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In Memoriam: Robert M. Koerner

News | February 1, 2020 | By:

The geosynthetics community is deeply saddened by the news of Robert M. and Pauline W. Koerner’s passing. The couple leaves a lasting legacy through their creation of the Geosynthetic Institute, their philanthropy, and their many accomplishments professionally and personally.

Bob Koerner was a pioneer of geosynthetics, an influencer with a long record of geosynthetics achievements. Author, researcher, philanthropist and founder, Bob helped create the modern field of geosynthetics. Co-author of the first book on what would become geosynthetics—Construction and Geotechnical Engineering Using Synthetic Fabrics—Bob was also the author of Designing with Geosynthetics, a still-in-print, influential publication now in its sixth edition.

Initially, Bob had concerns about the term “geosynthetics,” telling interviewer Sigrid Tornquist in the October-November 2016 issue of Geosynthetics magazine, “I went along with geosynthetics, even though I had written a couple of papers by then using the term ‘geopolymers.’ I wish I’d stuck to my guns because in truth everything is a synthetic. Concrete is a synthetic. Steel is a synthetic. Really we’re in the polymer business. . . . But, as they say, that horse done left the barn.”

In 1986 Bob founded the Geosynthetic Research Institute within Drexel University where he was a professor. This became the Geosynthetic Institute (GSI) in 1991. Bob remained involved in the institute until his death, serving as director emeritus while his son, George, served as director of GSI. He also kept his ties to Drexel, serving as professor emeritus of civil, architectural and environmental engineering after his retirement.

Bob and Paula founded the Koerner Family Foundation in 2001, which funds geosynthetics engineering research in the United States. The foundation has awarded more than 100 fellowships of up to $5,000 each.

Bob actively taught online through GSI webinars and courses on a wide variety of geosynthetics topics. He also continued to write regularly, including columns and features for Geosynthetics magazine.

Bob and Paula are survived by their three children—Michael (wife Mary) Koerner, George (wife Jamie) Koerner and Pauline (husband Doug) Limberg—and six grandchildren. 

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