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OBITUARY Professor Noel Simons, 1931-2006

NOEL SIMONS, who developed the University of Surrey into one of the UK's top centres of geotechnical learning and expertise, has died aged 75 after a short illness.

Noel was born in Durban, South Africa on 1 March 1931.

His mother, Marie, was from Queensland, Australia. His father, Herbert William, a survivor of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, was from Moulton, Northamptonshire.

Noel grew up in Durban where his father was station commander at the Berea Road Police Station.

He attended Durban Preparatory School and Durban High School before studying civil engineering at Natal University and graduated in 1951, staying on for the MSc degree.

He represented his high school and university at 1st XV rugby and 1st XI cricket.

He won the Elsie Ballot Scholarship to King's College Cambridge and graduated in 1955 with an MA in engineering.

He joined the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) where Laurits Bjerrum, its legendary head, was his mentor. Here he worked on the detailed investigation of the slip at Drammen, Norway, an account of which he published in Géotechnique.

In 1960 he moved to consultant Travers Morgan in London and spent two months on site in Belfast.

After working for Soil Mechanics and the National Institute for Road Research, Pretoria and completing his doctorate at Natal, he became a lecturer at Imperial College London (1963-70) where he worked with Alan Bishop and Sir Alec Skempton.

Noel was a passionate advocate of what he called 'the first commandment of soil mechanics': the principle of effective stress (that the strength and deformability of a saturated soil are uniquely dependent on the difference between total stress and pore water pressure), particularly as dened by Bishop in a lecture to NGI in 1955 and published in 1959 (in English) in Teknisk Ukeblad, the weekly Norwegian engineering journal.

At Imperial, Noel pioneered the stress path method of soil testing and settlement analysis.

His research student, Nitam Som, had to control the stress path triaxial tests by hand, making small manual adjustments to pressures applied then by winched mercury columns. The tests on London Clay could take many days and nights of continuous attention, so Som had to camp by the apparatus which included an alarm clock. Not surprisingly, automating this process by computer would later become one of Noel's priorities.

In 1969 he became reader of civil engineering at the recently formed University of Surrey.

Formerly the Battersea College of Advanced Technology in London, the new university was at Stag Hill in Guildford, a site that had not previously been built on because it was a known ancient landslip. Noel and his colleagues and students monitored the slip and wrote several papers about its stabilisation meaures - deep drainage trenches.

At Surrey he started the popular series of summer schools and short courses for the continuing professional development of civil engineering practitioners, as well as the immensely successful parttime master's degree in geotechnical engineering.

Noel developed the geotechnical engineering group of staff and students into one of the most successful centres of geotechnical learning and expertise in the country.

Between 1975 and 1995 he became professor, head of department, dean of the faculty, and pro vicechancellor.

Noel worked around the world as a consultant on wide variety of geotechnical projects and appeared as an expert geotechnical witness in many arbitration and litigation cases in the UK, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and, more recently, in the West Indies.

From 1975 to 1977 he was chairman of the British Geotechnical Society (now the British Geo echnical Association). He was a past member of the Géotechnique ad isory panel, participated in many national and international conferences and gave many lectures in the UK, Africa, Sweden, Norway (he was uent in Norwegian), Spain and Australia.

Noel also wrote and cowrote more than 100 technical publications, including ve books, one of which was translated into French and Malaysian, one into Portuguese, and one into Turkish.

Four of the books were in the Short Course Series inspired by the huge popularity of the notes from the University of Surrey short courses. One of these books won the British Geotechnical Association Prize in 2002 - the rst book to have won since the prize was inaugurated in 1958.

In recognition of his published work the University of Natal awarded him the degree of Doctor of Science in 1980. He was also Emeritus Professor at the University of Surrey and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

After he retired from the University of Surrey in 1996, Noel concentrated on writing books with co-authors and was an active consultant (he had recently been on site in St Lucia).

He had also become a scholar of the battle fields of the Somme which he researched and visited frequently, his father having been wounded there. When he was 61 he ran in the London and Paris marathons with his son Steven.

He married Margaretha Danbolt in Oslo in 1956 and they separated in 1992. He died on August 10 at St Luke's Hospital, Guildford, following a short illness. He is survived by Margaretha, by their children, William, Steven, Rebekka and Nicholas, and by his partner of the past 14 years, Barbara Hainsworth.

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