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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2003 / 09 

NSF Awards Virginia Tech $1.07 Million For Underground Research

September 22, 2003

With increasing world population, demand for underground construction is expected to accelerate in the future. An interdisciplinary group of researchers at Virginia Tech received a National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant for the design and implementation of an Information Technology (IT)-based system for safe and efficient design and construction of underground space.

Underground excavations are used for a wide variety of civilian and military purposes, including mining, road and railway tunnels, and caverns. Permanent storage of the current U.S. stockpile of nuclear wastes will utilize large underground excavations.

The new grant, titled "Adaptive and Real-Time Geologic Mapping, Analysis and Design of Underground Space (AMADEUS)," has a project budget of $1.07 million over four years from NSF's Information Technology Research (ITR) Program and the Geomechanics and Geotechnical Systems Program.

From an IT viewpoint, design and construction of underground facilities are just emerging from the dark ages. Advances in IT, particularly in digital imaging, data management, visualization and computation can significantly improve analysis, design and construction of underground excavations.

As an integrated system, AMADEUS will result in significant contributions to the safe, efficient and economical construction and use of underground space. Computational modeling can lead to more rational designs for underground excavations than what is provided by traditional rock mass classification systems and empirical design procedures.

Marte Gutierrez, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), is the principal investigator for this research. Matthew Mauldon, associate professor, and Joseph Dove, research assistant professor, also in CEE, are co-principal investigators. Co-principal investigators outside the CEE department include Doug Bowman, assistant professor of computer science, and Eric Westman, assistant professor of mining and minerals engineering. All of the research team members are relatively new to Virginia Tech. "The open and free flow of ideas among the members of the research team contributed to the success of the proposal," Gutierrez said.

Using IT, real-time data on geology and excavation response can be gathered during the construction using non-intrusive techniques that do not require expensive and time-consuming instrumentation. The real-time data will then be used to update the geological and computational models of the excavation, and to determine the optimal rate of excavation, excavation sequence and structural support. Virtual environment (VE) systems will allow for virtual walk-through inside an excavation, observation of geologic conditions, virtual tunneling operations and investigation of the stability of an excavation via computer simulation. "AMADEUS has the potential to revolutionize design and construction of underground excavations, and hopefully, change the way we use subsurface data all together," Gutierrez said.

Further information about this grant is available from Gutierrez via email at or from the following website: