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Future geotechnical engineers get competitive

March 04, 2010

Four Arizona State University civil engineering students took on competitors from across the country Feb. 23 in the 2010 National Geo-Challenge at the Geo-Institute Annual Meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. 

Undergraduate students Daniel Rosenbalm from Greenville, Tex., and AJ Kerin from Cheyenne, Wyo., and graduate students Zbigniew (David) Czupak from Franklin Park, N.J., and Mohamed Arab from Mansoura, Egypt are studying in the geotechnical engineering program in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

They made up one of the 12 teams, chosen from among 26 entrants, to compete in the Geo-Challenge.

The competition tested students’ skills in sustainable construction methods by requiring them to design and build a small-scale “mechanical stabilized Earth wall,” similar to highway border walls.

This kind of wall “employs reinforcement within the soil itself to support a vertical wall face, minimizing the use of concrete, steel, or other processed material in the construction wall,” said ASU associate professor and geotechnical engineer Edward Kavazanjian.

In addition to the quality of the teams’ wall design, the structures were judged on the weight load they could support, the amount of reinforcement used and the aesthetics of the construction.

"This was a great opportunity to design a structure and see it actually work, and to have the most famous people in the field review it and watch me build it,” Arab said.

Established by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Geo-Institute is a specialty organization representing more than 11,000 geotechnical engineers.

Geotechnical engineers study the behavior of earth materials. Through determining the physical, mechanical and chemical properties of earth materials – such as soils and rocks – they provide knowledge for assessing risks from earthquakes, landslides, soil erosion and similar hazards.

Their expertise is essential to planning for safe and sustainable construction of high-rise buildings, roads, bridges, dams, tunnels, reservoirs, landfills and hazardous-waste containment sites.

Invitation to the competition was based on ranking of the team’s wall project design report by a panel of specialists assembled by the Geo-Institute. 

ASU’s Geo-Challenge team earned a $1,000 travel scholarship to attend Geo-Institute Annual Meeting by placing in the top six among the 12 selected teams for the quality of their design report.

It’s the first time an ASU team has participated in the competition, where they faced strong teams that had competed in past Geo-Challenges, including teams from leading schools such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Florida.

The ASU team finished fifth, the highest finish among first-time National Geo-Challenge competitors. The team’s wall successfully held a design load of 50 pounds and the maximum additional load of 100 pounds without failing.

ASU geotechnical engineering students are looking forward to more competitive opportunities.

Undergraduate teams will be participating in a similar wall design and construction event at the American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter Southwest Regional Conference in Las Vegas, April 7-11.

Students also anticipate assembling another team to compete at the 2011 National Geo-Challenge competition in Dallas.

Writen by Jessica Graham