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History of science lecture by Ross MacFarlane

Professor Robert Mair FREng FRS University of Cambridge

In Shanghai 20 km of tunnel are to be built every year for the next 20 years. In Rome a new metro line beneath the Colosseum is about to be constructed. In London the exciting Crossrail project has got the green light. Urban congestion is a serious problem in many cities, so the creation of underground space and in particular the development of underground transport is environmentally essential. How can tunnels be built in ground sometimes as soft as toothpaste? What can go wrong? Will buildings above be affected by subsidence? What else is underground already that might get in the way? Geotechnical engineering, the application of the science of soil mechanics and engineering geology, plays a key role in answering these questions.

The talk will also describe the critical importance of geology and the development and application of the latest tunnelling techniques. Current and future projects from all over the world will demonstrate the size, technical challenges and complexity of modern underground construction. Protection from subsidence is critical and new ways to ensure buildings are unaffected during tunnelling will be explained.