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30-year anniversary for the first hardcover book on geosynthetics

News | August 1, 2009 | By:

In the late 1970s I was in the habit of regularly inviting speakers to make presentations to my geotechnical classes at Drexel University. Two were very memorable: Bill Ragen of Mirafi and Bill Witherow of Carlisle. Their respective topics were “filter fabrics” and “pond liners” and, in truth, I didn’t associate them with one another within the modern context of geosynthetics that we do today.

Shortly thereafter, and following several small consulting projects, two other events occurred that were meaningful. One was the 1977 conference in Paris, France, entitled International Conference on the Use of Fabrics in Geotechnics, and the other was a chance meeting between an editor of the John Wiley & Sons book company (by the name of Dan Morris) and a good friend, Joe Welsh, of the ground modification firm, Hayward Baker. Dan, who had seen the proceedings of the Paris conference, suggested to Joe that he write a book on construction fabrics and Joe, being too busy, suggested that he and I do it together. It was interesting to me from the perspective that this was a new field of endeavor and that it would be a hardcover book.

When I was proceeding through my formal education, all books that we used were hardcover. This continued throughout my university years at Drexel, Columbia, Delaware, and Duke. There simply were no softcover books at that time. When softbound books and paperback conference proceedings began to appear, my thoughts (and perhaps those of others) were that they were not quite “finalized.” Many were published by university print departments and updated annually. As an example, many soils laboratory books fell into this category until Lambe’s hardcover manual eventually settled the issue. A hardbound book was felt to be archival and belonged permanently on one’s bookshelf.

At any rate, my initial thought regarding the possibility of a new hardbound book was that the information base was certainly sparse. But upon further reflection (remember the “publish or perish” concept was deeply entrenched in all of academia, including Drexel University, then as it is now), I started gathering all available publications and manufacturers’ literature and formed a table of contents. While the focus was indeed “fabrics,” certainly impermeable fabrics (aka, pond liners) were also considered. As such, the book was written between 1978 and 1979 and published as a 267-page hardcover in 1980 by J. Wiley and Sons Inc., under the title, Construction and Geotechnical Engineering Using Synthetic Fabrics.

The individual chapters were: 1. Overview and Background of Synthetic Fibers, 2. Construction Fabrics, 3. Fabric Use in Separation of Materials, 4. Fabric Use in Reinforcement, 5. Fabric Use in Drainage, 6. Fabric Use in Erosion Prevention, 7. Fabric Use as Forms, 8. Impermeable Fabrics, 9. Guidelines and Current Research and Development Activities, 10. Several Appendixes and a “units” conversion table.

There were a few numerical examples, but it was not a complete textbook in that there were no homework problems and the references were obviously lean at this early stage of the technology.

We (Joe Welsh and I) were delighted with the book’s initial reception in that its sales were good and, more importantly, my phone never stopped ringing. Clearly, my subsequent decision to go completely into this newly emerging field was obvious and well beyond all other research interests that I had at the time (e.g., deep foundations, acoustic emissions, ground-penetrating radar, etc.).

The one cloud that arose was a book review by Dr. Alan Haliburton of Oklahoma State University who reviewed the book with the ending comment that the book was, “too much salad and not enough meat and potatoes.” For those of you who remember Alan, you can understand the context of his comment. What it did for me, however, was to propel me onward to a “meat and potatoes” book, which emerged six years later as the first edition of Designing With Geosynthetics, published in 1986. Work is now beginning on the sixth edition of this textbook.

Some time after the publication of the first book in 1980, I learned from England’s Peter Rankilor that our Construction and Geotechnical Engineering Using Synthetic Fabrics book was very close to not being the first hardbound geosynthetics book. It seems that he had submitted his own manuscript to the Wiley office in London about the same time as we submitted ours to Wiley’s New York office. Of course, neither London nor New York knew of the two respective book topics and, more importantly, Wiley in London lost all of Peter’s artwork, photographs, and drawings, forcing him to do everything all over. (Remember that these were the days before computers and an all-electronic publication system.) The delay caused him at least a year, which resulted in his book appearing a year later than ours, in 1981.

At any rate, the Koerner/Welsh hardcover book of 1980 certainly put me on the map and (fortunately) I never looked back. All subsequent research at Drexel University, along with courses, students, and projects, was focused on geosynthetics and it has not stopped to this day. Geosynthetics is a marvelous field of endeavor and a technology that has had, has, and will continue to have, an awesome growth and benefit to society. I am delighted to have been a part of this growth and hope to continue for another 30 (well, maybe not 30!) years.

Bob Koerner is the director of GSI.

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