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Recognizing Research Excellence: 1984

On March 21, 1984 University of Alberta Research Prizes for excellence in research and scholarship were presented to Gerhard Krapf and Norbert Morgenstern. The prizes are sponsored jointly by the University and the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta.

Just as obvious to the eye as Gerhard Krapf's baby grand are Norbert Morgenstern's books. Rows and rows of books crowd the walls of the small office that has been home to the acclaimed civil engineer for the past dozen years.

He laughs when questioned about his choice of profession. "I couldn't stand the sight of blood, so that eliminated medicine. My parents wanted me to be a lawyer, so that eliminated law. So I decided to become an engineer." It is 30 years since this reactionary career plan led Norbert Morgenstern to enroll in civil engineering at the University of Toronto. In that relatively short period of time, Dr. Morgenstern has developed a reputation as one of the leading geotechnical engineers in the world.

Soil mechanics, a relatively new field, caught Dr. Morgenstern's eye as a discipline which "offered a way out of the more traditional fields of civil engineering." After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1956, he went to England, "partly to do graduate work and partly to see the world." There he specialized in soil mechanics at Imperial College of Science and Technology and at the University of London. Those he worked with in England, first as a graduate student and subsequently as a fellow faculty member, remember his "keen intellect," "brilliant analysis," and "devoted and inspiring assistance."

Small wonder, then, that his reputation spread. In 1968 he accepted a position at the University of Alberta, shrugging off the skepticism of friends and colleagues who wondered "why on earth" he would choose Alberta. To Dr. Morgenstern, it was time for a change, and he recognized the potential awaiting him.

A keen curiosity and a high energy level combine to keep Dr. Morgenstern busy. His interest in geotechnical engineering covers a vast range of subjects and problems. He has travelled the world doing research and consulting. Dams, landslides, highways, bridges, pipelines - all have been under his scrutiny. He has made important contributions in fields ranging from the physics and mechanics of water and ice in soils to topics in geology and rock mechanics and to the development of state-of-theart techniques for design of engineering geotechnical structures. His expertise has had a profound effect not only on the academic community but also on professional practice at the local, national and international levels.

Dr. Morgenstern's current interests include geotechnical applications to heavy oil extraction and arctic and offshore resource development. But he readily admits that he is constantly exploring new aspects of his field, a field he believes to be far broader than most people realize. "The contribution of geotechnical engineering to many technological undertakings is so central that the limits of our profession expand continually."

Such is certainly the case at the University of Alberta where he is credited with developing one of the finest geotechnical engineering thrusts in North America. "He has succeeded in establishing the University of Alberta as the focal point for geotechnical engineering," states Peter Adams, dean of Engineering. "Few major projects are planned on this continent without the involvement of Dr. Morgenstern and, through him, members of the geotechnical group. It is an involvement that has been of significant importance to this country."

When met with such praise, Dr. Morgenstern is quick to point to his colleagues and students. "We have an excellent group of talented people at this University. Our success is very much a team effort." This obvious respect for his colleagues gives the Research Prize special importance; an importance which he believes goes beyond peer recognition. "You might say that Gerhard Krapf and I represent opposite poles of what a university is all about," he explains. "The University does itself credit by recognizing that professional, market-oriented research and research in the creative arts hold equally important places in the scheme of things."

This is the third consecutive year that the University has honored its own with Research Prizes. Two prizes are awarded annually: one recognizes outstanding work in the general area of the humanities and social sciences; file other rewards excellence in the sciertces axd engineering.

Published Summer 1984.

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