Geotechnical engineering is the division of civil engineering that deals with natural materials (soil, rock and groundwater) found close to the surface of the earth. Most of our civil engineering projects are constructed on or in soils, and many of these projects (highway embankments, earth dams) use soils or rock as the primary construction material.
Geotechnical engineering has several different aspects. traditionally, the geotechnical engineer was concerned with soil mechanics and foundation engineering. Soil mechanics involves the study of the physical properties of soil and the response of soil masses to various types of forces. Foundation engineering involves application of the principles of soil mechanics to the design and construction of foundations for buildings, towers, tanks and other structures. Geotechnical engineers also typically deal with problems such as the stability of natural and excavated slopes, and the design and construction of temporary and permanent earth-retaining structures.
As our society continues to expand, land which is suitable for construction (in its natural state) becomes scarcer, and the waste products of our lifestyles become more abundant. Consequently, we are faced with new challenges which have led geotechnical engineers into new areas. Many geotechnical engineers now become involved with geoenvironmental issues, such as construction of landfills and remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater. Because we are often forced to build on sites that would have been rejected in the past due to poor soil conditions, geotechnical engineers continue to develop innovative ground improvement methods, and to use new construction materials, such as geosynthetics, which can be used to stabilize and reinforce soils.
Geotechnical engineers enjoy exciting careers as members of teams working on important structural, transportation and environmental projects such as the "Big Dig" and the Deer Island Wastewater treatment facility. At UMass Dartmouth, we are proud to offer several courses which introduce the student to this growing area of civil engineering.