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The 16th International Conference for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering takes place this month in Osaka, Japan.

The quadrennial conferences are the most important events in the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering's calendar, from both a learned society and social point of view.

This preview includes an introduction by ISSMGE president Professor William Van Impe as well as summaries from all five plenary session theme lecturers, who will present a review of their subject drawing on papers published in the proceedings.

Technical sessions will explore developments in more detail, and for the first time practitioner/ academic forums will allow in-depth discussion of issues affecting geo-engineers around the world.

This special preview aims to give a flavour of the event and to provide a useful guide to delegates.

It includes a conference programme and profiles of companies taking part in the supporting technical exhibition.

The theme of the ISSMGE XVI International Conference is Geotechnology in harmony with the global environment.

A new initiative for the international conferences will be introduced in Osaka. The practitioner/ academic forum's purpose is to help strengthen communication and exchange between academia and practice by providing a discussion platform for specific issues.

One of the issues is the application of research to practice. Academics will give an example of research work that is felt to have the potential for practical application but has not been extensively used.

Practitioners will give an example of a practical problem where it is felt more research is needed.

The 3rd International young geotechnical engineers conference will also be held in Osaka, and it will be the fi rst time these two events have run concurrently.

We hope, and expect, this will be an enriching experience for both events: each caters for the interests and concerns of its target group but the scheduled cross-over activities can only help to create a more stimulating environment for all attendees.

The most important new development within ISSMGE, put as a discussion topic to our member societies in Osaka, will be the outgoing board's proposal to create a new powerful body representing geotechnical engineers all over the world.

The Federation of International Geo-engineering Societies (FIGS) should supplement the common 'learned society' perception of ISSMGE, the International Society for Rock Mechanics and the International Association for Engineering Geology and the Environment (as founding partner societies), by engaging more closely with industry and public bodies and promoting within such bodies, the activities of all the partner societies and the geoengineering profession in general.

The primary functions of such a federation would be:

to promote awareness of the importance of geo-engineering among professionals in associated areas, clients, decision makers and politicians, and to enhance its public image

to develop guidelines/codes for professional practice and to agree on policy statements in geo-engineering

to set up joint technical commissions with activities and interests common to the constituent associations

to coordinate participation of technical commissions in conferences and symposia of the constituent associations

to stimulate the interaction among geo-professionals within various facets of geo-engineering

to provide a common technical resource database via a new and well designed website

to promote stronger interaction with industry and policy-making organisations.

Within the proposed structure of FIGS, a liaison committee will be created, advising, when requested, the federation board, and comprising chief executive offi cers of major geo-engineering companies, as well as representatives of interested international geo-engineering related groups, representatives of public opinion groups and international organisations.

Professor William Van Impe, president of ISSMGE

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