In previous years, indeed in 2018-19 when I completed the module myself, students were tasked with carrying out and analysing the results from a series of undrained triaxial tests to compare reality with theoretical and numerical frameworks. It is my opinion that this is the best module provided by the Department, providing an unmatched level of detail into one of the most challenging topics within Geotechnics, let alone Civil Engineering, that of Critical State Soil Mechanics. The theoretical background is provided by Professor Glenn McDowell whilst Dr Alec Marshall and Dr Charles Heron focus on the numerical and experimental teaching respectively.
When I discovered the experimental side of the module was going to be diluted by the impacts of the pandemic and room capacity issues, I was ever so slightly saddened by the inability of current students to take part in, what I believe, is a key component in what makes the Geotechnical Modelling module so great. Being able to turn theory into practice was a crucial in my understanding of Critical State Soil Mechanics, especially (as I have alluded before) when considering my disfavour of pure fundamental theory. However, I believed there was a way to give a similar experience of that when hands-on in the lab…
First person view is not an uncommon method online for showing a realistic view of sometimes complex processes. Over the last year or so, one of my favourite YouTube creators to watch and learn from is Kenji López-Alt. A renowned chef, restauranteur and author, Kenji teaches the art of home cooking with his insights from professional kitchens through his 73 million+ view YouTube channel. What I find so captivating about his videos is how the finer details of the process are right there for the viewer to see, as you move along through the process of cooking step-by-step. Along the way Kenji talks around the subject in a casual and conversational way, dropping his experience and scientific background into the commentary in a way that helps viewers learn why he is doing a particular thing, something traditional cooking programming lacks. In a similar way, returning to experimental demonstrations, more traditional “chalk and talk” lectures or stationary camera demonstrations rarely if ever in my experience, substitute for hands-on experimentation and demonstrations. First person view a la Kenji López-Alt, may just provide a neat way to maintain some semblance of normality for the experimental portion of the Geotechnical Modelling module. This is pretty much the pitch I gave to my the teaching staff on the module, who also happen to be my supervisors, and lo and behold, I was given the opportunity! Result! So I armed myself with my GoPro Hero 7 and set about making some triaxial samples.
Below you can see a still frame from the first video in the series Triaxial Sample Preparation for Strength Testing of Soils - Geotechnical Modelling. Still frame from Triaxial Sample Preparation for Strength Testing of Soils - Geotechnical Modelling
I have to say, I’m very happy with the result. Viewers can accurately see the process evolve over time, resulting in a complete demonstration of triaxial testing from sample preparation through to shearing, in a level of detail that is incomparable to anything available in the public domain as of October 2020. The intricacies involved of applying silicone grease to a latex tube, turning valves, controlling pressures are all laid bare, hopefully providing viewers along with insights into the reasons for each step in what can seem like a complicated process at first.
Perhaps some day I’ll be tasked with producing content on seeing the process through and comparing theory with reality, but for now I’ll leave that to the professionals… Unless of course there’s a clamour for more geotechnical YouTube content, in which case I’ll become a full time influencer.
You can find the full series of experimental demonstrations on my YouTube channel, in this handy playlist.