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In Skempton's footsteps


The life and work of Professor Sir Alec Skempton, who died in 2001 is commemorated at a conference in London this month.Here Richard Jardine introduces the event, while session rapporteurs give a flavour of what will be on offer.

The Skempton Conference, to be held at the Royal Geographical Society in London from 29-31 March, arose from a strong feeling in the international geotechnical community that Professor Sir Alec Skempton's life and work should be commemorated in a special way.

After his death in 2001 (GE September 01), first thoughts revolved around Imperial College, with plans to rename the Civil Engineering Department building after 'Skem' and to set up an archive of his and Professor Alan Bishop's papers. A wonderful commemorative musical evening was held at the ICE.

But messages from around the world made it clear that a far wider group wanted to contribute to a substantial memorial event.

Imperial College, the BGA, the Geological Society and ICE met in autumn 2001 and agreed to cosponsor the conference being held this month.

The aim is to review and discuss the most recent advances in geotechnics, concentrating on the topics that most interested Skem.

The geotechnical community's response has been tremendous.

All who were invited to contribute and help agreed immediately and, despite tough reviewing, almost 100 papers are being published in the conference's two volumes and CD-rom.

The five main sessions cover geology, soil behaviour, slopes and embankments, foundations and ground performance, with this year's Rankine Lecture by Professor Nicholas Ambraseys providing the grande finale.

The general format for each session involves a keynote lecture given by a team of experts from around the world; a rapporteur's summary of the key issues raised in the session; a selection of papers submitted to the conference; and discussion.

Additional special papers are being given by Dr Suzanne Lacasse of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, Professors Ambraseys and John Hutchinson, both of Imperial College, Norbert Morgenstern of the University of Alberta and Ralph Peck from the USA.

These distinguished colleagues will reflect briefly on Skem's contributions, while others will make short contributions on Skem's work in history and the archiving of his and Bishop's papers.

Those who read Skem's biography, A particle of clay, written by his daughter Judith Niechial, will know about his charismatic personality and extraordinary life.

Judith will be speaking to the conference and coordinating the live music for the conference reception, which will be followed by a banquet at the Millennium Gloucester hotel.

The conference will include much that is fascinating and new.

The intention is to celebrate Skem and his contribution by surveying the enormous advances that have taken place since his pioneering years in soil mechanics.

The organising committee is keen to open up access to the conference. ICE is offering substantially reduced rates to both students and retired engineers.

Contact Sue.Frye@ice. org. uk for further details or visit www. skemptonconference. com

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