TR35 Innovators Under 35 Asia: Dr. Chian Siau Chen

About Dr. Chian Siau Chen

UntitledDr. Chian Siau Chen (Darren) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS). His core expertise is on earthquake engineering and land reclamation. Dr. Chian is also the Operations Manager of the MINDEF-NUS Centre for Protective Technology, a faculty research institute jointly formed with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) of the Singapore Government. Dr. Chian obtained his Ph.D. and B.Eng. with Gold Medal from Cambridge University and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) respectively.

Dr. Chian’s contribution in earthquake engineering has been instrumental and is one of the leading researchers in the field of damage vulnerability of underground structures in earthquake induced soil liquefaction. He was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to carry out reconnaissance missions at the 2009 Padang and 2011 Great East Japan earthquakes. Dr. Chian is an enthusiast of recycling waste material, particularly in soil. He is actively involved in research projects on recycling of unwanted and contaminated soils from underground construction projects and sea dredging as land reclamation fill materials. He is presently the youngest elected Vice President of the Geotechnical Society of Singapore (GeoSS).

Dr. Chian’s research work on catastrophe modelling of earthquakes at NUS led to his award of the prestigious Top 10 Innovators Under 35 in Asia by the MIT Technology Review in 2016. Other achievements include 1st Prize in a National Technical Paper Competition and the Best Young Researcher Award at the 8th International Conference on Urban Earthquake Engineering in 2013 and 2011 respectively.

About Darren’s research

Earthquake engineering is one of my key areas of research interest. From the macro-perspective, I have been studying the fundamental shortcomings in the highly matured state-of-art in catastrophe modelling. Modern catastrophe modelling of earthquakes is conventionally designed as a probabilistic model which departs from the physical science of building damage. My research is to bring the probabilistic model closer to engineering fundamentals. This can potentially complement assessment of building damage risk and pricing of insurance premiums to building owners.

I had also recently performed feasibility studies with the use of remote sensing for multihazard analysis of landslides. A geotechnical slope stability coupled with hydrological rainfall water-saturation contribution analysis was carried out, which produced more detailed and accurate landslide hazard maps than probabilistic based hazard maps. Again, this is aimed at tackling the shortcomings of probabilistic approaches. Similar analysis can potentially be carried out to complement existing landslide hazard mapping efforts with hopes of reducing casualties and property losses around the world.

From a micro-perspective, I am involved in the study of the phenomenon of earthquake-induced damage to underground structures and lifelines. Research is now focused on remediation techniques against uplift, particularly on manholes and its connecting pipelines which are highly susceptible to damage and have significant impact to urban society as evident in the recent 2011 & 2012 Christchurch Earthquakes, 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and 2010 Chile Earthquake. No effective means of arresting such uplift failure is available currently, which makes this an urgent topic so as to avoid similar failures following a strong earthquake in the near future.

Land reclamation is the research theme which I have undertaken when I arrived at NUS. Over the past 3 years, focus was on the prediction of long term performance of eco-friendly cement treated waste soils. Novel quality control methods have also been developed to identify defective mixes as early as within 3 days using portable testing devices and correlation charts. It is expected to reduce cost of rework, enhance productivity and reduce carbon footprint derived from over-dosage of cement.

TR35 Innovators Under 35 Asia

The news of being named as the TR35 Innovators Under 35 Asia was quite a surprise to me. There are many top researchers in Asia which makes this continent the fastest growing and extremely exciting place to do research. I guess I am the lucky one to represent the hard work of many like-minded researchers who endeavours to contribute to society through their research. I am grateful to my mentors at NUS and Cambridge University for shaping my acuteness in research and attitude towards contributing to society. The credit goes to them as well.

Advice for young innovators like yourself

Doing research as a career is not an easy feat. We need strong hearts and minds to understand and find solutions to problems which the society need the most. Many young researchers are under immense pressure to excel within a short period of time. The best research outcomes need time. We need to collectively convince our employers and grantors to be patient. On our part, it is wise to take stock of your progress once in a while. Periodically review the work you are involved in and ask yourself if it leads to something useful and meaningful. Are there alternatives? Being too engrossed in solving an immediate obstacle in research may divert your attention to something that probably does not add value to the overall body of knowledge applicable to society.

Opinions on the current innovation and startup ecosystem in Singapore/Asia

Singapore is a hub for cutting-edge research. The attitudes toward research and innovation by the government agencies and industry are encouraging which attracts investments on research infrastructure. This opens up opportunities for research ideas to be test-bedded which are hard to come by in many developed countries in the world. I believe Asia is the best place to be in at the moment as it is an innovation and start-up magnet if one is looking for opportunities in these areas.

 

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