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Conference call to arms: BGA unveils plans for the 16th European Conference of Soil Mechanics and Ground Engineering

Creating the opportunity for collaboration is the main aim of the 2015 European Conference of Soil Mechanics and Ground Engineering, according to organiser of the Edinburgh event Mike Winter

September 2015 may seem like a long way off yet to most people but for Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) head of ground engineering Mike Winter it is a date that is looming – and fast. Winter, along with Coffey principal engineer Derek Smith, are leading the delivery of the 16th European Conference of Soil Mechanics and Ground Engineering, which is due to be held in Edinburgh from 13 to 17 September 2015.

“It is a great location for the conference,” says Winter. “For a start it is a landmark city that is well set up to cope with events such as this. With 600,000 inhabitants, the city centre is compact and the conference centre is a walkable distance from the main sights and the annual fringe festival means that it caters for every budget and taste when it comes to accommodation and restaurants.”

The conference centre can cater for 1,200 delegates and Winter is confident that the event could be full to capacity thanks to the focus. “We developed a good, wide-ranging theme that is inclusive, which we felt was important for a quad-annual event like this, and addresses all the aims of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Ground Engineering (ISSMGE) to involve every part of the industry,” he says.

“And, most important of all, we have whisky!”

The main conference will start on Monday 15 September 2015 with a welcome event which Winter says will definitely include whisky tasting and he plans for haggis to feature on the menu at the conference dinner that is due to be held on Wednesday 16 September at the National Museum of Scotland.

Winter says the venue will be available to technical committees for meetings on the Sunday.

While the event is still two years away, there is already a lot of work underway.

Refining the programme

“The website is live, and we are in discussions to create a French version too,” says Winter. “We are also currently working on refining the programme and securing exhibition sponsors.

“Other issues that we are working on is how the proceedings of the event will be published and we are looking at whether to use digital or hard copies, or a mix of the two.”

The first call for abstracts was also about to be released as this issue of GE went to press and Winter says the number is not limited by country or topic. The deadline for abstracts has been set as the end of December 2013 for the submissions to be assessed and the successful papers to be written up.

“The initial vetting of abstracts will be done by the local associations around Europe and the conference advisory committee will review the submissions made by the associations,” says Winter. “We have a very well-respected panel so the calibre of papers accepted is likely to be high.”

The panel line up includes the current and next chairman of the ISSMGE, the Greek conference organiser, John Burland, and Winter himself, among others.

According to Winter, the challenge is converting these submissions to papers and the writers to delegates. “The key to the success of the delegate numbers is the turnout of the host country,” he says Winter. “The UK turnout is key to turning this from a good event to an exceptional event.

“What the UK geotechnical and ground engineering industry needs to do is to get involved by exhibiting and sending delegates and promoting the event to others outside the UK. It will really give the UK industry a chance to showcase itself to its European – and international – counterparts.”

Winter says he is planning for there to be a dedicated UK session where regional geotechnical and ground engineering groups will be invited to present papers.

“Our real call to arms is that we want this event to represent all sectors and present the broad industry in the UK, and not just academics – we all need to do our bit,” he said.

Collaboration opportunity

Winter says he has always been a strong advocate of networking to find new opportunities and believes that networking helped kick-start his career in ground engineering.

He undertook his first degree in civil engineering at Trent Polytechnic and it was there that Tony Waltham inspired him with the subject of engineering geology. “Tony sparked my interest in physical geology and highlighted an opportunity that existed at the British Geological Survey at the time,” he says. “This led me to work with Steve Horseman and Martin Culshaw on high pressure, high temperature triaxial testing on still clays. Steve and Martin really pushed me to undertake my PhD.”

Winter joined TRL 24 years ago after completing his PhD on the stiffness of reinstatement for trench repairs, which was sponsored by British Gas, at Durham University. He says his career at TRL has been hugely rewarding and he has enjoyed being involved with a broad range of topics, from road safety and the environment, through to transportation.

He says that his career has brought him into contact with a wide range of people from different career backgrounds and he hopes that by attracting a broad range of the ground engineering industry to the conference that others will also benefit from the chance to network.

“The technology we have today means that it is very easy to collaborate across web-based systems, but you just can’t beat face-to-face contact,” he says.

According to Winter, the concept to host the European conference was a “third beer” idea developed between himself and Smith in 2004. “We revitalised the idea in 2007 to bid for the 2011 conference but we were beaten by the Greek submission,” he says.

“The Greek event was very good despite the challenges it faced in terms of both the local economy and the global economic situation.”

Smith and Winter joined forces again to strengthen their Edinburgh offer and successfully secured the 2015 event in 2011 with a theme of Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development.

Collaboration opportunity

Smith, who is secretary for the event, led the Euro Geo 4 conference which has since been described as the “friendly conference” and both Winter and Smith were keen to try to replicate the atmosphere at Edinburgh. “In a collaborative environment, when people talk, things happen,” says Winter.

“These events don’t generally create a big step change, but we will see collaboration generated through chance meetings. It is a real opportunity for people to find others with common goals and who share the same knowledge areas. There are real opportunities at a personal level, as well as at an organisational level.”

While the environment that Smith and Winter are aiming to create at the conference was one part of the submission for Edinburgh, Winter believes that it was also the location that helped secure the event.

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