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The Cooling Prize Competition: The first 50 years

Last night saw Harry Postill awarded with Cooling Prize on the 50th anniversary of the event but why was the event created? Christine Cooling explains the origins of the award that honour her father.

leonard cooling dr leonard cooling (photograph courtesy of christine cooling)

leonard cooling dr leonard cooling

Source: Christine Cooling

Cooling chaired the panel of judges until his death in 1977

In the late 1960s, when the British Geotechnical Society’s (BGS) committee was discussing the most appropriate way to spend money which had accrued from the sale of conference proceedings, the suggestion of a gold medal was greeted – legend has it – by a resounding raspberry from the youth representative. He was, therefore, deputed to prepare his alternative proposal and, of course, the youth representative being John Burland, his persuasive advocacy ensured the unanimous agreement of the committee to delay investment in a medal and endorse the proposal of a prize for a young engineer following a competition.

The meeting also agreed unanimously that the new prize should be named for Leonard Cooling in recognition of his well-known encouragement and help to younger members of the profession.

The first competition was held at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in 1970 and during the first six years Cooling chaired the panel of judges. IT was an occasion in which he took enormous pleasure until his early death in 1977.

From then on, the competition final became peripatetic visiting universities and local associations throughout the country, only returning to the ICE on the occasion of its 25th anniversary in 1995.

In 1986 Barry Boden (who was at that time my boss in geotechnics at the Building Research Station), became chairman of the BGS. Possibly because he was conscious of his unfamiliarity with the early history of soil mechanics in this country and the traditional routine of the Cooling Prize Competition, “invited” me to attend the next competition. He asked me to give a short talk of the competition’s origins, speak on the early days of soil mechanics and present the prizes at the next event to be held at Bath University. Pleased and flattered, I jumped at the chance and the BGS – now the British Geotechnical Association (BGA) – has been kind enough to put up with me ever since.

In those days the competitors had to be under 27 years of age and the emphasis was on encouragement and the development of skill in the presentation of technical data. The winners usually chose to spend their prize money on text books. Now the prizes have become more lavish and the age limit has been raised to 33 to include more mature professionals.

Over the years as technology has developed, the visual aids used by the candidates have become more polished and professional. In earlier times the overhead projectors often proudly displayed a graph paper drawn by the candidate’s wife by hand and projected by her. However, the important things don’t change – the enthusiasm of the finalists for their work, the genuine interest and support of senior members of the profession and, most of all, the contacts and friendships formed during and after the event.

I have to apologise that, sadly, over the years my memory of individual meetings and incidents has become hazy, but I am able to retrieve a few highlights. For example, the problem we had getting one candidate’s long instrumented experimental probe through customs en route to Belfast too soon after the Troubles. Our Belfast hosts later took us on a civil engineering tour of the rebuilding work in their city – an innovation which sadly no other event has subsequently copied.

It was not until 1988, in Newcastle, that Victoria Hope became the first woman to win the Cooling Prize although women had submitted papers and become finalists since the 1970s. To date there have been eight further women winners.

Candidates journey from all over the UK to attend the event and despite a variety of hazards including strikes, landslips and electrical faults on the railways and adverse weather conditions, such as last year’s “Beast from the East” which complicated our journeys to Manchester. Despite all this not one finalist has failed to make it. Engineers are a resourceful lot.

The memories which do remain very clear to me are the high standards of the work and presentations submitted and the dedication of our hosts and the various panels of judges.

On a personal note I would like to thank the BGA for its generosity in enabling me to maintain the close family link with this competition which meant so much to my father.

The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Cooling Prize in 2019, and the fact that I am now 85 years old seems an appropriate time for me to retire, albeit regretfully; I feel very privileged and grateful to have been associated with the competition for so many years.

Past Cooling Prize Papers published by GE, can be found here.

 

List of winners of the Cooling Prize

2019

Harry Postill, Loughborough University

2018

Joe Newhouse, Mott MacDonald

2017

Francesc Mirada, Arup

2016

Helen Dunne, University of Oxford

2015

William Beuckelaers, University of Oxford

2014

Katherine Jones, Dunelm Geotechnical & Environmental

2013

Frederick Levy, National Grid / University of Southampton

2012

Jonathan Dewsbury, Buro Happold

2011

Gabrielle Wojtowitz, University of Southampton

2010

Kevin Briggs, University of Southampton

2009

Alice Berry, Arup

2008

Esteban Litvdis, Atkins

2007

Mei Cheong, Mott MacDonald

2006

Dave Edwards, Imperial College London

2005

Keith Emmett, Sheffield University

2004

Dimitrios Selematas, Cambridge University

2003

Alistair Hitchcock, University of Southampton

2002

Felix Schroeder, Imperial College London

2001

Fleur Loveridge, Babtie Group

2000

Andreas Frangoulides, Cambridge University

1999

Antoine Andrei, Kvaerner Cementation Foundations

1998

Archie Mundegar, Ove Arup and Partners

1997

Judith Harvey, Cambridge University

1996

Edward Ellis, Cambridge University

1995

Fiona Chow, Imperial College London

1994

Trevor Addenbrooke, Imperial College London

1993

Paul Gildea, Mott MacDonald

1992

Darren Russell, Mott MacDonald

1991

No Cooling Prize was held

1990

Carl Erbrich, Earl & Wright

1989

Sarah Stallebrass, City University

1988

Vicki Hope, University of Surrey and Wimpey Laboratories

1987

Neil Dixon, Kingston Polytechnic

1986

Tom Henderson, University of Oxford

1985

Nicholas Mettyear

1984

William Hewlett

1983

Roger Finn

1982

Richard Harris, Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick

1981

Matthew Symes

1980

Paul Martins, Imperial College London

1979

Ken Been, University of Oxford

1978

Derek Morris, Cambridge University

1977

Clive Williams, University of Plymouth

1976

Nigel John, University of Portsmouth

1975

Mark Randolph, Building Research Establishment/Cambridge University

1974

Duncan Nicholson, George Wimpey & Co

1973

Nicholas Withers

1972

Eddie Bromhead, Imperial College London/Ove Arup & Partners

1971

John Endicott, University of Cambridge

1970

Howard Roscoe, Rendel Palmer & Tritton

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