Geotechnical Engineering Highlights

The Geotechnical Engineering Program can report another successful year in its research, teaching, and service missions, despite the unique challenges from COVID-19. On the research side, faculty activity is illustrated by multiple active grants, with funding from several institutions including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), among others. Some specific examples include:

-Sherif Abdelaziz leads a national effort to strengthen earth structures against natural hazards and climate change using eco-friendly biopolymers as part of a project funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

-Alba Yerro Colom is working on a project funded by NSF in collaboration with Russell Green and Eileen Martin for the exploration of an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the liquefaction hazard of challenging soil sites. She is also leading the Anura3D MPM Research Community for the development of open-source software for the modeling of large deformations and soil-water-structure interaction problems.

-Russell Green and Adrian Rodriguez-Marek are working on a USGS-sponsored project to develop a liquefaction triggering evaluation procedure for subduction zone earthquakes, and Russell Green and Jim Mitchell are working on a similar project to develop a liquefaction triggering evaluation procedure for induced seismicity.

-Adrian Rodriguez-Marek received funding from the Geological Survey of Israel to collaborate on the development of updated seismic hazard maps for the country. He is also leading a project funded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission tasked with establishing criteria for the conduct of site response analyses for commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S.

-Tom Brandon; along with alums Dan VandenBerge, Bernardo Castellanos, Rick Valentine, and John Rice; are putting the finishing touches on the NAVFAC manual 7.01 (Soil Mechanics). This is the first time that this legacy document has been overhauled in the past 35 years, and it has been a three-year effort. Work will be starting on the next NAVFAC manual in succession (7.02 – Foundations and Earth Structures) which is also expected to be a multi-year effort.

-Nina Stark has been awarded a new grant to investigate the impacts of coastal erosion on infrastructure in Arctic coastal communities within the NSF Navigating the Arctic framework. She also participated with a team of seven Virginia Tech CEE students in the multi-agency and multi-investigator During Nearshore Event Experiment (Dunex) pilot.

-Joe Dove continued to be heavily involved in a myriad of undergraduate teaching activities and serves the department as the Director of Curriculum and Assessment. His research over this past year included studies to improve the engineering properties of soils and the future of big data in geotechnical engineering. He also continues to serve as the Chair of the Curriculum Committee.

Contributions of the Geotechnical Faculty have been acknowledged through awards, various keynote lectures, and invited lectures. Amongst others, Alba Yerro Colom was invited as keynote lecturer for the European Conference on Unsaturated Soils; Nina Stark was invited as keynote lecturer for the CONCREEP 11+ conference; Tom Brandon received the ASCE Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award. Among the students, Luis Zambrano-Cruzatty, a Ph.D. student working with Alba Yerro Colom, received the ASCE Trent R. Dames and William W. Moore fellowship.

Our graduate students again enhanced their professional development by attending the annual GeoCongress in Minneapolis. The Duncan Endowment for Graduate Student Travel provides financial support to help make this possible. More information about the endowment and ways to contribute can be found at Please send your email address to Rachel Atwell ( if you would like to be added to our alumni listserv to receive invitations to future events and for other program information.

VT’s Center for Geotechnical Practice and Research (CGPR) continues to have profound impacts on professional practice and on our program. The CGPR is our industry affiliate organization, which includes engineering consulting firms, construction companies, and government agencies. This year the CGPR annual meeting was held virtually due to COVID-19.