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Humble chemist a ‘powerful' guardian

Update: April, 13/2014 - 17:58
Still active: Vu Dinh Huy, 70, gives a lecture at Viet Nam Institute of Science. — VNS Photos Le Nhon

Viet Nam's leading expert on metal erosion and protection, who has played a key role in protecting the national electricity network, has chosen not to rest on his laurels, report Le Nhon and Ha Nguyen.

Chemist Vu Dinh Huy remains Viet Nam's only "Scientific Doctor" (a distinction conferred by the Vietnamese Government) in the field of erosion and metal protection.

His research has been applied in the country's biggest 500 kilovolt electricity project in 1995.

"Huy's solutions have effectively protected the trans-Viet electricity network from the north to the south," said former Minister of Energy Thai Phung Ne. The country would have faced a lot of difficulties in protecting its power network in different regions and climatic conditions without Huy's contributions, he added.

Huy has also received warm applause from the late Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, who took the initiative in building the national power grid.

After graduating from the Ha Noi National University's Chemistry Department, Huy started work at the Viet Nam Institute of Science.

In 1980, he was sent to the Soviet Union for two years to gain further knowledge and experience. During that time, he wrote an article on how to protect metals, which was immediately published in the Metal Protection magazine of the Soviet Union's Academy of Sciences.

Thereafter, four scientific articles written by him were praised by researchers and scientists in the Soviet Union.

As a result, he was granted a year's extension to continue his work.

Back in Viet Nam three years later, Huy continued to work for the Viet Nam Institute of Science. He led several State-founded projects, which helped him receive an invitation, along with his entire family, to the Soviet Union to pursue further studies. He was given a 200sq.m flat and daily stipend.

"Even after the Soviet Union's break-up in the 1990s and Russia changed its regime, our children's tuition fees were still free," Huy recalled.

He completed his doctorate in 1992 and was conferred a major award by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In 1994, Huy published a book titled Metal Erosion among the atmosphere in tropical areas in Russian, which was highly appraised by scientists.

Winning smile: Huy, a poet in his spare time, says a tough childhood has helped him persevere amidst the most adverse circumstances.

Huy later received invitations from several universities in the UK, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Germany and other countries to collaborate with them, to teach and continue his research work.

"They offered a lot of perks," he said, adding that he was very surprised when the New York Academy of Sciences, which is known to have strict criteria, also elected him as an member.

He recollected the pride he felt on being invited to work as a technical advisor to the project installing the national 500 kV power transmission lines.

"I was very happy to contribute my efforts towards building such a huge project for the country," Huy said with evident pride.

By early 1996, he decided to bring his entire family back to Viet Nam, despite being invited to work in the US, the UK and other countries.

After returning home, he worked for the Institute for Climate and Sea Research for 7 years and then moved in 2003 to teach at the HCM City Technology University, an assignment he still holds.

Last spring, we met him at a poetry club in HCM City and spoke to him about his work and his life.

We joked that he could be sipping choice vodkas in Moscow or red wine in Paris or go for a stroll along the Thames in London. Huy said he was happy to return to his own country.

"I'm Vietnamese. I choose to work and serve my country," he said.

Huy was born to an impoverished family with 7 children. He had to sell ice cream in all corners of Ha Noi's old quarter in order to earn a living.

"All my brothers and sisters had to do extra work because my mother was very weak and my father kept shifting jobs. Apart from selling ice cream, I had to do many other odd jobs. I have worked in brick ovens and even as a house-help for rich households," he said.

He also recalled a trying period in the eighties when a jealous colleague hid several letters that had been sent to Huy from the Soviet Union seeking his collaboration on various projects.

Later, it took the intervention of a senior colleague who sympathised with his plight for him to get a 20sq.m flat on the fourth floor from his institute. They had a very modest house now, but the hard work continued.

" We had to raise pigs to earn money in order to continue my research," he said.

Another tragedy befell him two years ago when his 26-year-old daughter was killed in Finland.

Now, apart from teaching, Huy, 70, is still doing research. He spends his leisure time composing poems, making light of a major gastrectomy procedure he had to undergo for cancer.

Revealing the "secret" to his perseverance amidst so much strife, he said: "Thanks to my difficult childhood, I know how to manage my time effectively for work and life. This is my secret to success." — VNS

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