1999 Trip to China

by John Stockholm

I had the opportunity to attend the 5th International Union of Materials Societies (IUMRS) International conference on Advanced materials in Beijing China June 13-18 1999. It was thanks to the advice and help of Professors Gang Chen of U.C.L.A. and Jianzhong Zhang of the Institute of Power Sources in Tianjin that I went to China.

Obtaining a VISA to China was easy and simple, it was issued within a week and an American friend had no difficulty either. Upon arrival immigration lasted less than a minute and going through customs was simple. Outside a line of taxies were available for arriving passengers and it took me 30 minutes to reach the Beijing Grand Continental Hotel next door to the Convention Center.

Being a material's conference it was very broad in terms of topics. First morning plenary sessions, were about the future for materials. Speakers commented that the end of this century has been dominated by materials for the computer and communications industries and the next century will probably be biomaterials.

Thermoelectrics was principally in the Sessions for Materials for energy conversion. Three papers were in the program from Russia, Korea and China, only the one from China was presented. It reminded me of the lack of presentations on Thermoelectrics at some of the past annual IECEC Energy Conversion meetings.

The unique paper presented was: A study on Sn ion implantation into lead telluride thermoelectric material by SHEN Qiang, LI Junguo and ZHANG Lianmeng of the State Key Lab. of Advanced Technology of materials synthesis and processing of Wuhan University of Technology Wuhan 430070 P. R. China.

There were papers in the Thermal Session related to Thermoelectrics. I was very impressed by a very fascinating paper presented by Prof. Chang-Li. Tien of UCLA on Visions of Research relating democracy - economy and knowledge.

The conference was interesting from the diversity of sessions; it was a typical MRS meeting. I attended and benefited from many sessions on different topics.

Technical visits to two Institutes and two companies

Thanks to Dr. Guosheng Sun, I was able to visit the Institute of Semiconductors of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, which was especially impressive because of its most modern equipments and especially for vacuum deposition. I gave a short lecture on thermoelectrics to a group of people. They had been very active in Thermoelectrics under Prof. Ling Lan-Ying until ten years ago.

Tianjin Institute of Power Sources is in the port city of Tianjin which is two hours away by car from Beijing.

The Institute employing 1500, is the largest in China for developing batteries. They have been working on Thermoelectrics for 30 years; 15 years on TE generators and for 8 years making TE cooling modules. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they have a thermoelectric cooling module production line that produces half a million TE modules a year for medical and domestic applications.

Prof. Zhang had invited me to give a series of lectures on thermoelectric electric power generation and especially on the status in different countries. It was followed by an extensive discussion period.

Hualeng Company in Hubei Province is located about 120 km South East of Beijing. I visited this company with Dr. Guosheng Sun. They showed me everything; I was surprised to see the size of the production line. The work is all done manually by many people. The facility is in a modern ground floor building. Annual production is 2 million modules a year mainly for consumer products. They are doubling the size of the building to be able to increase production. Their products are essentially sold in China.

Tianjin Refrigeration Factory (TRF), a small company has been privatized and belongs to a big conglomerate of 118 companies and 7000 employees. TRF make about 400 000 TE modules a year for consumer applications. Over the years they have had extensive contacts outside of China. They have in the town several production plants that make TE modules for scientific applications, laser diode cooling etc.

Cultural activities organized by the conference included a big welcome party before the conference started. A concert of Traditional Chinese music was performed at the modern concert Hall next to the Forbidden City. It was a remarkable evening of over two hours, very refreshing music, very melodious. It was with traditional Chinese instruments mixed with a cello. The music was related to nature, the two most outstanding pieces were a solo flutist with bird songs and a duo with cymbals on ducks quarreling, then on tigers fighting. We were able to purchase a video of what we saw and heard, a wonderful souvenir.

The conference planners gave a big banquet at the Great Hall of the Peoples adjacent to Tiananmen Square. A very large beautiful hall able to seat 1500 people. We were given knives and forks, it helped. The food was delicious many dishes and many people attending us. The transportation of the attendees using 24 buses was perfectly organized.

Personal visits.

Tiananmen Square was being completely repaved so it had barricades all around. The Forbidden City adjacent to the Square is unique in the world it was the Palace of the emperors. The buildings and courtyards are beautiful. We visited another day the Hulong district in a rickshaw. It is the old residential town, with very narrow streets, very interesting with small houses and the symbolic meaning of the ornaments at the doorways indicating the social status of the occupants.

The most impressive of all is the Great Wall of China. The portion we visited was about 2 hours away from Beijing by car. The sight of this tremendous construction going over hill and dale and out of sight is unique in the world, especially when one knows that it is the only construction made by humans that can be seen from the moon.

Then we visited the Summer Palace of the last Empress. A little paradise with an enormous lake and a boat at the dockside made out of marble used for receptions.

Everybody was so kind and helpful. Many of the young people speak English. Beijing has 12 million inhabitants, it is ringed by three annular motorways. Everywhere there is construction of buildings, motorways and overpasses. On the streets many many cars all intermixed with bicycles, rickshaws and pedestrians. Many taxis have the rates clearly marked on the sides. We learnt that very few people own cars; the cars belong to companies.

It was a wonderful experience touring China. As a result we saw a very different China than from what the news media conveys. I highly recommend to all to visit this very dynamic country.

John Stockholm