The ASU professor’s expertise in soil mechanics has had a major impact on infrastructure engineering

December 14, 2016

Professor Sandra Houston’s professional peers honor her professional achievements with one of the most prestigious awards for her significant contributions to her branch of engineering.

The American Society of Civil Engineers awards Houston its 2017 Karl Terzaghi Prize, which recognizes research publications that have had a significant impact in the fields of soil mechanics, subsurface engineering, and earthworks, and construction of the basement and earthworks.

Professor Sandra Houston will receive her second major award from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
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Terzaghi was a research pioneer that helped lay the foundation for the emergence of geotechnical engineering.

Colleagues who nominated Houston for the award say his work has been instrumental in advancing knowledge in his geotechnical specialty, the mechanics of unsaturated soils.

His soil analysis methods for building structural foundations in expansive, pliable floors have become widely used by engineers around the world, says Edward Kavazanjian, a professor at Arizona State University.

Houston joins Kavazanjian as the winner of the Terzaghi Prize. He won the award in 2011. Both are faculty members in civil engineering at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment of Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. Kavazanjian is Ira A. Fulton Professor of Geotechnical Engineering.

Solve soil behavior problems

Unsaturated soils are one of the most suitable subterranean layers to build on, but various factors that can affect the conditions of these soils can present formidable engineering and construction challenges, Houston explained.

“Anytime you worry about what adding or subtracting water will do to soil stability, this is when you need unsaturated soil mechanics expertise,” she declared. “If you add or remove water from soils, you need to know how it will affect the properties and behavior of those soils which you primarily use as an engineering and construction material.”

Dealing with the uncertainties of soil behavior and the forces that affect it “is truly one of the most common issues we face,” she added.

His colleagues point to the long list of published research papers and presentations at Houston conferences during his 30-plus years of engineering at ASU to provide reliable advice on how to solve such problems.

“Anyone who works in this field will know [Houston’s] papers and their importance, ”wrote Professor Gerald A. Miller in his letter nominating her for the ASCE Award.

Miller is associate director of the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science at the University of Oklahoma, where Houston received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in her home state.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of New Mexico while working for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, before earning a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.

Long-time leader in the geotechnical field

His work “has not only advanced fundamental understanding of the problems, but has also improved practical solutions to reduce infrastructure degradation and damage on expansive and collapsed soils,” noted Professor Anand J. Puppala, Associate Dean of College of Engineering, University of Texas, Arlington. .

Houston’s research over the years has attracted support or led to collaborative projects involving the National Science Foundation, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association and Research Foundation, the Department of Water Resources ‘Arizona and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Her nominees for the Terzaghi Prize also recognize Houston’s service to her profession, particularly her work on the committees of ASCE’s Geo-Institute, of which she served as chair for a term.

Houston is a past president of the Arizona section of the ASCE Geotechnical Engineering Group, which has since become the Arizona section of the Geo-Institute.

She received the ASCE William H. Wisely Award in 2004 for her service to ASCE and to the civil engineering profession. ASCE has approximately 150,000 members worldwide.

Houston is also the United States representative on the Technical Committee on Unsaturated Soils of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, of which she served as Secretary for 12 years.

“She has become, to a large extent, the mouthpiece for the United States in the field of unsaturated soil mechanics,” wrote Delwyn Fredlund, professor emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and renowned expert. world in unsaturated soil mechanics. .

Dedication to engineering education

Houston will receive the Terzaghi Award in March at the ASCE Geotechnical Frontiers conference in Orlando, Florida.

Some of her award nominees also praised her many years of mentoring students and young researchers in her field, as well as her work to promote diversity and inclusion in the profession.

Of all the accolades for her work, Houston says she was especially honored to have this recognized mentoring role when receiving the Daniel Jankowski Legacy Award from Fulton Schools in 2015.

In addition to research achievements, the award recognizes contributions to scholarship, teaching, service and leadership in support of the educational mission of the Fulton Schools.

Her leadership roles included approximately 10 years as chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering program.

“I was delighted to share the Jankowski Award with all of the past recipients, who like Professor Jankowski have been so dedicated to the quality of engineering education at ASU,” she said.


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