Meehan receives prestigious NSF Career award
UD's Christopher Meehan has won the prestigious NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award.
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3:01 p.m., March 31, 2009----Christopher Meehan, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware, has received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award to study the seismic behavior of slickensided surfaces.

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The five-year, $404,821 NSF Career Award grant will include not only lab and field research but also active engagement of undergraduate students through a service-learning outreach program focused on engineering reconnaissance in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Slickensides are surfaces of weakness formed in stiff clays or clay shales as a result of large shear displacements concentrated on a discrete surface of sliding. Meehan explains that the low shear strength associated with slickensided surfaces is a significant source of slope stability problems in many regions.

“Even if slickensided slopes and the structures they support are stable under static load conditions,” he says, “movement along pre-existing slickensided rupture surfaces can represent a critical mechanism for sliding during earthquakes.”

Little information is currently available concerning the shearing resistance that can be mobilized along pre-existing slickensided rupture surfaces under seismic loading conditions. To address this lack of understanding, Meehan plans to develop a unique torsional shear device that will be used to form slickensided shear planes in clay soils and to measure the static and cyclic shear strengths along these surfaces.

“We plan to use this device to test a wide variety of pure clay minerals and natural clay soils to develop a fundamental understanding of the seismic behavior of slickensided shear surfaces,” Meehan says.

The project will include an integrated education plan, called DElaware Students Engineering in response to Natural Disasters, or DE-SEND.

DE-SEND will comprise a volunteer cadre of undergraduate students that will mobilize following natural disasters to perform rapid engineering reconnaissance.

The students will carry out senior thesis projects to analyze and disseminate data gathered during reconnaissance efforts, senior design projects to solve natural-disaster-related problems, and outreach efforts to local undergraduate student organizations and K-12 schools.

“My educational goal is to develop a new, non-traditional learning environment outside the classroom that will bring the students to the problem and excite them about engineering using a novel approach,” Meehan says. “Observing catastrophic engineering failures caused by natural disasters will be an eye-opening experience for many undergraduate students, and the program will provide an ideal educational opportunity for training the next generation of civil engineers.”

“This NSF Career Award is a testament to Chris's hard work and his growing reputation in the field,” says Tripp Shenton, chairperson of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Meehan, who joined the UD faculty in 2006, earned his bachelor's degree at the University of New Hampshire and master's and doctoral degrees at Virginia Tech.

His work on intelligent compaction technology, which was recently featured in UDaily, has garnered international attention from the civil engineering community.

Article by Diane Kukich