A University of Arizona geotechnical engineer has been awarded $1.25 million to conduct research that could provide safer working conditions for miners. The University of Arizona College of Engineering research program is looking at new methods of determining rock strength that could reduce hazardous working conditions.

Pinnaduwa H. S. W. (Kumar) Kulatilake, professor of geological engineering in the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, is the sole principal investigator for a five-year project to develop new methods of assessing ground stability. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is funding the research.

Part of the problem is that current methods of rock assessment are simply not up to the task of providing a detailed picture of what engineers are truly getting into when they start blasting and tunneling. During the five year project, Kulatilake will extend rock strength criteria he has developed to make them applicable in three-dimensions. He will be working with two mines in the U.S. and two mines in China to apply these new methodologies to underground and surface excavations to determine how well they work in the real world.

To develop new methods of ground stability analysis, Kulatilake will combine field investigations and extensive laboratory testing, such as CT scans and three-dimensional load testing, with three-dimensional numerical modeling, including new theoretical concepts and advanced statistical and probabilistic procedures to quantify variability and uncertainty. His theoretical models will be made increasingly accurate over time as their predictions are validated using lab test results and field data. In essence, Kulatilake aims to bring more certainty to what is essentially educated guesswork when it comes to assessing ground stability.

“We have been using very simple methodologies in practice to address very complicated problems,” he said. The research findings will be incorporated in graduate courses taught by Kulatilake in the department of mining and geological engineering and the department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics. And his teaching will extend beyond the University of Arizona: During the last 20 years he has taught 52 short courses all over the world.

For more information on the University of Arizona Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, visit, www.mge.arizona.edu.