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Professor Robert Mair

Robert Mair, a graduate of Cambridge studied for a PhD under the tutelage of Professor Andrew Schofield. His interest in tunnelling and related geotechnical research was sparked by working in Hong Kong soon after he graduated, where he became involved in the geotechnical investigations for the design of the new underground mass transit railway. The mechanics of ground movements induced by tunnel construction were very much an unknown area in those days, as were the effects of ground movements on buildings. The development of underground mass transit systems in densely populated cities is now becoming increasingly important, particularly because they have the benefit of being an environmentally friendly way of getting people around and hence are a vital part of sustainable development transport.

Robert MairIn 1983 with two colleagues Robert Mair set up the Geotechnical Consulting Group (GCG) which employs highly qualified graduates, mostly from Cambridge and Imperial College. The firm specialises in providing advice on all matters connected with geotechnical engineering to public authorities, contractors, and consulting engineers, principally on projects as diverse as oil platform foundations, dam failures, and design and construction of major tunnelling schemes. A substantial proportion of GCG's work is overseas.

GCG has maintained close links with the universities, applying the latest research and theories to practical situations and feeding back the results. The use of a centrifuge to test scaled- down models has been a vital factor in the development of soil mechanics and it has played a key role in its application to design and construction, just as wind tunnels are used for the study of aeronautics. Through his international consulting work with GCG, Robert Mair has also established close working links with Japan, which he still maintains since coming back into academia as Professor in 1998. A number of research contracts undertaken by the Geotechnical Research Group are supported by Japanese companies, and each year two Cambridge undergraduates undertake their fourth year project work in Japan.

The Geotechnical Research Group now numbers around 50 researchers, about half of whom are involved in experimental work. Robert Mair, together with his colleagues, has recently been awarded a 2m grant from the Joint Infrastructure Fund which will fund a new Centre for Geotechnical Process and Construction Modelling. Construction of the new building, which will contain experimental facilities alongside the existing Schofield Centrifuge Centre at the West Cambridge site, begins in September.