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Underground monitoring to benefit from Royal Academy research fellowship

University of Oxford lecturer in geotechnical engineering Brian Sheil is to advance real-time underground monitoring after receiving one of seven research fellowships from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Through the four year fellowship, Sheil will develop intelligent real-time monitoring to inform underground construction processes.

The other fellowships awarded, through the UK government’s Investment in Research Talent initiative, look at other fields of engineering, and Shiel’s is the only one to focus on ground engineering.

According to the academy, research fellowships are designed to advance excellence in engineering by enabling outstanding early-career academics to concentrate on basic research in any field of engineering.

“The funding allows researchers to reduce their teaching and administrative duties, giving them time to develop a track record in their discipline,” said a spokesperson for the Royal Academy. “Research fellows also receive mentoring from an experienced academy fellow, providing valuable advice and industry links that will enable the researchers to establish themselves as future leaders in their fields.”

Research in focus

According to Sheil, the novelty of his research centres on developing advanced intelligent monitoring systems for underground construction processes.


The research will build on recent UK pilot projects on large-diameter caissons funded by Ward and Burke Construction

“Underground construction processes have developed significantly in recent years and are tightly controlled in terms of both programme and cost,” he explained. “A number of key uncertainties remain, however, with the structural interaction with the soil being one of the most important.

“Although structural strains might currently be monitored there are no systems available to directly measure soil-structure contact stresses in an integrated manner during construction.

“New contact stress transducers will be developed using optical sensing technology, alleviating the limitations of current transducers.”

Sheil has said that his work will create intelligent monitoring packages, including new fibre optic contact sensors, to provide real-time feed-back to site engineers involved in underground construction and to develop new design methods for these problems.

Development will include working with industrial partners to deploy the system on live construction sites.

“The development of frictional contact stresses is a particularly critical design concern for tunnelling and the construction of large-diameter caissons,” added Sheil. “Therefore, these processes will represent the initial focus of the research and will exploit recent UK pilot projects on large-diameter caissons funded by Ward and Burke Construction.

“These systems are already having a major impact on the efficiency and safety of the construction process.”

Sheil also said that information gained from the sensors should offer substantial scope for design optimisation at both working and ultimate loads on future projects.


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