May 21, 2019

Soil and Geotechnical Engineering

As geotechnical engineering concerns the process of construction methods including rocks, it is imperative that the study of soils is also included. So much so that the highest industry body is now called the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering.

The science of geotechnical engineering is highly complex and involves many topics, but in civil engineering it concerns itself mainly with analyzing soils that are to be used in the construction of bridges, highways, and underpasses.

The Characteristics of Soil

Soil has been around for a long period of time and it has been used for foundation purposes for thousands of years. Much of what engineers know about soil was stumbled upon by trial and error and even today our knowledge of soil is developing year by year and project by project.

As a naturally occurring substance soil has not as such been manufactured, and so engineers have to deal with what nature provides. The properties of soil vary so much from location to location it is unpredictable when it comes to using it as a material for construction. Every civil engineering project uses soil, and understanding its structure and condition is a major priority for construction engineers. Even using it for drainage purposes it is imperative that its properties are fully understood.

Harvard University

The importance of understanding soil in engineering is so important that Harvard University started a soil mechanics program back in the 1930’s. The head engineer, Arthur Casagrande was responsible for teaching about analyzing soil and how to learn to learn its properties. It is amazing to think that soil has been used as a construction material since building structures was first invented, but still so little is known about it in engineering terms. And even today when engineers employ it in construction it can be a hazardous risk.

Another highly unusual fact is that more expenditure has been spent on soil than any other type of construction material. This is because failures with soil can lead to greater loss of property and indeed life than any other type of construction catastrophe. And all this is despite the thousands of years knowledge of building with soil.

The Uses of Soil in Construction

Getting good access to soil for geotechnical engineering purposes is vital, and incorporating it into a modern building materials is one of its greatest uses. Soil can be used in the making of bricks, cement, insulation fibers, and wood boards as well as all the civil engineering projects. Since soil is absolutely everywhere almost all structures are built on it and selecting which soil to build on is an import decision for civil engineers. That is why those locations that look ideal for building on are not necessarily so.

Using a soil map is of great geotechnical assistance, and they present information such as the slope of the land, the potential for water runoff and drainage properties, and the physical and biological properties of the soil. The more information available about soil the more engineers can safeguard their construction.

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