9th International Concrete Conference : International connections that have remained steadfast for generations
Video conferencing may have become the new normal for now, but two University of Dundee academics are united in their view that face to face interaction is by far the best way of sharing thoughts and ideas, exchanging views and concepts.
Rod Jones and Moray Newlands say that even though there are many ways to connect with people all over the world, thanks to technology which has risen to prominence during the Covid-19 lockdown, nothing can replace the widespread benefits offered by a conference platform to support business events during these difficult times.
The pair, of the university’s school of science and engineering, have long links with the international concrete technology conference - and subsequent associated gatherings - which was first held in Dundee back in 1990.
Remarkably, some of the delegates who attended 30 years ago as students still participate – now as the senior academics and professors. Not only do they come along to the tri-ennial conference, but they direct their students to Dundee’s MSc programme.
Dundee’s hosting of the conference, coupled with the university’s internationally acclaimed concrete technology unit, mean the area is on the radar for specialists from across the world, and there’s no doubt the event has spawned collaborative research projects.
“The conference is the key element in our marketing strategy,” says Dr Newlands. “It gives us the platform to maintain and expand our network of both academic and industry contacts. Word of mouth has always been the best way for us to get the message about Dundee’s specialism in concrete out to industry and academia across the UK and worldwide. The conference is a way for us to meet our well-established connections and to continue to build our relationships with them at the same time as learning more about the unique facilities which we have at the Concrete Technology Unit at the University of Dundee.
The conference held in 2016 has resulted in many long-term benefits for those involved as Professor Jones explains.
“The funding of two PHD students, who are currently with us at the University of Dundee, was a direct gain from this conference. Their work on two projects has been funded by industry bodies – the Mineral Products Association (MPA) and British Ready Mixed Concrete and the UK Quality Ash Association (UKQAA) and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe). The projects focus on the application of low carbon concrete in construction and on the recovery and reuse of coal derived fly ash in concrete construction respectively.
Dr Newlands continues, “The exposure which the conference gives us definitely leads to new research projects, project funding, consultancy and testing capabilities.”
Three major projects for the Concrete Technology Unit arose specifically from the 2016 conference where the centre’s nuclear specialism and low carbon construction were to the fore – and the centre is now working on the new UK power stations Sizewell C, and Hinkley Point C and also on the HS2 project, described as ‘one of the most demanding and exciting transport projects in Europe. Specialist testing for North Sea decommissioning projects is another area of growth for the Unit.
Bringing 160 people from 29 countries to the region for the conference is no mean feat, said Dr Newlands. As a destination city, it is ideal, being easy to get around and also within easy reach of the North and Highlands, while close to the central belt and Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“It takes a massive amount of effort and without the assistance of Dundee City Region Convention Bureau I’m not sure we’d be able to do all the planning, organisation and social side of the conference.”
Professor Jones added: “There is immeasurable value in terms of face to face meeting up, and that means people still want to do it. It’s like teaching online – it can be done but there is no interaction. You don’t give someone a book and ask them to teach themselves brain surgery, that’s not how it works.
“Being able to meet face to face means being able to ask questions while you are chatting over coffee, it’s all part of a social bond.
“Events like this come down to finance, time, the ability of a country to welcome other nations and cut through red tape. We would underscore how important Dundee City Region Convention Bureau has been. They get things done which allows us to focus on the conference themes and programme. We very much look forward to hosting the conference in a face to face setting in Dundee again in future.”
The conference was organised by Professor Rod Jones, director of the University's Concrete Technology Unit (CTU) and his departmental colleague, senior lecturer Dr Moray Newlands.