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【2015 Newly Elected Academician】Ni Jinren: Pioneer of Environmental Engineering

JAN . 29 2016
Peking University, Jan 29, 2016: Playing a leading part in the environmental education and research in China, the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (CESE) at PKU has built up a distinguished academic faculty team. Professor Ni Jinren, Vice Dean of CESE, is one of the most dedicated pioneers among them. As the founder of Peking University Institute of Environmental Engineering, Prof. Ni has made significant contributions to the study of environmental science and was elected Fellow of CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences) in 2015.

Environmental Engineering as a career

In the last decade of the 20th century, the significance of the study in environmental engineering has not yet been universally recognized in China. However, with the support of the then PKU executive vice president Wang Yiqiu and other school leaders, Prof. Ni established the Institute of Environmental Engineering at Peking University in 1995. At the early stage of its development, the lack of work space, facilities and funds has become the main stumbling block to scientific research. “Pioneering work is indeed challenging, but we plough ahead in hope and tenacity,” Prof. Ni said.

Owing to Project 985 and the establishment of the First-Level Discipline in environmental science and engineering by the Ministry of Education, Prof. Ni’s career met a turning point. He seized the opportunity of the integration of disciplines and won support from the university. From the year 2000, CESE has been qualified to confer PhD degree on Environmental Engineering, which became a milestone on environmental engineering at PKU. Since then, the study of environmental engineering at PKU has entered into a stage of rapid advancement, which is greatly indebted to Prof. Ni’s years of hard work. For example, in 2000, he established and organized the Key Laboratory of Water and Sediment Sciences, Ministry of Education. In the field of discipline construction and international cooperation, he also plays an active part.

The construction of academic platforms appeals to outstanding talents on environmental engineering, which Prof. Ni puts a high value on. “The ‘soft power’ of our development is closely associated with talents. We endeavor to bring in more distinguished teachers, and cultivate academic talents within the college as well,” he said.

In the view of Prof. Ni, the value of environmental engineering lies in its innovation and benefits for the real world. Having dedicated to the field for over twenty years, Prof. Ni is gratified to see that the PKU research team of environmental engineering now has the capacity to play a part in the study of domestic and global environmental problems.

A Crush for Environmental Engineering

The great love for environmental engineering runs throughout Prof. Ni’s experience of study and research. “I studied hydraulic engineering as my major, thus I was nearly a layman in the field of environmental engineering at the beginning. Everything must start anew.” However, as Prof. Ni remarked, “to study what interests me most a pleasure in itself.” He overcame the difficulties and paved the way for environmental engineering study in China.

When talking about the current problems of environmental engineering study, Prof. Ni showed his great concern. “The ‘get-rich-first, clean-up-later’ model still sustains in some areas, which brings increased pressure on the study of environmental engineering,” he said, “the forward-looking quality of our field urges people to see things in the long run. We focus on taking ‘health care,’ rather than ‘emergency treatment.” As for the requirements for environmental engineering researches, he said, “environmental study is an emerging interdisciplinary subject, and it embraces all who determine to dedicate themselves to this field. But the ability to research always goes first, otherwise the vocation is only prattle,” he said candidly.

With such principle and passion, Prof. Ni has made remarkable accomplishment in academic study. In 2015, Elsevier (a leading full-test scientific database) released a list called “2014 Most Cited Chinese Researchers,” and Professor Ni Jinren is listed in the field of environmental science. With various national awards and wide international recognition, Prof. Ni was elected fellow of CAS in 2015.

Prof. Ni and his students

In the eyes of students

Prof. Ni’s rigorous scholarship and simple lifestyle touch and influence his students. With regard to the Department of Environmental Engineering, Dr. Zhu Xiuping expressed appreciation for her teacher. “The department furnishes us with great facilities and academic faculty. In the research team, Prof. Ni’s instruction and advice for my study influences me deeply.”

Dr. Long Yujiao, who has been on Prof. Ni’s research team for three years, is deeply impressed by the simplicity and confidence of her teacher. “I once accompanied Prof. Ni to attend a conference abroad. He wore an old but tidy suit which he has been wearing for over ten years. He remarked that the confidence of a person lay in himself rather than what he wore.” Other students also mentioned that Prof. Ni encouraged them to clean up their plates when they ate in the school canteens, and he himself always did that.

Prof. Ni’s dedication to environmental engineering and his virtuous qualities the students admire will enhance further studies in the field he loves.

Written by: Li Ruiqi
Edited by: Xu Liangdi
Source: PKU News (Chinese)