SIU’s Geo-Wall team prepares for national competition

Members of SIU’s Geo-Wall Team show their latest entry for the national competition in late February. From left, Michael Lowry, team captain, and a senior in civil engineering; Jason Jurak, a senior in civil engineering; Pradeep Pandey, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering; Alex White, a senior in civil engineering and Nirajan Gaihre, a graduate student in civil engineering. (Photos by Russell Bailey)

In the world of civil engineering, so much depends on the ability to stabilize earthen structures. Bridge approach ramps, retaining walls and other structures all depend on the engineers’ ability to mechanically stabilize the ground at strategic points around and beneath the structure.

A team of engineering students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale will once again compete at the national level for top honors in building such structures. The American Society of the Civil Engineers annual student Geo-Institute GeoChallenge is set for Feb. 25-28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Contest tests real-world skills

Members of SIU’s Geo-Wall Team work on their entry for the national competition, held in late February in Minneapolis. The contest tests students’ ability to design mechanically stabilized earth structures.

Prabir K. Kolay, associate professor of civil engineering at SIU, said the GeoWall contest tests students’ ability to design mechanically stabilized earth. Students build models of such structures using sand as backfill material and craft paper as reinforcing materials.

“But in real life, backfill material is a coarse aggregate, generally gravel, and reinforcement material is a metal strip or geogrid — high-density polyethylene — or geotextiles,” he said.

SIU first fielded a team for the geo-wall competition in 2018. This latest competition marks the second time the SIU team has made it to the national competition. Previously, the team competed at the ASCE’s GeoCongress 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The SIU team of two graduate and undergraduate students was ranked No. 11 overall in that competition.

Team currently ranked 14th

In order to qualify for the national competitions, the team had to submit a design report on MSE a mechanically stabilized earth retaining wall in advance. The objective is to design an MSE wall using the amount of reinforcement needed to support the retained soil or sand and design loads.

Competition officials have ranked SIU’s design report No. 14, qualifying it for this year’s national finals as a top 20 team.

This year’s team includes:

  • Michael Lowry, team captain, and a senior in civil engineering.
  • Sandeep Burra, graduate adviser and a doctoral student in engineering science.
  • Pradeep Pandey, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering.
  • Nirajan Gaihre, a graduate student in civil engineering.
  • Alex White, a senior in civil engineering.
  • Jason Jurak, a senior in civil engineering

 “Our team is very dynamic, dedicated and works well as a group,” Kolay said.

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