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ICE Award for School of Engineering Academic

Qing NiThe School of Engineering is delighted to announce that Dr Qing Ni has been awarded the ICE (Institute of Civil Engineers) Telford Premium Award for the paper “Physical modelling of pile penetration in clay using transparent soil and particle image velocimetry”. This award was instituted following a bequest made by Thomas Telford, the Institution’s first President (1820-1834).


The biggest source of uncertainties and risks for the construction of civil engineering projects lies in the ground. It is observed that among projects that were delayed, nearly half of the cases were due to unforeseen ground problems and not much improvement has been made during the past three decades (Tyrell et al., 1983; NEDO, 1988; Chapman & Marcetteau, 2004). As a result, projects are often built at costs over the initial budget and it is estimated that across the European Union, about 50 billion euro is spent each year due to such problems (Chapman, 2008).


Though it is of critical importance to obtain accurate and representative ground information, the task itself is very challenging for several reasons. Soil, being a mixture of solid particles and pore water, is largely impenetrable, which means there is no means of seeing into the soil. As a result, many geotechnical engineering processes were almost performed blindfolded, without reliable feedback to assess either the quality of the work itself, or its impact to the surrounding soil.


However, geotechnical research has been advancing rapidly and researchers are now equipped with a new series of experimental techniques to assess this old problem. The development of transparent soil (Iskander et al., 2002; Liu et al., 2003) made it possible to observe displacement inside the soil body. The application of Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV, White et al., 2003) enables the accurate measurement of whole field soil movement.


The significance of the award winning paper by Ni, Hird & Guymer lies in the fact that an innovative physical modelling system combing these two was successively established. It was first used to obtain strain fields inside the soil during the installation of straight piles. The process was recorded using digital photography, from which the soil movement was measured very accurately using PIV. Incremental and accumulated strain paths were derived from the displacement data. The obtained data provided valuable insights into the process and offer practical guidance on the field installation process and the interpretation of laboratory tests. What is more important is by using this system, the whole field movement inside the soil body can be measured very accurately, thus opening up a wide range of new experimental possibilities. With the recent successful application to EPSRC first grant scheme, Ni is continuing research in this field.