Grad student works to improve foundation design for earthquake zones

Brad Fleming, a PhD student in civil engineering at Iowa State, has been working on a project that can make a large impact—literally. Brad is working with Professor Sri Sritharan and a research team composed of the experts, resources, and testing sites from five leading institutions across the country (the University of Oklahoma; Iowa State University; San Jose State University; the University of California, Davis; and the University of California, Los Angeles) to investigate better soil improvement processes for the construction of foundation piles in earthquakes zones with soft soil.

The Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Research (NEESR) program of NSF is funding this soil-foundation-structure interaction (SFSI) project for which Sritharan serves as the leading structural engineering researcher. In soft clay such as that available in several regions of the West Coast, including the Marina Bay of San Francisco, the current practice is to use an increased number of larger-diameter piles to provide satisfactory foundation for the structures. The research team has instead proposed improving the soil around the piles, rather than increasing the number or type of the piles. This innovative and cost-effective solution will mechanically inject cement grout into the soil around piles, improving strength and stiffness of the soil when the cement sets. This multi-institutional interdepartmental effort is breaking new frontiers in SFSI research by utilizing the NEES experimental capabilities available at Davis and UCLA (

Brad’s background researching soil compaction has been important to his contributions on the NEES project. During his work as a master’s student (also at Iowa State), he gained valuable experience working with Professor David White on a soil compaction project partnered and funded by Caterpillar. His relationships with faculty and the opportunity for hands-on interdisciplinary research are both reasons he came to Iowa State, and why he has chosen to stay. As a rising senior student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, in civil engineering, he seized an opportunity for a summer internship working with White. This experience sparked his interest in GeoTech and SFSI research and led him to graduate school at Iowa State, where he continues to excel.

For more information on this project see the award abstract (#0830328) at the National Science Foundation:


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