There are many cases around the world where catastrophic failure and collapse at underground mine sites has resulted in huge loss of life and property.
Dr Giang Nguyen, from the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, is seeking to better predict this type of collapse by understanding the way materials behave under various environmental and load conditions.
Funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship, Giang is developing a modelling framework to better scale material properties from laboratory samples to field structures.
“It’s very hard to predict the effect of a natural disaster or failure in infrastructure,” Giang says. “All we can do as engineers to ensure optimal stability is to do laboratory tests on small specimens taken from the site and use this analysis to project what might happen on a larger scale.
“But there are obviously different behaviours between small specimens of 10cm3 than for large structures of 100m3 or more.”
Giang’s new methodology aims to properly link failures at the micro-scale, specimen scale and large (field) scale in order to develop inexpensive numerical tools. Engineers could then use these practical formulas when building large structures, such as dams, rock slopes, embankments and mines, to ensure cost-effective designs and greater confidence in safety.
Giang has been conducting research in this area for over 14 years, since he completed his PhD in Oxford. He joined the University of Adelaide in July 2013, after spending six years at the University of Sydney.
“The School of Civil Environmental and Mining Engineering is an excellent environment for multi-disciplinary research. I have been given strong support and had opportunities to interact and collaborate with academics across several disciplines, such as Geotechnical & Structural Engineering, Mining Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.
“This is stimulating and also helped me win the prestigious Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council.”