Building up knowledge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 2004, 12:00am

Crushing lumps of reinforced concrete may not be everyone's idea of high-level research in the ivory towers of academe - but that is exactly what PhD student Simon Wong Ho-fai (pictured) is doing.

He also spends a lot of time making moulds, casting chunks of concrete and fixing steel reinforcements to them as test specimens.

The 27-year-old researcher's findings could provide a vital key to improving the safety of crowded residential tower blocks across Hong Kong.

The civil engineering student is in the final year of his PhD investigating the seismic resistance of traditional buildings.

The grey, reinforced-concrete structures found throughout the city were not built to withstand earth tremors because it does not have a history of major earthquake activity.

But Hong Kong's return to China in 1997 prompted official concern about traditional buildings because, under the Chinese seismic code, the city has a seismic intensity of seven, indicating a moderate earthquake risk. Earthquakes hitting other regions can have repercussions here.

Simon's research thesis - his own idea - was snapped up by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2001 and he won immediate funding to pursue it.

'I'm studying the structural elements of buildings such as columns, walls and beam-column joints,' he said. 'These are all made of traditional reinforced concrete.

'Our results are not yet conclusive, but they suggest that some Hong Kong buildings may need reinforcement against seismic activity.'