The Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA), led by a Koerner awardee selection task force, selected Jie Han, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, as the recipient of the 2021–23 Dr. Robert M. Koerner Award and Lecture Series. The award and lecture series is named for the late Robert M. Koerner, Ph.D., the founder of the Geosynthetic Institute (GSI).
“I was very surprised and of course honored,” Han said when asked how he felt about receiving the award and lecture series. “Bob Koerner was my role model and I’m very pleased, honored to have my name associated with Professor Koerner. I really appreciate the recognition from the industry, as well. Even though I work at the University of Kansas doing research, the industry recognition means a lot to me, indicating that the research we have conducted has been useful to the industry.”
The award and lecture series, created in 2016, honors an individual who has had a measurable impact on the geosynthetics industry; who has a background in education, design or testing of geotextiles, geomembranes, geogrids, geonets, geosynthetic clay liners or erosion control materials; and who works with or for geosynthetic manufacturers in North America. Past honorees include George R. Koerner, Ph.D., P.E., CQA (2017), and Barry Christopher, Ph.D., P.E. (2019).
GMA established a special task force to select the Koerner award honoree. The task force included John Henderson (TenCate Geosynthetics North America), Keith Gardner (Dalco Nonwovens LLC), Joel Sprague (TRI/Environmental Inc.), Mark Wayne (Tensar International) and Fred Chuck (GMA).
Han is the Glenn L. Parker Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in geotechnical engineering from Tongji University in Shanghai, China, in 1986 and 1989, respectively, and his Ph.D. degree in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta in 1997. His research has focused on geosynthetics, ground improvement, pile foundations, buried structures and roadways. Han is the sole author of the book, Principles and Practice of Ground Improvement, and he has published more than 400 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers.
Han said he had learned about geosynthetics during one of his undergraduate courses in China at Tongji University as early as 1985. At Georgia Tech, his Ph.D. thesis dealt with fiber-reinforced polymeric piles used for geotechnical applications, under the supervision of J. David Frost, Ph.D.
After graduation, Han worked at Tensar International, first as a design engineer designing geosynthetic-reinforced slopes, retaining walls and roadways, and later as a technology development manager, working on technology development for new designs and applications. The latter work led him to interact with outstanding geosynthetics researchers such as Jean-Pierre Giroud, Ph.D.; Dov Leshchinsky, Ph.D.; Mo Gabr, Ph.D.; and James Collin, Ph.D.
“[These experiences and relationships] really helped me get into the research of geosynthetics,” Han said. “Since I started to work at a university, I’ve been conducting research for different manufacturers. These include Tensar International, TenCate Geosynthetics North America, Presto GeoSystems, PRS Geo-Technologies and Maccaferri. My research ties in very closely with the industry’s needs. I also work with students to develop design methods for different applications for the geosynthetics industry. I feel fortunate to work with so many outstanding researchers and students to develop methods benefiting the industry. I also feel very proud that I’ve graduated 20 Ph.D. students and 20 master’s students. Most of them have worked on geosynthetics.”
Han started as a student member of the North American Geosynthetics Society (now IGS North America), for the Student Competition at the 1997 Geosynthetics Conference in Long Beach, Calif., put on by the Industrial Fabrics Association International. He served on the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Geosynthetics. Han currently serves on the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Geosynthetics Committee and is chair of the TRB Standing Committee on Transportation Earthworks. Han has been an IGS Council member since 2018 and served as liaison for IGS North America to the IGS Council (2019–20).
Han’s Koerner Lecture covers the topic of “Geosynthetic-Reinforced Column-Supported Embankments: Bridging Theory and Practice.” This lecture explains why so many different soil-arching models and design methods were developed by different researchers in the past but produce different results. The objective of this lecture is to tie these theories together by proposing a simplified and unified design procedure for geosynthetic-reinforced column-supported embankments to be used in practice.
Even though Han did not work directly with Robert M. Koerner, he received a lot of encouragement from Koerner throughout the years. Nine of Han’s graduate students received GSI fellowships for research projects under the supervision of Han.
Han has also had several opportunities to work with GMA. He served as the technical chair for the GeoFrontiers 2011 conference held in Dallas, Texas, which was co-sponsored by IFAI, GMA and the ASCE Geo-Institute. Han delivered the GMA webinar, “Recent Developments in Geosynthetic-Stabilized Roads: Introduction and Mechanisms,” in November 2018. “GMA is an important organization that has helped the geosynthetics industry grow and promoted the use of geosynthetics technology,” Han said.
“GMA is very pleased that Dr. Jie Han has accepted the honor of being the third Dr. Robert M. Koerner Award winner and lecturer,” said Fred Chuck, executive director of GMA. “Han’s decades of contributions and wealth of experience in all aspects of the geosynthetics industry and strong background working with manufacturers in North America made him the perfect candidate to receive this year’s award. While it is unfortunate that due to COVID-19, the in-person conference in Kansas City had to be postponed until 2023, GMA was pleased to see Dr. Han present his keynote lecture at the 2021 Geosynthetics Virtual Conference, and he will present at additional conferences over the next two years.”