New Faces of Civil Engineering – Jim Hambleton

January 28, 2014

This is the fifth profile of a series to introduce ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering 2014. A civil engineer’s career can take them into geomechanics research, which focuses on the development of mathematical models incorporating interactions among the mechanical, chemical, and thermal properties of soils and rocks, and on techniques for interrogating and characterizing subsurface properties. Today, read about Jim Hambleton.

HambletonThe way Jim Hambleton, Ph.D., A.M.ASCE, sees it, his role as a researcher in civil engineering is to solve the really difficult problems, the ones that practicing engineers just shrug off  or for which they try to find a solution that works without fully understanding the details.

“Everything that I work on as a researcher needs to be hard by definition, and that is what makes it research,” explained Hambleton, who is working as a research academic at the University of Newcastle, Australia. “My credo is: If we don’t have a solution to that engineering problem yet, then we certainly need to find one.

“My specialty is geomechanics research, so the seemingly intractable problems that I am working on and trying to make tractable involve deformation of soils. Foundation engineering and soil-structure interaction are a big part of that. And one of the difficult things for people to understand about what I do is that I actually spend a lot of time on modeling and developing computational techniques and theory on how these things work.”

Back in 2011 Hambleton and his doctoral adviser at the University of Minnesota, Andrew Drescher, conducted extensive research on soil-structure interaction and wrote a paper, “Approximate Model for Blunt Objects Indenting Cohesive-Frictional Materials,” which was published in the February 2012 issue [Volume 36, Issue 3, pages 249–271] of the International Journal for Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics.

“This paper,” notes Hambleton of the article that forms part of his Ph.D. thesis, “proposes a simplified method for predicting the force necessary to push an object into soil, as well as the permanent deformation occurring. Since materials like metals and plastics are also ‘cohesive-frictional,’ the solutions are in fact useful in a variety of applications. Like most of my [research] work, this involves fairly intensive theory, but the end result is a simple set of formulae that engineers can use.”

Hambleton went on to say, “I am particularly proud of that article for what it represents for me personally. When you embark on research and you are transposing from being a student to a research professional, you have to switch modes from simply acquiring knowledge to solving something that nobody has ever considered before, to build a level of understanding from scratch.

“For me, that was an absolutely seminal moment, where as a researcher I felt like my moment arrived and I could basically do research for the rest of my life.”

To conduct his geomechanics research work after graduation, Hambleton turned to Australia.

“As it turns out, it’s a lively, vibrant place for researchers,” he says. “The research group that I work with at the University of Newcastle is one of the three prime members of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Geotechnical Science and Engineering, which along with groups at the University of Western Australia and the University of Wollongong pioneers new scientific approaches to geotechnical engineering design. As a researcher, this is a really stimulating and interesting place to work.”

Aside from being a reviewer for many distinguished journals, including ASCE’s Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, International Journal of Geomechanics, Journal of Aerospace Engineering, and Journal of Applied Mechanics, Hambleton is a committee member and young geotechnical professional representative for the Newcastle Chapter of the Australian Geomechanics Society, an organizer for the Australian Conference on Computational Mechanics in 2013, session chair for the 46th US Rock Mechanics/Geomechanics Symposium, co-editor of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Geotechnical Science and Engineering annual report, a local high school outreach coordinator, and adviser for Engineers Without Borders Challenge Finalists. He teaches first-year and final-year civil engineering students at the University of Newcastle, and serves as principal supervisor or co-supervisor for a 4 Ph.D. students.

 “I am honored and delighted to be selected to be a New Face of Civil Engineering,” says Hambleton. “It not only gives me a renewed enthusiasm for my profession and love for the work that I do but also generates a swell of pride and appreciation for all of those people who helped make me who I am today.”

 Next in the series, read about Matt Landeschoot

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