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The Underworld - From Ecosystem Services to Hard Engineering
Thursday 7 April 2022
6.00 - 7.30pm
Quantum Sensing for Gravity Cartography. Stray B et al. Nature 602. Crown Copyright.
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A talk by Professor Chris Rogers about advances in Geotechnical Engineering.

The ground is one of our most valuable ecosystem service providers. As well as supporting the constructed environment – buildings, structures, and surface and buried infrastructures – it is a source of minerals, storage, water and energy. When harnessing these ecosystem services, we should do so sensitively. The constructed environment has an intimate connection with the ground, being founded upon it and/or within it – the ground and the constructed environment are interdependent. It is this physical connection that must be synergistic if the constructed environment is to function satisfactorily, both at the time of construction and over the full life-cycle of its operation. Conversely, we engineer within the natural environment with the aim of enhancing, rather than diminishing, its performance. We could argue that these two viewpoints come from opposing camps. However, such thinking is both outdated and counter-productive. One way to look at this would be to suggest that there are 17 primary lenses focusing on our activities, all with different degrees of clarity and strength. Then there are the UK government priorities, or lenses, of Net Zero, and Levelling-Up, and so on.

Chris Rogers is a Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, but this only tells a part of the story. He considers himself to be a civil engineer in the very broadest sense, with the engineering of cities and urban systems fit for the future – that is, with sustainability, resilience, liveability and smartness in mind – as one of his primary missions in life. He leads a new Centre for Infrastructure and Urban Systems at Birmingham, and has previously served as the chair of the Research, Development and Innovation panel at the Institution of Civil Engineers for 10 years and as a Lead Expert of the UK Government Foresight Future of Cities project. He has been a founder member of the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) since its inception in 2013 and led the development of the £28 million UKCRIC National Buried Infrastructure Facility on campus at Birmingham. He is currently engaged in a programme of research (Pipebots) that is developing swarms of miniature robots to assess the condition of buried pipelines, having led the Mapping the Underworld and Assessing the Underworld programmes. It is here that hard engineering meets economic, social and environmental challenges.

The presentation will describe the process of systemic thinking and a suite of methodologies that have been developed to enable ground engineering to be carried out in harmony with the aspirations and needs of people, the planet and the systems and infrastructures that support civilised life.