Overview of Concentration
Geotechnical Engineering is a branch of civil engineering that deals with the behavior of soils, and the design and analysis of natural and man-made soil structures. The forces exerted by the buildings and structures are transmitted to the ground through shallow and deep foundations designed by geotechnical engineers. Many constructions are conducted on less ideal ground conditions that may need to be improved. Construction of infrastructures and residential buildings may encounter unstable slopes and retaining walls are often used to stabilize them. In some cases, modern reinforced soil technologies are used. Geotechnical engineers are nowadays mandated to design foundations and soil structures that ensure stability and satisfactory performance under the impact of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
The late Professor Donald M. Burmister established one of the earliest soil mechanics programs in the nation in 1933 with his studies on the fundamental soil behavior and soil classification system that is still in use. Today, the geotechnical laboratory is named under him and was designated as a Geotechnical Heritage Laboratory by the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in 2012. Columbia University is also the birth place for the world’s first geotechnical centrifuge where the late Professor Philip B. Bucky used it extensively for studying mining problems in early 1930’s. The modern 200-g centrifuge in our department was a donation from Kajima Corporation, Japan. Several state-of-the-art soil testing equipments are housed in Burmister’s Laboratory.
We also have a long history of developments in theoretical soil mechanics. Just to name a few seminal contributions that have greatly impacted the current state of practice: three-dimensional consolidation theory by the late Professor Maurice A. Biot, layered theory by the late Professor Donald M. Burmister, and Cap model by Professor Emeritus Frank L. DiMaggio.
Master’s students majoring in geotechnical engineering are required to take up to a total of 10 courses (30 credits). Usually, students may include a few courses from Structures/Mechanics and/or Construction Engineering. For students who plan to pursue a Ph.D. after the Master’s Program, Applied Mechanics courses are strongly recommended.
A list of recommended courses are as follows:
Geotechnical Courses (*: courses may be offered in alternate years)
CIEN E4241x Geotechnical Engineering Fundamentals
CIEN E4242y Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering*
CIEN E4243x Foundation Engineering
CIEN E4244y Geosynthetics and Waste Containment*
CIEN E4245x Tunnel Design and Construction
CIEN E4246y Earth Retaining Structures
CIEN E4247x Design of Large-Scale Foundation System
CIEN E4253x Finite Elements and Plasticity in Geotechnical Engineering*
CIEN E6246y Advanced Soil Mechanics*
CIEN E6248y Experimental Soil Mechanics*
CIEN E4111x Uncertainties and Risk in Infrastructure Systems
ENME E4113x Advanced Mechanics of Solids
ENME E4202y Advanced Mechanics
ENME E4215x Theory of Vibrations
ENME E4332x Finite Element Analysis I
ENME E6333y Finite Element Analysis II
ENME E6320x Computational Poromechanics
ENME E8320y Viscoelasticity and Plasticity
Construction Management Course
CIEN E4130x Design of Construction Systems
In addition to taking classes, students have opportunities to attend Departmental Seminars and ASCE Met Section Geotechnical Seminars. Professional organizations, such as the Deep Foundations Institute, invite a limited number of geotechnical students to the annual Gala Dinner where they will have opportunities to interact with practicing engineers.