Research Program

DSC_0091Our faculty and students maintain active research activities in all areas related to geological engineering, including:

– Geotechnical engineering
– Geoenviromental engineering
– Engineering and environmental geophysics
– Rock mechanics and rock engineering
– Non-destructive evaluation
– Alternative energy (wind and geothermal systems)
– Engineering of recycled materials
– Solid waste management and bioreactors
– Foundation engineering
– Geology
– Hydrogeology and hydroecology
– Water resources and stream restoration
– Coastal engineering
– Sustainable engineering

Laboratory Facilities and Services

The GLE research laboratories at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are fully equipped to perform both standard and specialized geotechnical/geomechanical, geoenvironmental, geophysical, and site-characterization tests as applied to the evaluation of processes in the near surface.

The geotechnical engineering laboratory also includes a broad variety of sensors (displacements transducers, load cells, pressure gauges, etc.), data acquisition and signal conditioning systems, computers, and general laboratory supplies needed for preparation of specimens and completion of sophisticated laboratory and field experiments. The GLE research laboratories are managed by full-time academic staff members with advanced degrees in Geological and Environmental Engineering.

Research Testing and Laboratory Capabilities

The GLE laboratory includes a large number of triaxial cells available for triaxial compression, consolidation, resilient modulus, and hydraulic characterization of soils. These cells are equipped with computer-controlled load frames. The mechanical testing is complemented with small and large-scale permeameters, pressure plates and hygrometers used to evaluate saturated and unsaturated hydraulic properites of soils and other porous media. The permeameters and pressure plates can test specimens with a diameter as large as 460 mm. The laboratory is also fully equipped with equipment and instrumetation to perform conventional physical and mechanical characterization of soil properties.

The GLE research laboratory possesses numerous devices available for field instrumentation and monitoring as well as site characterization activities. Geotechnical field testing equipment includes:

– 20-tonne Cone Penetration Testing Rig
– Drilling Rig with thin walled tube and SPT sampling equipment
– Piezocone penetrometer
– Full flow penetrometers (T-bar, Ball)
– Push-in shear wave velocity measurement system
– Flat plate dilatometer
– 44-mm diameter, 3.5-MPa Menard pressuremeter system

Data acquisition systems for field measurements of loads and displacements are also available. These systems have been equipped with remote monitoring capabilities.

Transmissivity and permittivity testing devices, a geosynthetic load frame with Curtis Sure-Grip, a large scale direct shear machine, and a pull-out box are available for the characterization of geosynthetic materials and geosynthetic-soil systems.

Our laboratories are equipped with state of the art geophysical testing instrumentation, including:

Elastic Waves and Seismic Systems
– A 24 channel Geometrics StrataView seismograph with both vertical and horizontal geophones and a 96 channel roll-along box. This system allows for high resolution seismic imaging and mapping of near surface structures of both man-made and geologic origin. The laboratory is also equipped with borehole geophones for cross-hole tomographic imaging.
– Laboratory P and S-wave propagation systems using PCB piezocrystal accelerometer and instrumented hammer, MEMS accelerometer, bender elements, precision geophones, and peripheral electronics (including Hewlett-Packard power amplifier, 4-channel Krohn-Hite filter/amplifiers, Tektronix digital oscilloscopes, NI multifunction data acquisition cards, Tektronix signal generators, Agilent and Tektronix multimeters). All these sensors and peripheral electronics are used to collect data for laboratory and field application of the tomographic imaging and visualization.
– Nondestructive evaluation systems. Ultrasonic P and S-wave wave generation and data collection systems for the characterization of elastic properties of soils, rock and concrete elements and systems.
– Dynamic properties of soils. Stokoe-type resonant column, cyclic triaxial equipment, Soil Stifness Gauge, and Resilient Modulus test instrumentation for the characterization of small to medium-strain dynamic responses of soils and recycled materials.
– Off-shore geophysics. Tritech 20-200 kHz subbottom profiler and 650 kHz side-scanning sonar for the evaluation of near-offshore physical and biological processes in Wisconsin lakes.

Electromagnetic Systems (DC to GHz)
– Zonge ZETA DC Resistivity/Induced Polarization Imaging System. This instrument permits the simultaneous acquisition of 13 channels of DC/IP data over 30 different electrodes for collection of electrical resistivity and induced polarization data both in the field and in the laboratory.
– Three-component Zonge nanoTEM Time Domain Electromagnetic System. This system allows for the acquisition of the transient magnetic fields generated by loop source, and is extremely useful for groundwater, landfill and contaminant mapping.
– Geometrics Ohmmapper. This capacitively coupled resistivity system is used for the rapid collection electrical resistivity tomography data in the field.
– ERT Imaging System. Multi-channel computer controlled electrical resistivity system for the tomographic imaging of processes in the laboratory.
– Sensors&Software PulseEKKO 100 Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) System with. This 50, 100, and 200 MHz surface and borehole antennae radar system allows for very high resolution imaging of near surface structures, utility location, contaminant delineation, and the estimation of in-situ moisture content.
– Time domain reflectrometry (TDR) system. Campbell Scientific and MESA Systems TDR systems for the evaluation of moisture water content in the field and laboratory using electromagnetic wave propagation principles.
– Electromagnetic Characterization of Materials. HP 4192A low-frequency impedance analyzer and HP 8752A high-frequency network analyzer for the broad-band characterization of electromagnetic properties of soils and rocks.

Magnetic Survey System
– Geometrics 858 Cesium Vapor Magnetometer with GPS Receiver. The magnetometer allows for rapid acquisition of magnetic field data which enhances our ability to rapidly delineate the location of underground utilities, storage tanks, and other metallic objects.

The evaluation of geoenvirometal processes is supported by a number of analytical chemical instruments including,
– Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES)
– High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)
– Gas chromatography (GC)
– Spectrophotometer
– Ion chromatography
– Netzsch DSC 200 differential scanning calorimeter

Data analyses are performed using off-the-shelf software packages such as Excel, Matlab and MathCad, with additional modeling performed using specialized engineering software packages. These software packages include:
– ABAQUS (finite element analyses with geomechanical soil models)
– Plaxis 3D Foundations (geotechnical finite element analyses)
– ANSYS (finite element analyses with geomechanical soil models)
– RATZ (load transfer analysis of axially loaded piles with cyclic loading capabilities)
– COMSOL multiphysics solver
– HYDRUS variable saturated flow and transport modeling
– SimaPro life cycle assessment

Geological Engineering Laboratory Services


The Wisconsin Geotechnics Laboratory provides specialty laboratory and field services in the following technical areas:

– Geotechnical engineering
– Geoenviromental engineering
– Vadose zone characterization
– In-situ testing and site characterization
– Engineering and environmental geophysics
– Non-destructive evaluation

Services provided by the Wisconsin Geotechnics Laboratory are intended to complement those provided by commercial laboratories in the private sector. Clients are encouraged to contact a commercial laboratory for conventional testing.

For more information on the Wisconsin Geotechnics Laboratory, please contact:

Dante Fratta, Ph.D.
2218 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1691
Tel: 608/265-5644