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Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group



Giovanna Biscontin earned her bachelor’s degree in geotechnical engineering from the University of Padova (Italy) in 1997 and both her MS (1998) and PhD (2002) in geotechnical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley (USA). She was an academic at Texas A&M University from 2002 until joining the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University in September 2013. 

Dr. Biscontin’s work focuses on characterizing and modeling the response of soils, especially when subjected to cyclic loading, such as earthquakes. Her interests are also related to offshore deposits and soft marine clays in particular. She was awarded the CAREER Award from the US National Science Foundation in 2004 on “Characterizing and Modeling of Marine Clays for Submarine Slope Stability”.  Her experimental research has been related primarily to simple shear testing and especially the effects of anisotropy and multi-directional loading. These results lead to constitutive and numerical modeling of soil response for the study of the seismic triggering of submarine landslides to evaluate the effect of gentle slopes on the response to shaking. Giovanna was the principal investigator on the project “In Situ Determination of Soil Modulus and Damping as a Function of Level of Strain”, sponsored by NSF and in collaboration with Drs. Roesset (TAMU) and Stokoe (The University of Texas at Austin). This work included numerical modeling of field experiments to evaluate shear modulus nonlinearity directly from field measurements. Her work also includes constitutive modeling of the compressive response of Venice Lagoon soils, seafloor-riser interaction, correlations between strength and geophysical properties, design of mechanically stabilized earth walls, as well as probabilistic methods applied to geotechnical engineering. More recently, Dr. Biscontin has extended her research into discrete element modeling as a way to gain insight on granular material response to multi-directional cyclic loading. She is currently heading a project on design of foundations for offshore wind towers, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Biscontin is also a dedicated instructor. She has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards, including the American Society of Civil Engineering 2006 ExCEEd New Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award.



Key publications: 

Find publications here.

Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 

Studentship on Performance of polymer support fluids for piling and diaphragm walls 

A fully-funded 4 year PhD studentship funded through a CASE award sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Arup is available in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Dr Giovanna Biscontin. The studentship has a start date of October 2018. Due to funding restrictions the studentship/project is only available to UK (full fees and maintenance) or EU citizens (fees only). We are unable to consider applications from any non-EU citizen for this studentship.

Polymer support fluids are emerging in the industry for piling work, but have yet to be used for diaphragm walls in the UK, though they are reported to be widely used in the USA. Pile tests with properly managed polymer fluids have shown that they can result in better shaft friction than bentonite slurries. Furthermore, polymer fluids have a simpler site footprint than their bentonite slurry counterparts, especially as complex and costly soil-slurry separation plants are not required for polymer fluids. Current guidelines provide limited recommendations on polymer fluid use due to a lack of test data and understanding.

The proposed PhD will focus on developing a fuller understanding of the behaviour of polymer fluids and optimise site practice, including maintenance of slurry properties while in use and site control procedures. The work will involve laboratory testing and numerical simulations to investigate behaviour and performance. Field work would also be undertaken to sample and test polymer fluids during foundation construction to develop a database of test results for determining specification limits.

The research is conducted in partnership with Arup.  

Dr Biscontin became Program Director at the National Science Foundation
Dr Giovanna  Biscontin

Contact Details

Schofield Centre
High Cross
Madingley Road
+44 (0)1223 768044
Takes PhD students


Person keywords: 
Theoretical Analysis, Centrifuge Modeling, Numerical Modeling