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Cooling collection

Where are they now? What happens to the bright young things after they've won the Cooling Prize Competition? We tracked down some of the recipients to find out what they have done since, and ask how the competition influenced their careers.

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.

Howard Roscoe, 1970, aged 22

Now: Senior engineer, Kvaerner Cementation Foundations.

Qualifications: MSc, DIC, MICE.

Winning paper: Site investigation and embankment design using the Delft continuous sampler.

Then: Geotechnical engineer with Rendel Palmer & Tritton.

Afterwards: Moved to Taylor Woodrow in 1974, working in prestressed concrete construction. Came back to geotechnics with Arup in 1977 and stayed there until 1991. After that spent four years working for loss adjuster Thomas Howell, and since 1995 I have been involved with wall and pile design for Kvaerner Cementation Foundations.

Professional highs: Building a pressure vessel in Rosyth Dockyard; writing the CIRIA prop load report; but the best craic and hardest work was investigating the route of a pipeline between Cork and Dublin.

On the downside: Missing a deck pour on the A5 viaduct at Staples Corner.

Did winning have an impact on your career? Yes, the experience of presenting to a big meeting and the confidence gained have stood me in good stead ever since.

How did you spend the prize money? The first prize had to be spent on books. I bought Theoretical soil mechanics by Terzaghi and Critical state soil mechanics by Schofield & Wroth (both are still in very good condition!).

John Endicott, 1971, aged 26

Now: Chairman of Maunsell Geotechnical Services

in Hong Kong.

Qualifications: MA, PhD (Cantab), FICE, FHKIE.

Winning paper: A centrifugal model test on a trial embankment at King's Lynn.

Then: Just started with Maunsell in London, having recently completed my PhD at Cambridge.

Afterwards: Continued to practise in consulting geotechnical engineering, moving to Hong Kong in 1975. Now chairman of Maunsell Geotechnical Services with 300 staff in Hong Kong. I have been responsible for several tunnels in rock and soil, many underground structures, subway stations, deep basements and foundations, and several reclamations including Chek Lap Kok airport.

Professional highs: Winning the Cooling Prize; winning tender designs for Chui Hung, Diamond Hill Station and two tunnels for Hong Kong metro in 1975; Chek Lap Kok reclamation (260M.m3 shifted in 32 months); being in charge of Maunsell Group's international geotechnics business.

On the downside: Business development in Taiwan 1987 to 1990.

Did winning have an impact on your career? Yes, it convinced me that geotechnical engineering should be my career path.

How did you spend the prize money? On some classic textbooks, such as Terzaghi and Peck, and Terzaghi's Theoretical soil mechanics.

Anecdotes: Flying is now commonplace, but I had not flown before my trip to Glasgow for the competition. I don't think I had stayed in a hotel before either, so the whole event was something beyond my experience.

The meeting was arranged by Dr Sam Thorburn who was managing his own modest consulting practice. He struck me as being very pleasant and approachable. He was the first engineer I had met who was managing his own firm and I stood in awe of him. I can only remember John Burland as one of the judges, other than Dr Cooling, who also presented the prize.

Edward Bromhead, 1972, aged 24

Now: Professor of geotechnical engineering at Kingston University,

and an independent consultant.

Qualifications: PhD, MSc, DIC, CEng, MICE, FGS.

Winning paper: The stability of a large landslide in the coastal London Clay cliffs at Herne Bay, Kent.

Then: Studying for MSc in soil mechanics at Imperial College, with support from Ove Arup & Partners.

Afterwards: Completed my MSc at Imperial, and then on to Kingston Polytechnic. I did a part time PhD at Imperial between 1976-81, with a sabbatical from Kingston 1979-80. Became reader of geotechnical engineering in 1985, and professor in 1989. Research at Kingston includes the development of a new simple ring-shear machine (published in GE) which is the basis for the test in BS1377. My interests are in landslides, groundwater, stability analysis, and computer methods.

Professional highs: The Cooling Prize; winning a Telford Premium this year; getting each of my degrees; becoming chartered; being promoted; having papers published and getting research grants; being taught by and working with very distinguished and/or capable people; seeing former students make a success of their careers; seeing my designs put into practice; seeing the slip at Carsington Dam which vindicated my analyses.

On the downside: Too painful to recount, most of them. Getting a bad review for a paper still hurts; and Carsington again because it was a waste of so many people's effort, and could have been avoided.

Did winning have an impact on your career? It persuaded me that I could give a talk, and thus that I could be a lecturer!

How did you spend the prize money? I bought the following books: Bishop, AW & Henkel, D J, The measurement of soil properties in the triaxial test; Lambe, W & Whitman, R, Soil mechanics; Schofield, AN & Wroth, CP, Critical state soil mechanics; Scott, RF, Soil Mechanics; Tomlinson, MJ, Foundation Design & Construction. And by adding a couple of pounds of my own, I still had enough for Zienkiewicz, O C, The finite element method (second edition). These would still be an extremely good basis for any geotechnical engineer's library.

Mark F Randolph, 1975, aged 24

Now: Professor of civil engineering, Director of Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.

Qualifications: MA (Oxon), PhD (Cantab), Fellow Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE), Fellow Institution of Engineers, Australia (FIEAust).

Winning paper: Modelling of tidal flow in a gravel aquifer at Crayford Ness.

Then: Employed by the Building Research Establishment, but studying for a PhD at Cambridge. The paper refers to work undertaken at BRE.

Afterwards: Finished my PhD and stayed at Cambridge as a lecturer until 1986. I then moved to UWA in Perth and now head an active research group, comprising about 40 researchers and technical support, focusing on the mining and offshore industries. I have a particular interest in centrifuge modelling - the UWA centrifuge facility includes both a fixed beam and a drum centrifuge.

I am also a director of consultancy Advanced Geomechanics and am actively involved in organisational aspects of the profession. I am a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, vice president (elect) for the Australasian region of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, and chairman of the Western Australian chapter of the Australian Geomechanics Society.

Professional highs: Becoming a junior research fellow at St John's, Cambridge; moving to Perth; and the award of Special Research

Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems at UWA.

On the downside: getting tenure at Cambridge University (I hope people can take a joke).

Did winning have an impact on your career? Yes, in the sense of helping to establish a profile and gain recognition. In particular, in the research leading to the paper, I established contact with Bob Gibson and, indirectly, John Booker, both of whom subsequently acted as mentors at different stages of my career.

How did you spend the prize money? My memory fades, but probably towards a contribution to my wine cellar.

Duncan Nicholson, aged 24, 1974

Now: Director, Ove Arup & Partners, London.

Qualifications: Msc, DIC, CEng, MICE.

Winning paper: The estimation of soil modulus from 200mm diameter borehole plate bearing tests.

Then: Graduate engineer (from Portsmouth), indentured to George Wimpey & Co and working as a structural design engineer.

Afterwards: Moved to Wimpey Laboratories, and in 1976 did a masters in soil mechanics at Imperial College. Then joined Ove Arup as a geotechnical engineer, becoming an associate director in 1987 and a director in 1996.

Professional highs: Queensborough bypass embankments in Hong Kong and Newton Station Singapore, and the development of the observational method.

On the downside: Death of John Mitchell on site at Vintners Place in London. Inability to get any long term settlement record monitoring on raft foundations in London Clay.

Did winning have an impact on your career? As a result I transferred to Wimpey Laboratories, where I revealed how little I knew.

How did you spend the prize money? Terzaghi & Peck's book.

Derek Morris, 1978, aged 25

Now: Lecturer and director of the Center for Infrastructure Engineering at the Engineering Department at Texas A&M University in College Station (just north of Houston).

Qualifications: PhD, P Eng and member of the main UK, Canadian and US societies.

Winning paper: Back-calculation of dynamic soil modulus values with depth from surface seismic refraction studies. The comparison was actually remarkably good (I subsequently discovered that a German research student had produced an analytic result on something similar at about the same time at Karlsruhe).

Then: Research student in the soils group at Cambridge.

Afterwards: After completing my PhD, I spent a brief spell as a structural engineer before reverting to geotechnics. I have worked primarily in academia - there isn't that much point in having a PhD otherwise - first in Canada and then in the US. I did spend four years in the early 1980s working on the geotechnical aspects of the mining industry in Western Canada, which at that time was going through a tremendous boom.

Professional highs: Winning the Cooling Prize, since at the time it was certainly one of the more prestigious prizes for a young engineer (and presumably it still is). More recently I spent a year in Europe on a Fulbright Fellowship - which within reason meant doing more or less whatever I liked.

On the downside: Seeing the collapse of the mining industry in Western Canada in the mid-1980s was a fairly substantial low, as this took a lot of the smaller geotechnical and civil engineering firms with it. For me it was probably a good thing, since it prompted me back into academia.

Did winning have an impact on your career? Not really, although I still list it on my resume. Once in a blue moon I still receive some comment about the content of the paper.

How did you spend the prize money? It wasn't very much, so it just ended up in the general pot. I did go to Greece right after finishing my degree, so I suppose the prize in some small way contributed to a well-deserved holiday.

Anecdotes: Recollections of the actual competition are not especially pleasurable, as it was held in Glasgow in February on a bleak day full of mist and greyness. However, given recent articles in GE, it is topical to mention that 'c' and 'phi' are still very much ingrained in the US teaching of soil mechanics.

A colleague and fellow graduate of the Cambridge soils group told me the sad tale of when he tried to introduce some critical state soil mechanics into his undergraduate lectures. He was promptly accused of trying to be a smart-alec, and hauled over the coals by his department head, who informed him in no uncertain terms that he had been hired to teach soil mechanics by the book - which of course meant Terzaghi and Peck - and that either he was going to teach it that way, or not at all!

Nigel John, 1976, aged 23

Now: Lecturer in soil mechanics at Queen Mary & Westfield College, University of London.

Qualifications: BSc, PhD, MICE, MIHT, FGS.

Winning paper: Reinforced soil retaining walls (based on an undergraduate project at Portsmouth).

Then: Employed in municipal engineering with Southampton City Council which had sponsored my sandwich first degree at Portsmouth.

Afterwards: Gained design and site experience as a municipal engineer with Southampton council, juggled with a part-time PhD back at Portsmouth. I later moved to Queen Mary & Westfield College as lecturer in soil mechanics.

Professional highs: Lewis Angell prize for best paper in Chartered Municipal Engineering (1979). Publishing a book on geotextiles, acting as editor in chief for Geotextiles & Geomembranes journal.

On the downside: Redesigning a cycle route which had already been redesigned many times and would be by others after me due to its low priority on the construction programme.

Did winning have an impact on your career? It certainly helped persuade my employer to sponsor me on a part-time PhD.

And how did you spend the prize money? Geotechnical books.

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