Public Release: 

IT advances underground construction

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, Va. - With increasing world population, demand for underground construction is expected to accelerate. An interdisciplinary group of researchers at Virginia Tech has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant for the design and implementation of an information technology (IT)-based system for safe and efficient design and construction of underground space.

Underground excavations are used for a wide variety of civilian and military purposes, including mining, road and railway tunnels, and caverns. Permanent storage of the current U.S. stockpile of nuclear waste depends upon large underground excavations.

The new grant, titled "Adaptive and Real-Time Geologic Mapping, Analysis and Design of Underground Space (AMADEUS)," has a project budget of $1.07 million over four years from NSF's Information Technology Research (ITR) Program and the Geomechanics and Geotechnical Systems Program.

Advances in IT, particularly in digital imaging, data management, visualization, and computation, can significantly improve analysis, design, and construction of underground excavations.

As an integrated system, AMADEUS will contribute to the safe, efficient, and economical construction and use of underground space. Computational modeling can lead to more rational designs for underground excavations than traditional rock mass classification systems and empirical design procedures, according to principal investigator Marte Gutierrez, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE). Co-principal investigators are Matthew Mauldon, associate professor, and Joseph Dove, research assistant professor, in CEE, Doug Bowman, assistant professor of computer science, and Eric Westman, assistant professor of mining and minerals engineering. "The open and free flow of ideas among the members of the research team contributed to the success of the proposal," Gutierrez said.

Using IT, real-time data on geology and excavation response can be gathered during the construction, using non-intrusive techniques that do not require expensive and time-consuming instrumentation. The real-time data will then be used to update the geological and computational models of the excavation, and to determine the optimal rate of excavation, excavation sequence, and structural support. Virtual environment (VE) systems will allow for virtual walk-through inside an excavation, observation of geologic conditions, virtual tunneling operations, and investigation of the stability of an excavation via computer simulation. "AMADEUS has the potential to revolutionize design and construction of underground excavations, and hopefully, change the way we use subsurface data all together," Gutierrez said.

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Contact Dr. Gutierrez at magutier@vt.edu or 540-231-6357

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