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Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group


The Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group



The Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group is home to nine academic staff, a computer officer, seven technicians, two administrative staff, two post graduate researchers and 56 graduate students. The interests of the group are wide, ranging from the fundamental mechanics of soils to encompass applications such as construction processes; infrastructure such as tunnels and shafts; environmental engineering; petroleum engineering structures such as offshore piles and pipelines; sustainable and renewable energy technologies like offshore wind farms and earthquake engineering including soil liquefaction. Since its formation more than 50 years ago the Group has produced over 260 PhDs.

The Group has extensive facilities for laboratory testing, centrifuge modelling, and numerical analysis. We operate both on the main Engineering Department site, where we have the Geotechnical Research Office, the Geomechanics Laboratory and the Geo-environmental Laboratory. At West Cambridge we have the Schofield Centre for Geotechnical Process and Construction Modelling.

The Schofield Centre has "focussed on the key questions of construction and environmental technology, where field, computational and physical modelling studies can be integrated in collaboration with industry", just as our original JIF grant promised. Under the leadership of our Chief Technician John Chandler, Kristian Pether, Chris McGinnie, Mark Smith and Richard Adams – have done sterling work, keeping the modelling work flowing, and steadily upgrading our facilities.

The Turner Beam Centrifuge has been as active as ever, with tests taking place almost every week throughout the year. Centrifuge projects use in-flight actuators like our 1-D and 2-D robots which can operate under force or displacement control. We are able to characterise the soil inflight using mini CPT or T-bar devices and can carry out of shear wave velocity vs profiling. Recently we added a servo-hydraulic earthquake actuator that is able to model realistic earthquake motions like Kobe or Northridge earthquakes. It operates using a powerful hydraulic power-pack and the hydro-static bearing supported high pressure (300 bar) fluid slip rings. This new device complements the hugely successful Stored Angular Momentum (SAM) earthquake actuator which is continued to be used for liquefaction problems. We are now able to use high speed imaging followed by PIV in earthquake tests to follow soil deformations below structures in the pre and post-liquefaction phases. The Schofield mini-drum centrifuge has been upgraded to have a working diameter of 1.01 m and continues to be very active for 4th year projects, research and industry supported projects.  

In parallel with our small-scale modelling, we are exploring new areas of research to improve techniques of field monitoring. We are collaborating with contractors and infrastructure owners to develop new field measurement technologies. These aim to provide better control and monitoring of urban construction. Field monitoring with new BOTDR optical fibre technology has continued on a number of piling projects, on major tunnelling projects in London and Singapore, and for slope stability and soil anchors. Wireless networks of MEMS are also being pioneered for a rich variety of monitoring applications.

Laboratory work in permeation and chemical testing, soil mixing and sustainable products usually takes place on the main site, in our second-floor laboratories. The upsurge of research in geo-environmental engineering has put pressure on floor and bench space, and we are grateful to our technician Chris Knight for keeping everything on track.

During 2015 a total of twelve PhDs were successfully examined, and we hosted over 20 international academic visitors. Research generated more than 60 publications by the group, several of which have received awards including the best MEng/MSc prize awarded by British Geotechnical Association (BGA). We received considerable support from industry both as direct funding and through collaborative activity in the field. We currently enjoy research collaborations with Dong Energy; Thames Water; Thames Tideway Tunnels; London Underground Limited; Crossrail; NGI; Liang O’Rourke; Cementation-Skanska; BP, Shell; Fugro; KW Limited; David Cathie, SBM, Giken Seisakusho; Geotechnical Consulting Group; Arup; Atkins; and others.

We welcome you to browse our website using the links to find out more about the research which is currently underway. Detailed descriptions of our facilities are available, and a full list of recent publications is also on-line. Each researcher has written a short summary of their recent research. You may contact the research worker and supervisor of any project directly to request further information. Some information, of course, may temporarily be confidential to sponsors.

If you are interested in engaging in collaborative research, or joining the group as a student or visitor, you may wish to contact a member of staff whose interests are similar to your own.


Professor Gopal Santana Phani Madabhushi

Head of Geotechnical and Environmental Group