Impact Case Studies
Research and innovation in UCD School of Civil Engineering delivers important impact – advancing knowledge, supporting enterprise, informing policy, and underpinning the nature and quality of the education we deliver to our students.
We recognise that this impact can take many different forms, over different time scales. The following examples capture and convey samples of the national and global impacts of the research, scholarship and innovation undertaken in the School.
In the Bible Saint Mathew warns of “the foolish man who built his house on sand”. Dr Michael Long and his colleagues at the UCD-based, Science Foundation Irelandfunded Irish Center for Research and Applied Geoscience (iCRAG) are hoping that a project they have recently commenced will overcome such uncertainty. The project explores the potential use of a relatively new approach to ground improvement, making use of either bacteria or enzymes to accelerate the natural process of cementation between grains of sand to increase their strength and load bearing capacity.
This approach would be significantly more ecologically acceptable than current methods of ground improvement. As well as testing the technique to determine its effectiveness on local Irish soils, the researchers also intend to develop an appropriate testing regime to ensure compliance with Eurocode 7 requirements for building foundations.
Dr. Yaqian Zhao
Wastewater treatment systems are not always pleasant to look at. But what if they could be aesthetically pleasing and offer the public a space for recreation and enjoyment as they carry out the necessary work of removing impurities from the water supply?
Dr Yaqian Zhao is a world leader in constructing artificial wetlands to do just that. His group has not only developed and tested an approach that re-uses waste products to build wetlands that clean water themselves, they have also devised an approach to generate electricity from wetland activity. Dr Zhao has been recognised internationally for his pioneering contributions to the field.
Climate change is just one more factor making the unpredictable world of fresh water supply and demand even more uncertain. Dr Sarah Cotterill is interested in finding ways of ensuring continuity of supply when, not if, water systems fail. Despite everyone’s best efforts this will happen, she says, possibly resulting from two or more things occurring at the same time or in swift succession. “That’s where resilience comes into play.”
The arrival of just such an event, the COVID pandemic, provided her and a team of researchers from Ireland and the UK with the opportunity to examine how well existing water company risk management strategies performed in response to the challenges presented by a high impact, unpredictable threat. This information is of immense value in helping the water industry and policymakers devise better, more adaptable, approaches to risk management in an increasingly uncertain world.
Rivers are arteries for human civilisation, and can enable prosperity or, in the case of flooding or drought, they can bring the potential for devastation. Dr Fiachra O’Loughlin from UCD School of Civil Engineering is using freely available satellite data to better model and understand large river systems.
His work on modelling the Congo basin has brought about deeper insights into the potential flashpoints for flooding and carbon cycling as well as dynamic data that could help local communities and businesses to use the river as a resource. Dr O’Loughlin has also worked on information to help researchers and organisations build more effective models of other river basins around the world.
Bridges are often key factors in transport, allowing us to get across landscapes efficiently. If a bridge fails, the results can be catastrophic for human life, for economies and societies and for the environment. This is why bridges are monitored as they age, to estimate whether they can still safely bear expected traffic. But the processes that civil engineers use to do that on long-span bridges are limited. This could result in bridges being closed due to safety concerns. Professor Eugene O’Brien and his team at UCD School of Civil Engineering have been using cameras to augment the data we can collect about traffic weights and patterns on long-span bridges.
They have developed a first-of-its-kind method to quantify the traffic loading on some of the world’s biggest bridges – structures with clear spans of up to 2 kilometres. This means that engineers can now provide a more realistic measurement of bridge safety, thereby protecting human lives. The UCD-developed method should also help to prevent the unnecessary closure of economically important bridges, thus saving money and reducing disruptions to economies and societies and to the environment.
We rely heavily on the earthworks that support our roads, railways and watercourses. If they fail it can cause loss of life, disruption to transport services and the expense of repair. As earthwork infrastructure ages and faces pressure from climate change, we need a fast and economical way to assess the earth.
Dr Shane Donohue from UCD School of Civil Engineering is researching seismic-wave-based technology to help major transport and infrastructure managers rapidly assess earthwork assets at scale. This will enable timely maintenance, reducing the risk of failure.