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GEOTECH/MAT/CONSTR/STRUCT Seminar: Lessons Learned from Dam Failures, Daniel VandenBerge

Date: Thursday, October 12

Time: 3:40 pm - 4:50 pm

Location: 405 John D. Tickle Building

Engineers have long recognized the importance of learning from failure. This is especially true in the realm of geotechnical engineering where uncertainties abound in both analysis methods and the materials that must be modeled.  Analysis of failure provides much of the useful field data that relates theoretical soil mechanics principles to the real geologic materials they represent. This presentation will briefly describe a number of dam failures and some of the lessons, both technical and non-technical, that can be learned from these events. This investigation will help engineers to foster critical thinking skills and to learn where to look for potential problems, particularly regarding the design and maintenance of dams and levees. The case studies will include well-known failures, such as Teton and South Fork Dams, and lesser known failures, such as Silver Lake and Banqaio Dams.  In the words of Francis, Ellis, and Worthen (1874), “Man cannot make a dam by instinct or intuition,” which is why we need to study dam failures!


Daniel R. VandenBerge, PhD. is an Assistant Professor specializing in geotechnical engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tennessee Tech. Dan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan Tech in 2001 and 2003 and then spent seven years in geotechnical engineering consulting.  Dan received a Ph.D from Virginia Tech in May 2014 for his work on the application of the finite element method to rapid drawdown analysis. VandenBerge’s other research interests include the behavior of compacted clays, fully softened shear strength, levee seepage, and dam failures. Dan also performs research in the use of reliability analyses in geotechnical engineering and sustainable earth structures.

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