Geotechnical Engineering

Following the floods from the fall of 2013, several dams in the Colorado Front Range either overflowed or gave out completely. Our class focused on the Foothills Reservoir Dam, located on the east side of the Boulder Reservoir.

Students in the Explorations of STEM class began this unit by learning about different soil types from the site:  gravel, sand, silt, and clay. They used the touch method to classify the soils, and then determined the permeability, strength, and density of each type. For each soil characteristic, students performed an experiment, collected data, and graphically represented their data. With this new knowledge, along with an understanding of basic earth dam structures, students collaborated with their teammates to select a design. They communicated their ideas through scaled drawing and then began building a (scaled) model of their dam. During testing, students were able to find out if their dam would survive. They needed to hold five gallons of water for five minutes. Some dams were successful, some had some seepage, and some catastrophically failed.

All in all, students learned a ton about the earth dams that protect areas where we live, and learned that soil is more than just DIRT!  Several students commented that they enjoyed this project because of the direct applicability to the floods that struck our area a year and a half ago.

This project was led by our CU-Teams fellow, Valerie.  She did a terrific job engaging our students in this unit on geotechnical engineering!