>> Geotechnical Group History

The Geotechnical group of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan is among the very first geotechnical groups in the United States. The program has a long tradition since the 1920s and has been always among the top in the country.

William Housel (at Michigan from 1923 to 1971) was "one of the first Americans to study soil mechanics" and taught the first university soil mechanics course in the United States here at the University of Michigan, in 1927 (Coduto, 1999).  He pioneered many devices including the double ring shear, the stabilometer, the miniature penetrometer. He also developed his own bearing capacity theory as well as a pile load test interpretation that is still used today.

A figure from Housel's bearing capacity theory.


Early Hardin resonant column.


Professor Frank (Bill) Richart, Jr.


Professor Frank (Bill) Richart, Jr (at Michigan from 1962 to 1985) has made numerous contributions to the geotechnical profession that include soil dynamics (following Karl Terzaghi's encouragement) in the laboratory using the resonant column and in the field where he established the foundations for the crosshole method and the Spectral Analyses of Surface Waves (SASW). He is also known for his contribution in non linear small strain analysis, dam stability by the characteristics method as well as bulkhead design with tie backs (in marine applications) as well as the rock tunnel stress distribution. Bill Richart was recognized nationally as a Member of the National Academy of Engineers as well as an early recipient of the Terzaghi award and Lecture.

Donald Gray (at Michigan from 1966 to 2000) is presently an Emeritus Professor and an active member of the group. He is a pioneer in biotechnical stabilization of slopes and made valuable contributions in landfill analysis and design, evaluation of clear cut slope stability and evaluation of "rising damp" in masonry walls. He joined the University of Michigan from UC Berkeley at about the same time that Prof. John Lysmer graduated from U of M and joined the Faculty at UC Berkeley.

Richard Woods (at Michigan from 1967 to 2001) is presently an Emeritus Professor and an active member of the group. Prof. Woods was a Bill Richart student, and joined the Faculty at U of M in 1967. A member of the National Academy of Engineers, Richard Woods has been a pioneer in soil dynamics (field and laboratory), and the application of geophysics in civil engineering. His contributions include the use of Rayleigh wave methods for soil characterization, the isolation of vibration by barriers and the application of holographic interferometry in soil dynamics.

The geotechnical group's long history and unique legacy continues today with four full-time geotechnical Faculty, the Emeritus Faculty and the Affiliated Faculty. Since the 1920s, the program has been graduating students that have been and are leaders in many academic institutions and companies in the US and around the world.


Coduto, D. P. (1999), "Geotechnical Engineering, Principles and Practices", Prentice Hall.

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