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Six days that gained the world

Report on the first International Young Geotechnical Engineers Conference, held at Southampton University, 8-13 September 2000, by Byron Byrne, Oxford University, and Beatrice Baudet, City University.

For six days in September the campus at Southampton University was abuzz with geotechnical discussion as more than 100 young professionals from around the world participated in the first International Young Geotechnical Engineers Conference.

Housed together in one of the nearby halls of residence, the young engineers from 55 different countries lived and breathed geotechnics, sharing research and field experiences. The event, organised by the British Geotechnical Association along with Southampton's Geotechnical Research Group, proved to be very successful in bridging the gap between academia and industry, as well as providing insight into critical problems faced in many different countries.

Four distinguished keynote speakers set an exciting tone for the conference, first by outlining important geotechnical contributions to technology and second by challenging delegates with several diverse but equally important problems. Dr Suzanne Lacasse of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute highlighted the advances in offshore geotechnical technology that have occurred over the past 20 years. Lacasse observed that geotechnical breakthroughs in offshore problems often enable advances in design and technology both offshore and onshore.

The importance of landfill design and hazardous waste management, illustrated by several case histories, formed the core of the presentation by Dr Kerry Rowe ofQueen's University, Kingston, Canada. He demonstrated that in applying standard geotechnical designs to complex systems such as landfills, a higher level ofcaution might be necessary to ensure an adequate design, as failure often has severe environmental implications.

Professor Robert Mair, head of the civil and environmental engineering division at Cambridge University, explored the challenges of an ever-expanding global population, fuelling the need for greater underground construction. He expanded on some of the developments in the tunnelling and pipejacking industries.

Finally, using slides and illustrations prepared when he was a young engineer, International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering President Dr Kenji Ishihara presented a very entertaining account ofthe liquefaction problems facing engineers in Japan.

The main aim ofthe conference, however, was to allow young engineers to present their thoughts on their particular area of geotechnics in 10 minutes and to interact freely on a technical basis, either making a contribution or challenging some aspect of the work. The level of the presentations was very impressive, with most delegates choosing to use computer packages. Those participants for whom English was a second language performed marvellously both in their presentations and when fielding questions.

The two authors (both BGA-sponsored delegates) gained much from the opportunity to attend the conference. One ofour striking impressions was the high and sustained level ofenthusiasm for the subject that was shown by delegates, committee and keynote speakers.

People were eager to share their experience and learn from the diversity ofothers. Insight was gained by comparing the problems being tackled by the different countries, whether in research or in industry. While developed countries seem to be concentrating on quite advanced problems, such as subtle soil constitutive behaviour, the less developed countries are still tackling problems of fundamental importance to establishing essential infrastructure, safely and economically.

Like all conferences, most of the 'conferencing'occurred outside the formality of the structured programme. One of the local pubs, The Highfield, attracted a significantly increased patronage.

Other more social events included the traditional conference dinner at the pleasant Chillworth Manor, during which Dr Dick Parry gave an entertaining after-dinner talk on his experiences as a geotechnical engineer.

There were also field trips around the Isle ofWight and Dorset. Those lucky enough to be on the Isle ofWight trip with Dr Eddie Bromhead were able to observe several landslides around the west coast.

Another group, led by Andy Harris, admired the coloured strata ofAlum Bay and the Needles on the west coast of the island. The day, bathed by the sun, was a real success. Finally, the Latin American contingent organised a game of football on the local common. A casual observer would have noticed 60 players following the ball around with little semblance ofteams or position play, but ofcourse plenty ofskill.

It was very satisfying to meet other young people working in the same areas of geotechnical engineering. There was a balanced mix of participants from industry and academia, allowing important integration of the two. Importantly, many contacts have been made which hopefully will be renewed over the years and will continue the process of keeping the worldwide geotechnical community a close-knit family. The conference lasted for just long enough so that many good friendships were struck.

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