Reminiscences: Professor Za Chieh Moh

Prof. Za Chieh Moh

Moh 1An interview with Dr. Moh was made in Taipei on November 14th, 2012. As is well known, Dr. Moh has made remarkable achievements in the fields of education at Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), practice through his consulting firm, and societal activities in the Southeast Asian Geotechnical Society of which he is the founder.

During the interview, the first topic was his recent activities and interests. In addition to infrastructure developments, he is concerned with projects of bigger scales. Moreover, he believes that future geotechnical engineering should pay more attention to disaster mitigation. Design of disaster prevention/mitigation structures is one of his target businesses. From the viewpoint of the future geotechnical engineering, he mentioned that GIS will be a useful tool. Another future direction is “Green Design” by which clean and ecological community is developed. He is doing practice internationally on design of office buildings, subways, and even urban design. Risk analysis is another important topic of his activity.

The second topic was his good memory of geotechnical engineering. His best memory is that he took Karl Terzaghi’s course in his final year at Harvard. His lecture showed many slides of photographs. While Dr. Moh’s advisor was Prof. Lamb, Terzaghi also visited MIT occasionally and gave many valuable advices to him and other students. Dr. Moh states that Terzaghi had a very wide range of knowledge including soil chemistry.

After his degree from MIT, Dr. Moh worked for Woodward-Clyde and then moved to Yale University. It was this time that AIT was recruiting academic staffs for the new development of geotechnical engineering division. Initially, he got an appointment for 18 months, which was later extended to 11 years. During t hat period, he obtained good supports from AIT and installed good educational programs and equipments. He devoted enthusiastically to AIT as a vice president.

After AIT, he turned to practice. At the beginning, only he and his brother worked together. The first job was the restoration of runway pavement in the Taipei Airport. A 6m*6m panel of an existing pavement was removed, the subsoil was compacted, and the new pavement was cured. The challenge was that the entire process had to be completed in six hours during the night when no flight was scheduled. He recalls one night when a typhoon unexpectedly attacked the site, irrespective of the weather forecast, where new concrete had just been cast. It is still his good memory that next morning Boeing 747 safely landed on his brand-new pavement. Another good achievement of his was a construction of tunnel at only 6 meters below an airport runway. This job was successfully done without affecting the operation of the airport. With these achievements, his company grew to an international giant.

Finally, the interviewer made a request to Dr. Moh to give valuable advices to younger generations. He is afraid that recent fresh bachelors are not so much interested in basic academic issues as before, possibly because their lives are too easy. To improve this situation, his company takes care of 6-month internship for master students from abroad. He believes that an internship for 6 weeks, which is often the case for undergraduate students, is too short.

During the interview, the interviewer felt that Dr. Moh maintains his deep interest and strong enthusiasm in soil and geotechnical matters. It is desired that Dr. Moh will keep playing important roles in the world of geotechnical engineering and even in other areas.
                                                                                                                            by Ikuo Towhata