Geotechnical Engineering

What is Geotechnical Engineering?

Geotechnical Engineering is required in civil, environmental and ocean engineering. Geotechnical engineers build with, in, and on soils and must use materials efficiently and economically, making them one of the leaders in sustainable construction. Most of their work is below the ground and therefore requires unique testing to validate the designs (such as using solid rocket fuel to perform dynamic testing of piles). Earth dams are built with soils, buildings over a hundred stories tall are supported by footings—some over 200 feet deep—in soils, and millions of miles of highways are built on soils. The world's transportation network requires thousands of bridges and walls to connect the pavements that safely move people and goods.

Massive forces from the bridges and buildings, many in excess of 1 million pounds, are supported by deep foundations such as pilings (drilled shafts filled with concrete and caissons). Geotechnical engineers not only design these footings, but due to the complex nature of installing them, they are often out of the office observing and evaluating the construction. Off-shore oil platforms placed in water thousands of feet deep are supported on massive piles after this soil is sampled and tested. Components of waste treatment systems are constructed in the soils, while stormwater systems include geotechnical structures to properly move the water.

Geotechnical engineers also work in the geo-environmental area helping clean up hazardous waste across the globe. They design and build the earth dams to manage water for recreational and power uses, they design and build walls to stabilize slopes, and they design and build foundations that transmit the load from the overlying structure into the ground. Geotechnical engineers also design and construct pavement systems to carry the traffic in our nation’s infrastructure.

Our Approach to Geotechnical Engineering

Our geotechnical faculty are professional engineers with real-world experience. They have also conducted research in practical hands-on areas to help them be extremely effective mentors both in and out of the classroom. Their classrooms are interactive experiences that mix testing, evaluation, analysis, and design to help our students visualize their responsibilities in the workplace. Students understand that they will be working with consulting companies who will allow them to gain valuable design and construction experience and therefore will allow them to split time between the office, where design and planning occur, and the field, where construction and testing occur.

The laboratory experience, with modern digitally-instrumented equipment, allows the students to observe their test results as they record the data. This approach allows students to better comprehend the theories and procedures associated with the tests. A variety of coursework is available: several courses expose undergraduates to the fundamentals of geotechnical engineering, and graduate courses allow them to handle problems that are more complex once they are practicing engineers. Our faculty are often able to help students obtain employment within the geotechnical field due to their real-world and hands-on research experiences.

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