering. In 1969, having been granted a scholarship, he went to the United States to study civil engineering in Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he later attained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. The people he met and things he encountered in this international cradle of engineering science all play a role in how his ideology in science, research and education evolve. Back then, he was determined to return to Hong Kong to continue his research instead of staying in the United States for further development. This shows that being an outstanding scholar, he does not place importance solely on academic achievements, but also endeavours to nurture the next generation. With his meticulousness in research and comprehensive hands-on engagements, Professor LEE’s words and actions are all inspirational to postgraduates in developing proper attitudes in academic inquiries.
While water in the south can be transported to the north, water in the east can of course be guided to flow towards the west. Professor LEE also serves as a bridge between China and the western world in addition to concentrating on teaching and research. On one hand, he visits the Mainland China repeatedly, hoping to give back to his home country with his professional knowledge by contributing to the Mainland’s development in environmental hydraulic engineering. On the other hand, once the Vice-President of International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research, he took a leading role in founding the globally acclaimed Journal of Hydro-environment Research with other eminent scholars from the Asia-Pacific. His dedication has long been widely recognised by the international academic community. On top of being elected as a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering in 2008, Professor LEE also won American Society of Civil Engineers’ Hunter Rouse Hydraulic Engineering Award in 2009 – the first Asian scholar ever to win the award. Moreover, as a committed lover of ballet, he has discerned the similarities between the spirits of dance and science through the rhythm and moves. During his zealous quest for knowledge, he has discovered that engineering science and art can, surprisingly, be traced back to the same origin.
Let us follow the footsteps of Joseph LEE, who is equipped with the perseverance of a researcher, the tenacity of a teacher, as well as the resilience of a dancer, in re-contemplating the relationships between science and society, research and teaching, and engineering and life. We wish that the story of this traveller can inspire Hong Kong’s new generation of young scientists.
PD: TANG Man-mei