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Reflecting on the Robert M. Koerner Lectures

Update | April 1, 2024 | By: Fred Chuck, P.E.

Dr. Robert Koerner, right, with Dr. J.P. Giroud, the 2023 Koerner Lecturer.

The Robert M. Koerner Lectures have become a cornerstone in the field of geosynthetics and geotechnical engineering, offering a platform for experts to share their insights, advancements and experiences. As we delve into the past, present and future of these lectures, we uncover a rich history of knowledge exchange and envision the continued growth and impact of this esteemed series.

The past

The Robert M. Koerner award was established by the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) in 2016 to honor Dr. Koerner’s impact on the industry by also acknowledging the impact of others on the industry in North America. 

The inaugural Robert M. Koerner Lectures took place in 2017, marking the beginning of a tradition that will shape the landscape and transfer of geosynthetics engineering knowledge. Named in honor of Dr. Robert M. Koerner, a pioneer in the field, the lectures aimed to celebrate his contributions and provide a platform for cutting-edge discussions. Dr. Koerner founded the Geosynthetic Institute (GSI). Bob earned his Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering from Duke University. He authored or co-authored approximately 700 papers on geosynthetics and geotechnical topics in journals and at national and international conferences.  

Bob’s contributions to the industry can be summed up with three words: vision, leadership and solid. His vision led him to write the first edition of Designing with Geosynthetics, now in its sixth edition. His leadership brought 23 companies together in 1986 to help him form the Geosynthetics Research Institute and continued to grow that cooperation to now more than 60 companies supporting the GSI.  Throughout the growth, Bob was the steadfast icon that the industry could always rely on to be open and honest for any and all questions, remaining as solid as the subgrades and foundations that we try to create using our varied solutions.

Over the years, the lectures have featured renowned speakers who have shared their expertise on a wide range of topics, from geosynthetics materials and applications to sustainable engineering practices. The lectures have not only educated professionals but also fostered a sense of community and collaboration within the geosynthetic engineering realm.

The present

As we stand in the present, the Robert M. Koerner Lectures continue to be a beacon of knowledge, drawing experts, researchers and students alike. The lectures have evolved to embrace emerging technologies, environmental considerations and global challenges. Attendees witness a diverse array of presentations, each contributing to the holistic understanding of geosynthetics and their applications.

In recent years, the lectures have expanded their reach through virtual platforms, allowing for a more inclusive audience. The 2021 lecture was initially presented in a virtual platform as we dealt with the effects of the global pandemic. This shift has facilitated global participation, fostering an international community of professionals dedicated to advancing the field. The present moment reflects a commitment to staying current and accessible in an ever-changing world, as realized with the 2023 Koerner Lecture being presented to the Geosynthetics Conference audience from the Paris home of Dr. J.P. Giroud.  

Unveiling insights: Dr. J.P. Giroud’s 2023 Robert M. Koerner Lecture and engaging Q&A session

The 2023 Robert M. Koerner Lecture, featuring the distinguished Dr. J.P. Giroud, unfolded a captivating exploration of geosynthetics (geomembranes) in environmental engineering. Dr. Giroud’s expertise, coupled with the dynamic question and answer session that followed, provided a comprehensive look into the historical perspective, current state and future trends of the field.

Dr. J.P. Giroud’s lecture

Dr. Giroud, a luminary in geotechnical engineering, took center stage to deliver a lecture that seamlessly blended applications, issues and design. Titled “From Zero Leak…to Zero Leakage,” his presentation delved into the remarkable progress made in geomembrane installation that has inspired progress in geosynthetic (geomembrane) design. Attendees were treated to a masterful synthesis of decades of experience, research findings and visionary perspectives on the role of geosynthetics in contemporary engineering challenges.

The lecture showcased Dr. Giroud’s unparalleled ability to communicate complex concepts with clarity, making it accessible to both seasoned professionals and aspiring engineers. His deep knowledge and passion for the subject resonated throughout the presentation, leaving an indelible impression on the audience.

Engaging questions and thoughtful answers

The true essence of any lecture lies in the dialogue it sparks, and the Q&A session following Dr. Giroud’s presentation was no exception. Our first three Koerner Lecturers—Dr. George Koerner in 2017, Dr. Barry Christopher, our 2019 awardee, and Dr. Jie Han from 2021—seized the opportunity to pose thought-provoking questions, seeking further clarification, exploring applications and delving into the implications of the discussed topics.

Questions ranged from technical inquiries about specific geosynthetics materials to broader queries about the role of sustainability in geotechnical engineering and to personal reflections on a storied career in geosynthetics. Dr. Giroud, with his characteristic eloquence and depth of understanding, responded to each question with precision and insight. The exchange of ideas fostered a collaborative atmosphere, reinforcing the sense of community within the geotechnical engineering discipline. 

Notable moments

Several moments during the Q&A session stood out, including this question from George Koerner: “What is your greatest achievement and what do you consider your legacy?” To which Dr. Giroud answered “…the real legacy is what remains in the state of practice for such a long time that the origin is forgotten. This is fine with me: I am a geotechnical engineer, and my task is to create sound foundations on which others will build. Observers who admire a building take it for granted that it rests on good foundations, and they do not need to know who designed the foundations.” This portion of the lecture not only enriched the content but also highlighted the importance of continued dialogue in pushing the boundaries of geosynthetic engineering knowledge. (See sidebar on page 37 for the full transcript of questions and answers.)

The 2023 Robert M. Koerner Lecture by Dr. J.P. Giroud was a resounding success, offering a glimpse into the cutting-edge developments and challenges within the field of environmental geosynthetics. The fusion of Dr. Giroud’s expertise with the engaging Q&A session created a dynamic learning experience for all attendees. As the echoes of this lecture reverberate through the geotechnical engineering community, it becomes evident that events like these are pivotal in advancing the discipline and fostering a spirit of collaboration and curiosity among professionals.

The Future

Looking ahead, the Robert M. Koerner Lectures are poised to continue their legacy of excellence. As technology advances and new frontiers in geotechnical engineering emerge, the lectures will adapt to address the evolving needs of the industry. The integration of interdisciplinary perspectives, sustainability considerations and innovative research will be key themes guiding future lectures. The 2025 Robert M. Koerner Awardee will be Dr. Shobha Bhatia, the Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence, department of civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse University, and will present the lecture, “From Filters to Tubes: A 30-Year Exploration of Geotextiles,” during the 2025 Geotechnical Frontiers Conference in Louisville, Ky. (This special event is the result of merging the biennial Geosynthetics Conference and the Annual GeoCongress.)

Anticipating a global shift toward sustainable practices, future lectures may explore the intersection of geosynthetics with environmental conservation and climate change mitigation. The role of the Koerner lectures in shaping the next generation of geotechnical engineers and fostering diversity within the field is also expected to gain prominence.


The Robert M. Koerner Lectures have become a vital conduit for the exchange of knowledge in geosynthetics and geotechnical engineering. As we reflect on the past, engage with the present and envision the future, it is clear that these lectures will continue to serve as a catalyst for advancements in the field. Driven by a commitment to excellence and inclusivity and as we strive in cooperation to grow our industry, the Robert M. Koerner Lectures are set to leave an indelible mark on the landscape of geosynthetic engineering education for years to come.


2023 Dr. J.P. Giroud

2021 Dr. Jie Han

2019 Dr. Barry Christopher not recorded

2017 Dr. George Koerner 

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