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Materials Expert Dr Chun Chan Under the Spotlight

Materials, Chemistry & Biology
Materials Expert Dr Chun Chan

Materials expert Dr Chun Chan specialises in metallurgy, corrosion, and welding failures. Later this month, he will be presenting his latest webinar titled: Escape of Water: Really a Materials Problem? 

Chun discusses how an escape of water is often blamed on a defective component, and how Hawkins investigates other potential causes to identify the real issue.

We took some time to put Chun under the spotlight and get to know him a little better.

How did you get into your chosen field?

Back in school, I was always keen on Maths and Science. Therefore, when I was picking my university undergraduate course, I knew that I wanted to study something with a mixture of those subjects. Whilst looking through university brochures, I came across ‘Materials Science and Engineering’, which I thought was very interesting. If you think about it, there is a ‘material’ aspect in everything that we design and/or build.

What attributes do you need to be a forensic investigator?

I think that you need to be interested in problem solving. An incident is effectively a problem that has occurred, and we as forensic investigators are trying to ‘solve’ what caused it to happen. That could be related to many different disciplines and industries.

Are there any misconceptions that people have about your line of work?

Not many people are familiar with our line of work, in particular, in Hong Kong. They often think that what we do is similar to that of a loss adjuster. I explain to them that a loss adjuster deals with the numbers, i.e. the size of the loss, whilst we forensic investigators are there to determine the root cause.

What type of case interests you the most?

The most interesting cases are often those that are high profile, where the incident might be reported in the media. When you are involved in the investigation of such matters, you get to see how information is very often misrepresented in the news and social media.

“…No computer or machine can replace what we do, for now”

What type of case do you find most challenging?

The more challenging cases are usually those that are time sensitive, in which the site inspection needs to be completed within a limited amount of time. For example, when a vessel is anchored at a port and needs to leave within a few hours (to prevent economic losses), we must complete the inspection within that specific time frame. Not only, do you need to think on your feet whilst undertaking an investigation, there is added pressure when you also need to gather the necessary evidence within a restricted time.

What do you love most about what you do?

It must be that I don’t need to sit in the office, in front of a computer every day. Getting to undertake site inspections for different incidents in different locations means that the work is always new, and never boring.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It’s very satisfying when I manage to determine the root cause of an incident, irrespective of the size of the case.  That feeling is rather addictive, and it also drives me towards solving the next case.

What is the most challenging part of your job? 

Being a materials expert does not mean that I know absolutely everything relating to all materials. I am not going to know the performance and properties of all the materials that are being used for an uncountable number of applications. Therefore, I might come across a material that I am less familiar with. However, having the scientific training and fundamental materials knowledge means that I can work from first principles and research the material to understand its properties, so that I can then apply it towards the investigation.

In addition, I can count on the advice of the other 100 or so Hawkins’ investigators, who may have come across this particular material either in another investigation or in their previous careers. There is almost nothing that someone in Hawkin’s hasn’t come across.

What advice would you give to somebody setting out on their career to be a forensic investigator?

I think that you need to have an open mind to become a forensic investigator. During an investigation, it is important not to go into the investigation with only one theory and try to prove it, but to gather all the relevant evidence to rule out any other potential causes. My webinar, Escapes of Water: Really a materials problem? highlights this.

“…it is important not to go into the investigation with only one theory and try to prove it, but to gather all the relevant evidence to rule out any other potential causes”

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

Whilst I think that more technology could be introduced to assist with our investigations, we already use drones and laser scanners for instance, I do not expect too many changes in our field of work any time soon. No matter how hard we try to eliminate risk, incidents are bound to occur, whether due to natural causes or human error. And when something happens, forensic investigators will be involved in determining the cause. No computer or machine can replace what we do, for now.

Tell us something about life outside of work. What is the top destination on your must-visit list and why?

I’d like to go to the Great Barrier Reef.  Every time I see it in documentaries on television, I think that it must have been one of the most beautiful places on earth and I would definitely like to see it in person.  However, I find it very sad to see that the coral bleaching due to global warming is getting worse over the recent years.

Are you a ‘fly and flop’ or do you prefer more of an adventure holiday?

I love travelling, and I like a mixture of both really.  When I am in a different city or country, there are always so many things that I want to see and do.  I always like to push myself to try new things on holiday. However, being on holiday should also be time to relax and recharge, so one needs time to just put the feet up and chill.

Dr Chun Chan joined Hawkins in 2016 and is a Senior Associate in the Hong Kong office.

Since joining Hawkins, he has been instrumental in conducting material failure analysis and corrosion product assessment. His investigations include inspecting water damage to lift components, failures in pipework, mechanical failures in load-bearing components, and chemical cargo contamination.

Meet the expert by joining Chun’s webinar where he will present his findings, share his specialist knowledge, and answer your all-important questions.

Register here for Chun’s webinar: Escape of Water: Really a Materials Problem?

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