Biography of Professor Liu Huixian


Professor Liu was born October 18, 1912, in the town of Lianhua, Jiangxi Province, China. He attended the Tangshan Jiaotung University, and graduated in 1933 with a major in Civil and Structural Engineering. He traveled to the United States of America in 1934 for advanced studies at Cornell University, and received his Doctorate in 1937. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war soon after prompted him to return home, to participate and to contribute to the national effort against Japanese invasion. He participated in the engineering design and construction of the critical projects and railroads such as Xiang-Gui (Hunan-Guangxi) and Qian-GUI (Guizhou-Guangxi). He was a professor of civil engineering at Zhejiang and Xinan United Universities; and his original works on load distribution and force analysis of suspension bridges advanced the state of the art significantly. After the war, in 1947, Professor Liu traveled again to the U.S. to begin a successful career in engineering design and teaching. In reply to the call of assisting the national reconstruction effort of the war-torn country when new China was founded in 1949, he went back in 1951 to take on the many challenges of homeland reconstruction.

Professor Liu had many illustrious posts, including professorship at Tsinghua University. In particular, in 1952, he was assigned to the Northeast Institute of the Academia Sinica, and in that capacity he founded the Institute of Engineering Mechanics (IEM, known as the Institute of Civil and Structural Engineering at the time). Through hard work and perseverance, Professor Liu built the Institute from the ground up and developed it into a major center for earthquake engineering research, the first in China and one that continues to enjoy national and international renown. In that respect, Professor Liu was without peers. He was Institute Director for 30 years and Director Emeritus for eight years—Almost 40 years of Professor Liu's life were invested in the Institute.

Professor Liu is acknowledged as the founder of earthquake engineering in China. Among his many outstanding contributions, Professor Liu was responsible for the systematic, comprehensive, nation-wide approach to the development of earthquake engineering research;he was on the editorial board that published the National Science Master Plan for the years 1956 through 1967, and wrote the section on "Earthquake Effects on Buildings, and the Studies of Mitigation and Counter-Measures"; in his seminal paper on "Earthquake Loads", published in 1958, he showed the proper research directions and ways to advance earthquake engineering research in China; he clarified how earthquake loads were transmitted to earth dams and developed sophisticated but practical algorithms to quantify these loads.

Professor Liu gave top priority to the post-earthquake investigation and reconnaissance of damage. He had led many IEM teams to perform on-site evaluations, to assist the rebuilding effort of the local community while gaining a better understanding of the devastative earthquakes. These trips and their findings became the foundation of his counter-measure ideas. In particular, he was chief editor of the book "Damage From the Tangshan Earthquake", a seminal documentation of the event. This work has received high praises from the earthquake communities in China and around the world, for its literary excellence and historic importance. It won top awards in the Advancement of Technology category from the China Seismological Bureau and the Central Government, as well as first prize honors for excellence in the Technology Publication category.

It is under the direction of Professor Liu and through his direct contributions that the first and second compilations of the National Seismic Design Standards came to being (in 1959 and 1964, respectively). The latter is an especially sophisticated piece of work, on a par with the state of the art of the day. It uses the measured acceleration as the basis for design, supplemented by the structural factor; it uses separate algorithms to quantify failure of ground and damage due to shaking;and it uses seismic response spectra that depend on the site condition. These works would evolve later into the China seismic Building Codes.

Professor Liu revised the definition of seismic intensity, after intensive studies of the underlying physics. Under his direction and participation, a new intensity scale was set forth. The Earthquake Intensity Scale of China (1980). This work encapsulates our earthquake experience since the 1960's; it uses damage index to measure macro-intensities. Supplemented by first principles, and is well suited for seismic engineering design applications.

Even when he was in his 80's, Professor Liu was spearheading the novel and challenging research effort to incorporate human intelligence in engineering construction decisions. His ideas on delineating potential sources based on the hazards, have become the theoretical foundation of third-generation national seismic zoning procedure.

Professor Liu believed in combining theory with practice, and in applying and generalizing research findings to actual engineering projects so they would benefit China's development, while the applications themselves would in turn stimulate further scientific growth. This imprint of his can be seen in the development of structural mechanics in nuclear reactor applications and many, many earthquake engineering projects.

The early years of the development of IEM were also in the difficult periods in the history of China when the country was plagued by wars and natural disaster and the country could not afford to provide necessary support for earthquake engineering research. Professor Liu led his team to work under extremely difficult conditions with very limited resources and developed many equipments.

These facilities have played a crucial role in promoting earthquake engineering research in China.

Professor Liu enjoyed the highest esteem in the world earthquake engineering community. He led delegations to the 7th, 8th and 9th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering. He was one of the invited keynote speakers at the 9th World Conference. His paper entitled “The Sole Course of Mitigating earthquake Risk” was extremely well received in the conference. Professor Liu had lectured abroad many times, and participated in numerous international conferences. He was on the editorial board of many international journals, including "Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics", "Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering" and "Structural Reliability". He initiated and fostered many cooperative research programs between China, U.S., Japan and the former Soviet Union.

Professor Liu attached importance to the reporting and dissemination of earthquake engineering research efforts, and the editing and publications of books in his field. He established the important journal "Earthquake Engineering and Engineering Vibration'' and served for many years as its Chief Editor.

Professor Liu also emphasized on educating the young, coaching the staff and turning them into qualified scientific researchers. Many experts now actively engaged in earthquake engineering benefited from the help from Professor Liu. Among them some had become well-known scientists, inside and outside China. He had supervised many Doctorate and Master students. In addition to the staff at IEM, around one hundred influential scientists in the earthquake engineering community in China today were once his students or assistants. His effort has paid off and is still felt far and wide. 

In recognizing Professor Liu's many accomplishments; he was selected as academician of Academia Sinica in 1980, a very prestigious position in China recognized by outstanding achievements. He was included in the International Who's Who of 1989 by the American Society of Journalism. During the celebration of his 80th birthday, Professor Makato Watabe, the noted Japanese earthquake-engineering scholar, called Professor Liu one of the Fathers of World Earthquake Engineering along with Professor George Housner of the U. S. and Professor Muto Kiyoshi of Japan.

Professor Liu was not only an engineer/scientist, .but also a society activist. He also served as director of the Society for Disaster Prevention, and Chinese Society of Earthquake Engineers of China. He was vice managing director of the Chinese Society of Seismology and chairman of the Technology Consulting Committee of Harbin.

Professor Liu was modest and prudent, frank and open in disposition and easily approachable. It is natural that he commanded respect and devotion of the many he had come in contact with. 

By his deeds, Professor Liu had accomplished the lofty goals that he set for himself, which can be gleaned from a poem of his. It reads in part: "I envy the reason for being of the silk worm; to offer the every last threads of silk before expiring." Prof. Liu is the role-model for all of us.