GGSS Seminar Dirt and Rocks – The Role (and Importance) of Engineering Geology in Engineering Design by Holly Nicholas and Rob Barry

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Event Date

Ghausi 3102

Speaker: Holly Nicholas and Rob Barry – California DWR


Holly has been practicing engineering geology for 20 years. She is currently a Section Manager at the California Department of Water Resources in the Division of Engineering. She was the Lead Geologist for the Oroville Spillways emergency and reconstruction and has worked on a variety of other water infrastructure design and construction projects including pipelines, canals, and dams throughout California’s State Water Project. She received her B.S. in Geology from the University of Texas in Austin, and her M.S. in Geology from Washington State University. She is a licensed Engineering Geologist in California and lives in Davis with her husband (a geotechnical engineer) and her two young daughters (aspiring geologists and engineers!).


The design of engineered structures relies on an understanding of material (soil and rock) properties. Applying those material properties during design without understanding the geologic context, however, can lead to problems. Misunderstood foundation conditions can be extremely costly (e.g., Millenium Tower) and even result in loss of life (e.g., Johnstown dam failure). This presentation explores the connections between the disciplines of engineering and geology, and provides some real-life examples (e.g., Perris Dam, Oroville spillways) of how advancing our understanding of the geologic conditions led to a better engineered product.


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