Faculty awarded for research that could improve reliability of foundation designs, reduce costs

Nov 07, 2011

A professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering and a graduate of the school have been awarded the Norman Medal, the most prestigious award given by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Granted annually since 1874, this year's award recognizes Robert Gilbert, a geotechnical engineering professor in the school's Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, and Shadi Najjar, a Ph.D. graduate from the Cockrell School and now an assistant professor of civil engineering at American University of Beirut, for a research paper that could improve the reliability and efficiency of deep foundations in constructing bridges and other structures.

"Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Najjar's research provides a new approach for designing pile foundations, which support important structures such as bridges and offshore facilities," said Sharon L. Wood, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. "The new procedure increases the reliability of foundation designs and has the potential to dramatically reduce construction costs. Given the importance of the research results and its impact on industry, I think it's only fitting that Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Najjar join the impressive list of Norman Medal winners."

The paper, titled "Importance of Lower-Bound Capacities in the Design of Deep Foundations," spawned from an engineering challenge to provide high reliability for an and gas facility being built off the coast of West Africa. Construction of the facility was taking place in water on soil that is lightweight but very strong and had never before been encountered by engineers.

Because of this, Gilbert said, there was uncertainty about the structure's foundation. Calculations of the facility's – or amount of weight it could safely support in the soil – varied greatly when engineers used the standard methods of assessment.

"What struck me about it is, while there was this huge range in what the capacity might be, there was very little debate – almost none – about what the smallest possible or lower- bound capacity would be," Gilbert said. "And the lower-bound capacity is what is important because all that matters is whether the capacity is going to be greater than the largest possible load on the foundation."

Before their paper was published, the minimum capacity, or lower-bound capacity, was not formally or explicitly considered in reliability-based design and was typically used as a check for worst-case scenarios. However, Najjar and Gilbert found that it can play a big role in improving reliability and efficiency of a design, if incorporated properly. What adds to the practical contribution of the paper and its effect is that the proposed lower-bound capacity can be computed using simple physical models and can be readily verified during construction.

"We strongly believed that we had a creative and new concept at hand, and we made sure that we pursued it till the end. Being recognized for the idea, however, is the icing on the cake," Najjar said. "I really hope that the new concepts presented in the paper will be embraced by geotechnical design engineers in the near future."

In selecting the paper for the award, the ASCE committee noted its potential for significant practical contribution toward improving the load and resistance factor design (LRFD) methodology in civil engineering.

"It's a great honor to have our work recognized with the Norman Medal," Gilbert said. "We hope that this research will lead to better design and construction of future structures."

Explore further: Drone postal deliveries begin in Switzerland

Related Stories

Suspension bridge design may not be the best

Jan 15, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of structural engineers from the University of Sheffield in the UK say the assumptions originating with 17th century Dutch engineer Christiaan Huygens may need to be re-examined. Huygens ...

Rensselaer engineers to inspect levees

Oct 10, 2005

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientists are going to New Orleans as part of an expert team investigating levee failures caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Post-tsunami Thailand yields lessons for coastal construction

Feb 25, 2005

Engineering experts see how buildings and materials fared against walls of water An inspection of Thai villages and ports struck by tsunami waves has uncovered some engineering lessons that might reduce casualties and destru ...

Recommended for you

Drone postal deliveries begin in Switzerland

17 hours ago

Wondering where your package is? Look up! Switzerland's postal service said Tuesday it had begun testing parcel deliveries by unmanned drones, although widespread use of the flying postmen is not likely to kick in for another ...

Omnidirectional free space wireless charging developed

17 hours ago

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and laptops, have become indispensable portable items in modern life, but one big challenge remains to fully enjoying these devices: keeping their batteries charged.

Europe's deepest glider to be developed

Jul 06, 2015

19 partners from across Europe have come together to develop Europe's first ultra-deep-sea robot glider. This glider will be capable of sampling the ocean autonomously at depths of 5000m, and maybe more in ...

Researchers help reconstructing the Michelangelo bronzes

Jul 06, 2015

Engineers and imagers from the University of Warwick's Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) and anatomists from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick are helping Art historians from the University ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.