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Academia urged to reach out to industry more

Cambridge University professor of civil engineering and director of research and Institution of Civil Engineers president Lord Robert Mair has called for university researchers to work more closely with industry.

Speaking yesterday at the 9th International Conference on Physical Modelling in Geotechnics in London, Mair said that academia must reach out to industry.

“Don’t just sit there and wait for industry to find you,” he said.

Mair then went on to use a number of case studies to demonstrate how effective partnership between academia and industry can be in solving problems together, particularly through using physical modelling.

One example given was of a waste water tunnel in Hull which collapsed 200m behind the tunnel boring machine close to the location of a shaft and when 80% of the tunnel was complete. Initial investigations failed to determine the cause but physical modelling of the tunnel using the centrifuge at Cambridge University helped those involved to visualise the problem.

The analysis revealed that the there was differential movement due to sand flow causing the tunnel to move upwards but the shaft prevented this movement, which caused a tension failure.

“Visualisation of the issue was very important,” said Mair. “The physical modelling made a huge difference to understanding.”

Mair also pointed to the use of physical modelling to add confidence to the cutting of piles by Crossrail tunnels in East London. “The finite element modelling in 3D did not give complete confidence by the physical modelling showed that the settlement at surface to be the same as without the piles,” said Mair. “Physical can provide calibration of the finite element model.”

Mair concluded that physical modelling has real value for industry but industry needs support from academia in order to realise this benefit.


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