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

November 7, 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: Truck-safe bamboo bridge opens in China

Related Stories

Suspension bridge design may not be the best

January 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 assumed the ...

Rensselaer engineers to inspect levees

October 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

February 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 destruction ...

Recommended for you

A not-quite-random walk demystifies the algorithm

December 15, 2017

The algorithm is having a cultural moment. Originally a math and computer science term, algorithms are now used to account for everything from military drone strikes and financial market forecasts to Google search results.

US faces moment of truth on 'net neutrality'

December 14, 2017

The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.

FCC votes along party lines to end 'net neutrality' (Update)

December 14, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era "net neutrality" rules Thursday, giving internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T a free hand to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit ...

The wet road to fast and stable batteries

December 14, 2017

An international team of scientists—including several researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory—has discovered an anode battery material with superfast charging and stable operation ...


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.