Putting the University of Calgary on the international map

By Ramesh Joshi, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering

This just to make an attempt to let you know about a small contribution this old man made to put the University of Calgary on the International map.

I joined the academic ranks in 1977, when the University of Calgary was in its juvenile state and under the shadow of its mother University to the north in Edmonton. At the time, the oil industry as well as Alberta Government were making serious attempts to extract oil from a new and uncharted source -- the Tar Sands, now called Oil Sands for environmental or political reasons. This unconventional source of oil required large mining operations, as well as the handling of billions of liters of waste water and sludge that was generated by the hot water process of treatment of Tar Sands to separate tar from the mined sand and refine it into pump-able fluid to be sent to the refineries south of the border.

The Geotechnical Engineering dealing with mining of tar sands, foundations of ultra-heavy equipment, and storage of vast amounts of tar sand sludge related to the new venture required research in academic institutions and in the field. The power needed for the vast oil sands projects also increased the demand for energy, which made the research so urgent.

When I arrived at the U of C, there was just one academic in the area of Geotechnical discipline in the department of Civil Engineering. There was no graduate studies program either. Most academic research funding was diverted towards the mother institution in Edmonton.

I not only started the graduate studies program in the area of Geotechnical Engineering but specifically in the area of handling and storage and also the utilization of waste materials generated from Power Plants and Tar Sands. I was the first one to come up with the concept of solidifying the Tar Sand Sludge and utilizing it for road construction and reclamation of vast mining pits. Under my tutelage, graduate student Mr. Brahm Prasad produced a thesis on Bitumen Recovery and Tar Sand Sludge solidification in 1982-83.

The thesis and reports produced on the subject have since then been used by the industry and consultants, alas without crediting the University of Calgary. The process of centrifuging for solidification and stabilization of the sludge by adding a small amount of lime was approved for patenting, but in the end the University lost the race. Centrifuging is finally being used by the industry after 30 years. Likewise, research efforts with other colleagues and graduate students at the U of C have increased the use of fly ash to replace cement in concrete from about 10% to as much as 50% and the total usage of fly ash from approximately 10,000 tonnes to over 1,500,0000 tonnes per year.

At the same time that I was working on Tar Sand Sludge, I devised a process of reducing CO2 production by producing cementitious or cement like ashes in Power Plants. It took about 15 years of research to produce viable results. While the Local Power Industry failed to commercialize the process or get a patent on the process at the time, the same process has since been patented by an American company not only on the North American continent but all over the world.
As an academic with four university degrees and over 15 years of field experience in materials engineering and construction techniques, I was able to advance the development of large tracks of land North of Lethbridge, Alberta, which local consultants had indicated would be impossible without excessive settlement of buildings. They had also shown an inability to solve the problem of continuous scouring of Sand Island, constructed from dredged sand in the Beaufort Sea for oil exploration. Applying knowledge in soil stabilization and laboratory testing of stabilized sand using chemicals and cement, I was able to eliminate the recurring scouring of Sand Island. We also experimented with using fiber reinforced concrete for irrigation canal lining to conserve water and make the liners more durable.

This was the first time an academic hired, trained, and paid undergraduate students on a construction site to learn the practice of the profession of Engineering first-hand. I was fortunate to not only have contributed innovative techniques to the academic field but also introduced unique teaching methods where students could learn to practice the profession of Engineering. At times, I supervised 4 to 6 graduate students and was able to make the graduate program in Geotechnical Engineering a success at the U of C.

I was also able to attract research funds from private industry, the Canadian and Provincial Governments, and from foreign countries. I organized and attended conferences in the area of Geotechnical Engineering and Fly Ash Utilization, which led to an invitation in 1990 by the Japan Society for Promotion of Scenic (JSPS) to visit Japan for a period of three months to report on the quality of Fly Ash research in various Japanese universities. This was the first time that a Canadian Academic was awarded this prestigious honor. Likewise, Korea Fly Ash Company awarded a sum of $45,000 for  research to reduce the effect of carbon in its ash. Research scholars and academics from Japan, Poland, Russian, the U.K., Turkey and India visited and stayed from three to eighteen months at the U of C for research collaboration and training with me.

Now in its 50th year, the U of C can claim that is has generated innovative research and trained many Graduate Students with M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Geotechnical Engineering  besides  hundreds of undergraduates. The academic strength of this department is now 400% greater than it used to be.

While I did not and will never become wealthy as a result of these accomplishments, I can say with all humility that I feel rich in having contributed to the advancement of the Geotechnical and Materials Engineering field and to the training of its admirable and noble professionals.

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