Commitment to the education and the encouragement of young engineers is enshrined in the BGS statutes, which state that the society's first object is 'the advancement of public education in the subject of soil and rock mechanics and engineering geology and in their application to engineering'.
First instituted in 1970, the annual Cooling Prize is one of the most important events on the BGS calendar. It is awarded for a short paper on work by a member or student member of the BGS or ICE, under 27 years of age, on any topic in the field of geotechnics.
There are two stages to the competition. A panel of judges selects the best three or four papers submitted. A second panel judges the finalists as they present their papers to a public audience and take questions on their findings.
The competition owes its origins to funds accrued from sales of the proceedings of the 1957 ICSMFE in London. During the late 1950s there was talk of instituting a BGS junior prize. This was keenly advocated by my father, Dr LF Cooling (BGS chairman 1955 - 59), but at that time it was agreed the funding of the Rankine Lecture (established in 1961) should take priority.
Sales of the proceedings continued to make a healthy profit, and in 1969 the topic of the most appropriate use of these funds was again raised. It was proposed that the award of a prestigious Gold Medal to an eminent member of the society should be endowed.
Legend has it that the then 'youth' representative on the committee blew a highly audible raspberry at this suggestion and, as is the custom of shrewd chairmen when a dissenting voice is raised, he was charged with finding an acceptable alternative.
Since the 'youth' in question was John Burland, he did, and the happy outcome was the decision to sponsor a BGS junior prize.
It was unanimously agreed that it should be named after Dr Cooling, who is widely regarded as the father of British soil mechanics for his pioneering research in field and laboratory testing during the 1930s, and remembered for his enthusiastic support and encouragement of young engineers.
Dr Cooling was the first UK Rankine Lecturer and served for more than 20 years on the Geotechnique Advisory Panel. Geotechnics in this country owes him much for the reputation which it now enjoys both here and overseas. By those who knew him, however, he is best remembered for his unstuffy and friendly personality and for his unselfish and unstinting help and advice to those embarking on a career in geotechnics.
Over the years the Cooling Prize has developed certain traditions. It is unusual in that it is peripatetic and has been held at least 15 different venues, from Glasgow to Southampton and from Cardiff to Cambridge.
The second panel, which judges the final, usually comprises an academic, a representative of the local association or regional Geotechnical Society where the meeting is being held, and the previous year's Cooling Prize winner.
Over the lifetime of the competition the prizes awarded have become more lavish. Originally first prize was £50, with book prizes for each of the finalists. Now the winner receives a cut-glass decanter and cheque and is nominated to attend the Young Geotechnical Engineers' Conference with expenses paid by the BGS.
In addition Ground Engineering presents the winner with a cash prize (currently £200) and publishes the winning paper. As well as a book prize, all the runners-up are automatically shortlisted for selection as the second BGS representative to attend YGEC.
These are the tangible rewards of the Cooling Prize, but the intangible ones remain unchanged. These include the experience gained in the presentation of technical material, not least the exposure to (some would say ordeal of) public discussion of one's work, encouraging the ability to respond rapidly and comprehensively to questioning of one's results.
It also provides an occasion on which young engineers can meet senior members of their profession, demonstrate their abilities, discuss their work and make it known to a wider audience, particularly through its publication in Ground Engineering.
Just how far all this benefits the long term career of the finalists is less easy to assess, although the 'field test' has now been running for nearly 30 years.
Interestingly, a higher proportion of professors, partners in consulting firms, heads of departments - even chairmen of the BGS - have been drawn from the ranks of Cooling finalists than from those who actually won the prize.