Oxford Materials Tour to China 2005

Organised by To Chan, St Anne's College and Katie Moore, Mansfield College


This year's industrial tour was centred on the Beijing and Tianjin areas of China. The group consisted of 18 students, undergraduates and D Phil students and was accompanied by Dr Adrian Taylor, our Director of Studies.

The aim of this tour was to give students the opportunity to see materials science in industry and to meet and exchange experiences with materials students from Tsinghua University at this time of phenomenal growth in China. We were greatly assisted in the organisation of the visits by an alumnus of our Department, Dr. Andy Godfrey, who is now a Lecturer in the Materials Department at Tsinghua.

We received substantial financial support from Oxford University's Department of Materials, the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers', Corus, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining and the Royal Academy of Engineering. We are very grateful to the above for their financial contribution to enable this tour to be affordable for the students.

Tour2005China 2

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank our hosts while in China,
British Embassy
Tsinghua University
Baoling Investment Casting Factory

We would also like to thank Dr. Adrian Taylor, Dr Andy Godfrey, Mr. Barry Fellows and Mrs. Rachel Meyrick and Lyn Richmond for their help and time in organising this tour.



  • Tour date: 12th March (Saturday week 8)- 20th March
  • Destinations: China (Beijing, Tianjin)
  • Flights: Direct flights by British Airways
    Outbound: BA39, departure at 12th March 16:50; Arrival at 13th March 10:40
    Return: BA38, departure at 20th March 12:30, arrival same day 15:30
    All flights from/to Heathrow Terminal 4; times shown are local time

12th March (Saturday week 8): Morning departure from Oxford at around 11am. Afternoon direct flight BA39 at 16:50

13th March: Morning arrival, Recovery day.

14th March: Morning visit to British Embassy, afternoon visit to Forbidden City.

15th March: Morning visit to Summer Palace. Afternoon visit to Tsinghua University. Evening social gathering with university students.

16th March: Full day visit to 3 companies in Beijing Economic and Technological Area—Innova Superconductor Technology Company, Innopower 
Supercondutor Power Company, SMIC (semiconductor)

17th March: Morning visit to Baoling Investment Casting Factory, in Tianjin. Afternoon visit to Tianjin city centre, evening return to Beijing.

18th March: Great wall excursion, roast duck tour dinner in the evening

19th March: Free day

20th March: Early morning (7am) departure to airport, noon flight back to the UK. Same day arrival

Accommodation: Central Youth Hostel, No. 1 Beijingzhan Qianjie, Dongcheng District, Beijing China.



Saturday 12th -13th March

Most of the group met at Gloucester Green Bus station for Heathrow Airport, the rest were picked up en route or joined us at Heathrow. The Boeing 777 took off at 16:50 and after approximately a 10-hour flight we landed at 10:40 local time (+8 hours time difference). We took the airport shuttle bus to the Central Youth Hostel and settled in to our rooms. We had enough time in the afternoon to walk around the shopping area, while resisting the temptation to sleep too early in the day.


Monday 14th March

Our first visit of the tour was to the British Embassy at 10am in the morning, where we were joined by Andy Godfrey. We were introduced to Robin Porter, Counsellor, Science and Technology, and he gave us a talk about the Embassy’s involvement with science in China and the British government’s willingness & desire to improve relations with the country. The objectives of the newly appointed taskforce as part of the UK-China partners in science program are to inform Chinese scientists about what is happening in UK science and technology and to persuade UK scientists that it is worthwhile to work in China. At present there tends to be a focus on American science & technology and a limited recognition of what is happening in the UK. We were also briefed on the history and culture of China and discussed the current phenomenal growth and constraints thereon. After lunch we visited the Forbidden City and some also took a tour of the traditional Hutong districts, where living conditions seem to resemble those found in the ’back-to-backs’ & yards of early 20th century Britain and contrasted to utilitarian (UK 1960’s style) concrete high-rise tower blocks and more recent shining steel and glass skyscrapers. In the evening the group experienced a traditional Chinese hotpot.


Tuesday 15th March

The main event of the day was an afternoon/evening visit to Tsinghua University, the top-ranked Chinese University. The morning was taken up with a visit to the nearby summer palace in the north of the city. In the afternoon we visited Tsinghua University where we met Dr Godfrey and some of the materials science students. The students gave us a tour of the campus and we learnt of the differences between our courses. The main difference is that the students only study physics, chemistry and maths in their first year and specialise in materials later in their degree. The University has a world-class Nanoscience & Technology Centre. The degree course in China is longer than the English equivalent; it takes 4 years to complete a BS another 2 years for a masters and 3-4 years for a PhD. During their MS they also carry out a research project in a similar way to the fourth year of our MEng at Oxford. This meant that there was an age difference between our undergraduates and the Tsinghua students. After the tour of the university we spent the rest of the evening getting to know the students further; we went ten pin bowling with them and then they took us to a local restaurant.


Wednesday 16th March

There were three visits scheduled throughout the day, all were situated in the Beijing Economic and Technological area, which is about an hour by coach from the hostel. It was interesting to note that many of the premises on this large site were not simply utilitarian in construction – there was clearly great pride in the architecture of many of the modern buildings.

The first of these visits was to the Innova Superconductor Technology Company (InnoST). We were given a tour of the factory and given a presentation explaining how the company works. The tour and presentation stimulated many questions. InnoST are the leading High Temperature Superconductor company in China. The final product is a multifilament tape, which is rolled from a wire using a special process specific to this company. This wire is advantageous as it can be used in applications where a huge current is required and is superconducting at liquid nitrogen temperatures, which can be achieved at relatively low cost: a section of cabling in part of the Chinese power transmission network now uses this wire in preference to the common copper cable. This company has founded a start up company, Innopower, to use the wire in applications such as the HTS cables mentioned above; this is the main customer for InnoST.

The next company we visited was Innopower, which is situated practically next door to InnoST. They are one of just three companies worldwide active in the area of superconductor cable manufacture. They gave us a presentation explaining what applications use the HTS wire produced by InnoST and describing in detail the fabrication of the cable from the tapes produced by InnoST. Their main product is this HTS cable whilst their current research is in making a superconductor current limiter and to be able to make a longer HTS cable therefore reducing the number of welds. We were able to examine a sectioned length of the cable to see its construction and were shown the test laboratory. Although the cable is expensive compared to traditional copper cable, there are indirect savings to be made in its use which could make it competitive; in particular in cities where the existing underground electricity transmission infrastructure has insufficient capacity, this capacity can be increased substantially by replacement of copper cable by superconducting cable in the existing conduits. To obtain the same increase in capacity by the use of copper cable would require major road works and disruption to increase the cross-sectional area of the conduits.

For lunch we dined in style at a nearby 5 star hotel, where we enjoyed an ‘eat your fill’ ‘slap-up’ buffet for £5 per head, including drinks.

The final visit of the day was to SMIC, which is the largest semiconductor manufacturer in China. Their products are all silicon-based memory IC’s. Security was tight so we were unable to see the production floor itself but we were given a talk about the company. The very modern factory in Beijing is the only one able to make the 12-inch wafers in China and their technology is advancing so quickly that they will soon be able to compete with the US semiconductor manufacturers. There was a clear US style ethos to the company, but coupled with company provision of accommodation, schools, health centres etc for its workforce.

We returned to the hotel by early evening and split into two groups – one to see a Kung Fu show, which included a demonstration of the mechanical properties of (skull) bone and iron! The second group visited a traditional tea house, where the entertainment included an excerpt of the Peking Opera.


Thursday 17th March

Tianjin is a two hour coach journey away from Beijing therefore we needed to have an early start. The Baoling Investment Casting factory is fairly small in scale and produces many small components for engines and everyday items such as hinges. We were shown the complete production cycle, starting with the manufacture of the wax moulds and the ceramic coating of these before being taken to the furnace and shown the pouring of the steel. Finally we saw the manual finishing process and QC inspection. The majority of the components produced in this factory are exported abroad, however they do not have direct contact with the company that they are producing the components for as a trade company gets their contracts for them. The customer designs all the moulds and the runners for the product. QC inspection of the components is carried out by eye and there is a newly acquired spark-spectrometer in the factory to test the composition of the steel. High quality components that are to be used in critical applications are sent to a contract lab for further testing.

This visit was certainly different to the other visits as we able to see the factory in operation and experience what it would be like to work in the factory conditions. It was an interesting contrast to the high-tech companies seen during the previous day and worthy of note that companies of both types are contributing to the current economic success of China.

In the afternoon we visited the city centre of Tianjin and returned to Beijing in the evening.


Friday 18th March

Today we had organised a trip to see part of the great wall at Badaling, this section has been restored and is open to the public, we spent two hours here and the group enjoyed the experience. We returned to Beijing in the afternoon and in the evening the group enjoyed the tour dinner at Li Qun roast duck restaurant, arguably the best in Beijing and hidden away in one of the Hutong districts, where we experienced the famous Peking duck; the meal was superb and this was a lovely evening enjoyed by all.

Saturday 19th March

This was a free day and most people chose to visit the Temple of Heaven in the morning and then enjoyed Beijing in the afternoon. In the evening the group met up again for an Imperial Meal in the Beihai Park restaurant.

Sunday 20th March

We had an early morning departure to the airport with an afternoon flight back to the UK.

We had a really enjoyable time in Beijing and it helped us to see the difference between materials science in the UK and in China and the role it plays in industry. Both from a cultural and an industrial perspective, it was fascinating to see the new and the old ways proceeding in parallel and to observe firsthand the phenomenal growth in industry & commerce. The entire group would like to thank all those who made the tour possible, we the tour organisers, believe the tour was a great success and we hope that you will continue to support subsequent tours. A number of students are already exploring the possibility of returning to Beijing.


Student Feedback

We asked the students who participated, to give us some feedback about their experiences and thoughts on the tour. We have included a selection of quotes from all aspects of the visit:

“The best part of the trip to see how China has developed in the last 25 years. There is a general feeling of boundless opportunity and energy with huge construction taking place across Beijing which is changing the face of the country. It is also amazing to see the fantastic historical sites juxtaposed with skyscrapers from the 21st century. Yet it was heartening to see that the people have taken up modern consumerism and western lifestyles, but still retain their own traditions and culture.”

“All in all a great trip. Every part of it was thoroughly enjoyable. Also, this year's destination had special meaning to me.”

InnoST. “I enjoyed seeing how such a small and young company has excellent potential in the huge Chinese market.”

Baoling Investment Casting. “The investment casting plant was lecture material put into practice.”

“The most memorable part of this visit was the number of workers they had working in the factory and how many women where working there.”

SMIC “Most of the management staff have worked abroad and therefore their expertise and management style has directly led to their company’s success. The story of how a company set up barely 5 years ago has managed to become China’s largest producer of semiconductor chips was inspirational. The rapid growth has mirrored China’s own growth as a major player in technology on the world stage.”

“The most memorable part of the social side of the trip Meeting with Materials students at Tsinghua University was very rewarding. It was interesting to hear about how student life is similar and also very different to life in the UK. The fact that students have to share a room with 5 other people came as a surprise. It was also a perfect opportunity to speak to the students in an informal atmosphere and find out that they have similar interests to us.”

“Plenty of opportunities for social interaction. I made new friends and strengthened existing ties”

“A great opportunity for undergraduates and graduates to get to know each other.”

“General feeling towards the trip. This industrial tour proved again to be a tremendous success. The balance between visiting and learning about the different industries in Beijing and the social and cultural side gave us a unique impression of China, which otherwise would not have been possible. I hope that these industrial tours continue in the future and more students are able to benefit from them.”

“Both enjoyable and useful. The industrial visits over the years have really given me confidence in my knowledge about industry.”

“A superbly organised eye opening trip which introduced me to an expanding industrial city but also gave me an experience of Chinese culture.”

“A good balance between materials science and leisure.”