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Academician Billie F. Spencer Jr., ZJUI Adjunct Professor: Building Bridges-Advancing Structural Engineering Research in China and Promoting Global Higher Education
Date:16/04/2024 Article:Yu Mengyue Photo:From Interviewee


In the ZJUI building, Prof. Spencer greeted us in fluent Chinese saying, "Hello, I'm Su Panshi." He then took out his mobile phone and warmly invited everyone to scan and add in him as a WeChat friend.  In every word and deed, Prof. Spencer’s fate with China was revealed. Since the establishment of ZJUI, Prof. Spencer has been deeply involved in the teaching and scientific research of the Institute, using his rich experience in Sino-US exchanges to promote the construction and development of the civil engineering major. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. Educational cooperation and exchanges are an important bridge for the two peoples to understand each other. Prof. Spencer has actively fostered and participated in the development of China's civil engineering science and technology for many years, committed to cultivating students in the field of civil engineering, and contributed to the development of higher education in China and around the world.




Prof. Billie F. Spencer Jr.


Prof. Spencer is an outstanding expert in the field of civil engineering and the Nathan M. & Anne M. Newmark Endowed Chair in Civil Engineering at UIUC Grainger College of Engineering. He has long been committed to research in structural engineering, social risk and disaster reduction, and smart structures technology. He pioneered research and development of smart dampers based on magnetorheological fluid technology, achieving the world's first engineering application of this technology. He has achieved breakthroughs in open source hardware/software architectures for wireless sensor technology for structural health monitoring, enabling the world's largest engineering deployment of wireless smart sensors. He is a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), ASCE’s highest honor. He has won the ASCE Housner Medal, ASCE Norman Medal, and ASCE Newmark Medal. He was elected as a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2005, a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2021, and a foreign member of the Japanese Academy of Engineering in 2022.



▲ Prof. Spencer was elected as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2021


In the 1990s, China began to vigorously develop its civil infrastructure. Prof. Spencer took this opportunity to establish a deep friendship with China. In 1998, as one of the representatives of the China-US Earthquake Science and Technology Research Cooperation and Exchange Meeting, he visited China's mainland for the first time. During the ten-day meeting, he visited Shanghai, Hangzhou, Dalian, and Beijing. It was the first time for him to experience first-hand Chinese culture and heritage, allowing him to meet many Chinese scholars in the field of earthquake engineering, including Academician Zhou Fulin. In 2000, Prof. Spencer was invited to deliver a two-week short course on structural dynamics at the South China Construction University (now Guangzhou University). During this period, Academician Zhou Fulin gave him the Chinese name "Su Panshi." From then on, this foreign scholar had his own interesting and meaningful Chinese name.



▲ In 2000, Prof. Spencer with Academician Zhou Fulin and his assistant Xu Zhonggen at South China Construction University




▲ Prof. Spencer and Academician Zhou Fulin on a technical tour of a base-isolated building




▲ In 2000, Prof. Spencer co-chaired the US-China Millennium Symposium on Earthquake Engineering with Academician Hu Yuxian


Prof. Spencer works hand in hand with Chinese scholars on various scientific research projects and is committed to promoting the development of China's structural engineering design in a smarter, safer, and more resilient direction, as well as to improving the global level of civil engineering. For example, Prof. Spencer collaborated with Harbin Institute of Technology to study new features of smart dampers, further improving the design of China's iconic structures. In 2019, Prof. Spencer initiated a project entitled, "Rapid Post-Earthquake Assessment of Building Structures Based on Drones and Computer Vision" as a bilateral collaboration with scholars from Guangzhou University, further promoting the exchange of Chinese and American scholars towards substantive cooperation.


  "What really makes my work valuable are my students. Students are the most direct result of our efforts as an educator. Indeed, I regard scientific research as one of the tools with which we educate our students. Moreover, the progress made in our research provides continuous support for teaching and allows us to effectively educate the next generation of leaders in the field of civil engineering." Prof. Spencer firmly believes that seeing his students succeed in their career is his greatest achievement. So far, he has mentored more than 100 Chinese scholars, including doctoral candidates, postdoctoral fellows, visiting scholars, etc. Most of them have now become pillars of China's civil engineering field.


He also teaches civil engineering students at ZJUI, including CEE195 Introduction to Civil Engineering and CEE 470 Structural Analysis. He carefully guides students to master relevant knowledge and recruits ZJUI students into his research team. He believes that ZJUI students are excellent and that they demonstrate high academic standards and research capabilities. In addition, he co-leads the Center for Infrastructure Resilience in Cities as Livable Environments (CIRCLE), which is a Joint Research Center between ZJUI and UIUC. He fully combines the excellent educational resources of both China and the United States to jointly train doctoral, postdoctoral, and other researchers and to support cross-disciplinary scholars in the field of civil engineering at ZJUI. His efforts toward education and scientific research have injected new vitality and helped to improve the quality of international student education in Chinese universities. It also reflects his lifelong efforts to promote global higher education towards openness, diversity, and excellence.