We have faculty that are circulating, researching and publishing with the best in America, while at the same time not sacrificing the quality of the undergraduate education we deliver.

Jeffrey Evans

The groundwater beneath landfills, fly ash ponds and other hazardous material sites need to be contained to prevent pollutants from leaching into the surrounding subsurface environment. One common method is to build vertical cutoff walls from a soil-bentonite-slurry mixture in the soil around the site. The walls are thought to be impermeable to water, but that premise has not been well tested outside of the lab, according to Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Jeffrey Evans.

Evans and his colleagues conducted some of the first field tests on a cutoff wall during and for one year after a wall was built in Birdsboro, Pa. "It has really shed some light into the in situ behavior of the vertical barriers we use around waste sites," he says.

The results, combined with laboratory studies, indicate that cutoff walls can experience cycles of wetting and drying, which in turn can increase the walls' permeability – not what you want in a wall designed to prevent groundwater contamination. The results also support a mathematical model developed by Evans' team, which predicts the state of stress in a cutoff wall.

One former student who has worked with Evans on the cutoff wall research recently honored him with the dedication of the Jeffrey C. Evans Geotechnical Engineering Laboratory. The endowment was established by Michael J. Costa '91 and his wife Laureen Leptinsky Costa '90. Michael worked with Evans while earning his B.S and M.S. at Bucknell.

The honor demonstrates Evans' dedication to Bucknell's teacher-scholar model, something that he enjoyed seeing his colleagues in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering embrace during his ten years as department chair. "I think our department has struck a really good balance," he says. "We have faculty that are circulating, researching and publishing with the best in America, while at the same time not sacrificing the quality of the undergraduate education we deliver."

Evans is particularly interested in the role of humanities in engineering education. "In a nutshell, if you are a civil engineer, you are serving society," he says. "If you don't understand society – the people in those social systems, and how they think and how they react – how can you be a civil engineer?"

Evans is spending the 2012-2013 academic year on sabbatical as a Churchill Fellow at Cambridge University, collaborating with colleagues there on research on vertical walls and hazardous waste.

Posted November 2012

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