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An Interview with Professor Junye Wang (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2016/01/22


An interview with Professor Junye Wang. He discusses: geographic, cultural, linguistic, and family background; influence on development; influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and undergraduate studies (college/university); origination of interest in science and technology; educators that inspired in youth; previous professional positions including research scientist at Scottish Crop Research Institute (The James Hutton Institute) from July, 2003to November, 2004, research associate at Loughborough University from November, 2004 to February, 2008, and principal research scientist at Rothamsted Research from March, 2008 to May, 2013, and the research experience from them; greatest take-home message from these positions; responsibilities to the public with these positions; current position is professor and CAIP Research Chair at Athabasca University beginning in August, 2013 and its targeted teaching objectives in addition to duties to the public and students; research objectives and concomitant responsibilities with the CAIP Research Chair position; and implications in funding and research for the CAIP Research Chair.

Keywords: Athabasca University, CAIP Research Chair, Loughborough University, Professor Junye Wang, responsibilities, Scottish Crop Research Institute.

An Interview with Professor Junye Wang (Part One)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Please see the footnotes and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?

In the late 1950s, many state farms were built in Jiangxi province, China. Thus, many educated urban youth cadres and veterans were mobilized, and sent to these state farms by the movement of “up to the mountains and down to the villages.” My parents were sent to the Comprehensive Reclamation and Cultivation Farm at Yunshan. I was born in the state farm in the year just after Great Leap Forward and “Three Bitter Years” started. My childhood was difficult, and meals were meager. Because my parents were busy with their careers, my maternal grandmother came to Yunshan to look after us children. She was not accustomed to life in Jiangxi and was missing her hometown, Shuangpai village, Lanxi, Zhejiang province. Therefore, my grandmother brought me and my sister to travel between the hometown and the place that my parents worked. When she came to Yunshan, she brought us to Yunshan. When she came back to the hometown, I was with her to live in Shuangpai and we weren’t living with my parents. Thus, I had many friends of peasant children. The peasant children were more hardship than the state farm children. Some of them had to take care of their younger brother/sisters and fed pigs because their parents had no salaries. I saw some classmates to bring their young sister or brother to school. In China, life in cities was much better than our own. My family wanted to move back to the cities from the farm. However, the great majority of those at the farm found themselves trapped in the countryside, condemned to a life of back-breaking labor, and hoping for a recall to the city that never came. My family was the same. In Yunshan, our time there would be lengthy, perhaps permanent. The students did not need to study for both Shuangpai or Yunshan school due to the Cultural Revolution. I didn’t have any forehead mark indicating that I have any special abilities, and I didn’t have any opportunities to study, so my childhood and teenage years were mainly full of activities that I enjoyed, and labor work such as collecting firewood, fishing in creeks, and collecting wild fruits.

2. How did this influence development?

Rural youths in developing countries had fewer opportunities than those in the cities due to poor educational resources. They needed to make more of an effort as a result. However, difficult circumstances can temper one’s will. I did not have a good education, but I was educated by our experiences during the Cultural Revolution and rural hardship.

3. What about influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and undergraduate studies (college/university)?

I had no experiences of kindergarten. My grandmother looked after my preschool and primary school. Like those who lived in rural regions in China, their grandmothers were a housewife for cooking and looking after their grandsons and granddaughters. When I attended primary school, the Cultural Revolution broke out, and the school was changed into a forum for political propaganda. All the students in the school recited Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong and became Little Red Guards. They criticized Capitalism and revisionism in their terms, and studied a little math, physics, and chemistry. For the rural students, they also learned weeding rice plots in Spring and rice harvest in Summer and Fall from the poor and lower-middle peasants. When I was 14 years old, I did not attend high school, but The Communist Labor University at Yunshan [John Cleverley, In the Lap of Tigers: The Communist Labor University of Jiangxi Province, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (March 1 2000)].  All students in the branch worked for periods in field or forest without exception. Although, I was the youngest student in the university, no one was exceptional to undertake the heavy labor work because our branch was on demands of students for rice production throughout. Generally, two days were in field or forest and 3 days were in class rooms like that described by John Cleverley. However, in my memory, the physical labor time on demand were much more than study time because of too many busy farming seasons, such as seeding, weeding rice plots in Spring, and harvesting rice in Summer and Fall, and building/maintaining the irrigation system and cultivating economic trees in Winter. All days were in fields except for breakfast and lunch. The rice was weeded and harvested by hand using a sickle. This was harder work: “back to the sky, face to the land.” Cuts to legs and arms easily became infected and leeches followed water motion disturbed by legs to attach to bare feet scars. Despite the heavy physical work required, it did not feel hard to do these labor jobs for a rural youth. As a student who was major in the forest, I was also required to cultivate trees in Winter and Spring. Also, we studied basic soil sciences and forest surveys. Studying English would have been impossible because that was realized to be impractical. After I graduated from the University in early 1976, I was assigned to do a similar job. Therefore, what I regret most is that I didn’t get a good education in my teenage years, there is a best age for studying, and we missed it. That was the torrent of the times, you couldn’t resist it. We have to let history judge.

In 1977, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination was officially restored as the traditional examination based on academics. Like most of the hopefuls who had accumulated during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, I simply wanted to try my luck to emerge from society for the examination. Due to my poor school education, I failed in 1977 and then I had a distinction in the national examination in 1978. I entered the College of Jiangxi Electric Power to study thermal energy and power engineering for a three-year technical college diploma. The examination was highly competitive and admission rate in both 1977 and 1978. In late 1970s, the admission rates  were much low  in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). We treasured the college years, and we studied harder than the current generation of students. After I graduated, I was assigned to Jiujiang Power Plant, where I worked for 5 years. Although, I was satisfied with my job. I had a dream of higher education in a prestigious university. Thus, I started to be a self-learner by studying university courses for the National Postgraduate Entrance Examination, which was highly competitive too. I needed to study until midnight every day because I had a full-time job. I faced numerous challenges. For example, I needed a university curriculum and syllabus that I could follow, and then I could buy textbooks. Furthermore, a diploma student was not eligible to participate in the National Postgraduate Entrance Examination, except for an approval letter from your company. However, this was not easy to have such a letter from your units. After I failed twice, I had a distinction in National Postgraduate Entrance Examination in 1986. Particularly, I earned the highest score in the Advanced Mathematics examination among all participants in the Harbin Shipbuiding Engineering Institute (Harbin Engineering Institute). As an exception of diploma students, I was admitted to the Master’s program by the Institute history under direction of my first supervisor, Prof. Bingcheng Sang. The institute admitted a first by being the 1st to give the Master’s admission to a technical diploma student. I started my research project on laser measurement of propellant combustion. I became confident after National Postgraduate Entrance Examination. I found myself capable of doing things that other students thought were impossible. It might be important that I found effective and efficient learning methods.

4. Where did interest in science and technology originate for you?

My original interests were in engineering, particularly energy engineering, which originated from problem-solving. Energy engineering is certainly an old science that constitutes multiple areas of special interest in this respect, since the most important theoretical issues and the contentious relations with other sciences are clear. However, energy issues could not be solved by a single discipline of energy science and technology itself. Environmental pollution and sustainability are closely related to energy consumption, security and technology development. Thus, because of the adaptability to such an interdisciplinary issue, some profound changes have taken place, which leads to my transformations from energy to environment and sustainability. With regard to these transformations, many traditional disciplinary boundaries should be broken as the interdisciplinary nature. Therefore, my motives for the interdisciplinary research are to transform and integrate in my research when faced complex problems with conceptual and methodological changes. This adaptability is for the problems of today, and out of an interest for the past unrelated to present-day concerns from within the discipline itself or from a more general starting point.

5. Any key educators which inspired you in youth?

I grew up in a cultural revolution. In this special era, knowledge is nothing and education is not useful. However, my grandmother and mother believed in the importance of education. Though I did not agree with them in my childhood and youth, I realized the importance of the education as I grew up. In the latter 1970s and 1980s, only knowledge could change your fate for the rural youths in China. Higher education was a unique way that a Chinese youth could move to a city from the countryside.

6. You held previous professional positions including research scientist at Scottish Crop Research Institute (The James Hutton Institute) from July, 2003to November, 2004, research associate at Loughborough University from November, 2004 to February, 2008, and principal research scientist at Rothamsted Research from March, 2008 to May, 2013.[5] What research experience came from these professional experiences?

In these jobs, I worked on different problems from chemical engineering, aeronautical engineering to biogeochemical processes in agroecosystems using analytical, numerical and experimental approaches. I have acquired the experiences of various modelling methods, from high-resolution numerical approaches such as the lattice Boltzmann method (LBM) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) (e.g., PHYSICA multi-physics package and the Rolls-Royce HYDRA CFD code) to process-based models of agroecosystems (e.g., DNDC and Roth-C). As a professional modeler, I am deeply familiar with a variety of numerical methods and have an exceptional ability to select the most suitable approach for a specific real-world problem and to integrate numerical methods for their mutual enhancement in modelling. Particularly, my experiences on multidiscipline lead to rethinking about the problem of today. As mentioned in Question 4, these experiences allow me to adopt a whole systems approach to complex watershed modelling. Our emphasis is on interdisciplinary and multiscale research and integration to support systematic, quantitative and comprehensive clarification of concepts and assumptions as we study the problems of sustainable resource development and management.

7. What were the greatest take-home messages which came from these positions?

Persistent efforts, keep going, do not give up, and fight to the end.

8. What responsibilities to the public came from these positions?

The Athabasca River Basin (ARB) is an ecologically and economically significant resource for the development and sustainability of northern Alberta communities. This oil sand resource helps establish Canada as a stable, dependable source of oil and natural gas for national and international markets. However, concerns over the extraction and management of this resource are causing public resistance from citizens and stakeholders because of the potential dangers, such as water contamination, toxic and known carcinogens from flow-back.

My basic research on multi-scale and multidisciplinary modelling will benefit Albertans and Canadians by leading to integrated watershed management, and recommendations for land- and water-use decisions for sustainable development of northern Alberta communities.

9. Your current position is professor and CAIP Research Chair at Athabasca University beginning in August, 2013.[6] What does the professorship include in terms of targeted teaching objectives? What duties to the public and students comes with this prestige?

As a CAIP Chair, I promote research-driven teaching and learning at AU. A cutting-edge research project is usually an example to face various challenges. Thus, it is an excellent opportunity for students to acquire skills of critical thinking and problem-solving through the real problems-driven learning. Through the cutting-edge research, research students can be involved in discussions by asking interesting questions on the project or by facing challenging concepts and sometimes paradoxes from the real world. Particularly many cutting-edge research projects require teamwork, which helps students view different problems from different perspectives and disciplines. This program is to provide a hub for student training in multidisciplinary collaboration and one of the main outcomes will be the delivery of highly trained researchers, including postdoctoral research fellows, visiting scholars, graduate students and technical staff who will undertake cutting edge science, with specific training in computational modelling, experimental design, biogeochemistry, microbiology, integrating qualitative and quantitative data, statistical analyses, report writing and presentation of research.

10. What about research objectives in addition to concomitant responsibilities with the CAIP Research Chair position?

The Athabasca River Basin (ARB) is a natural resource, and its sustainable resource development is a priority of the 2012 Alberta Research & Innovation Plan. Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy and Land-use Framework include the necessity of managing cumulative effects from both agricultural and oilsands industrial activity in the ARB. Athabasca University’s research foci and expertise align closely with these provincial priorities. It is essential for Canada’s and Alberta’s competitiveness to take advantage of available resources and to have the knowledge and technology to perform complex quantitative simulations of integrated terrestrial and aquatic systems.  The CAIP Chair research program is to establish a modelling framework of integrated terrestrial and aquatic systems through coupled biogeochemical and hydrological processes so that we can directly simulate dynamics of nutrients, water and pollutants in the ARB, as well as GHGs. This is currently a significant knowledge gap, and therefore will generate new evidence to increase understanding of non-point source pollution and to develop improved technologies to mitigate GHGs and toxic pollutants, thereby providing a new tool of land-use management and decision-making for managing and protecting watersheds. This information could then be used to develop ‘Opportunity Mapping for Optimised Resource Development in the Athabasca River Basin,’ a concept which the program will demonstrate. In the long-term, such spatially-resolved data will provide a framework and methodology for those interested in delivering a low-carbon economy, sustainable resource development and climate change that can be adapted to other river basins and industries in Canada and beyond and will thus be of wide significance.

11. What does the CAIP Research Chair implicate – in funding and research?

Alberta is really interesting, particularly the Athabasca River basin, because there is no other place that has to deal with water, oilsands, agriculture, environment and sustainability. My basic research on multi-scale and multidisciplinary modelling will benefit Albertans and Canadians by leading to integrated watershed management, and recommendations for land- and water-use decisions. The CAIP program provides long-term funding. This allows me to focus on development of an ambitious framework: the modelling framework of integrated terrestrial and aquatic systems.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor and CAIP Chair, Science and Technology, Athabasca University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2016 at; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2016 at

[3] Ph.D. (1993 – 1996), Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, East China University of Science and Technology; M.Sc. (1986 – 1989), Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Harbin Shipbuilding Engineering Institute.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Professor Junye Wang.

[5] Please see LinkedIn. (2015). Junye Wang. Retrieved from

[6] Please see LinkedIn. (2015). Junye Wang. Retrieved from


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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