The Royal Academy of Engineering is to award its 2006 Public Promotion of Engineering Medal to the man who helped stop the famous leaning Tower of Pisa crashing to the ground, Professor John Burland CBE FREng FRS.

As a renowned expert in geotechnical engineering at Imperial College, Professor Burland has been consultant on many high profile projects. However, his public profile – and that of the relatively unknown discipline he represented - soared when he was enlisted to the international committee formed in 1990 to save the Pisa Tower, which was slowly toppling over. The project lasted eleven years, and involved the carefully calculated excavation of 30 tonnes of soil from the foundations under the northern side of the tower, overseen by Professor Burland who produced a day-by-day analysis of the tower’s subsequent position.

Professor Burland explained: "At the angle it was, we couldn’t even get the tower to stand up on our computer model. That shows just how close to falling over it really was."

The Pisa Tower now stands at a 5.0 degree tilt - straightened by a full 45 centimetres – and should remain standing for another 400 years. In recognition of his services, he was awarded Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Francis I Italy, an extremely rare honour for a UK national. This accolade sits alongside a raft of other eminent awards including Gold Medals from the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, the Institution of Structural Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Professor Burland has always been in high demand on the lecture circuit and has given some of the most prestigious lectures in his discipline, including the 9th Laurits Bjerrum Memorial Lecture in 1986 and the British Geotechnical Society Rankine Lecture in 1990. Throughout the 1990s he gave Civil Engineers Christmas Lectures, regularly participated in the annual meetings of the British Association, for which he was President of the Engineers Section in 2002, and has given Institution of Structural Engineers Easter lectures to schoolchildren, with whom he has a natural affinity.

Communication is something Professor Burland has always felt passionate about. It’s something he believes engineers need to learn how to do properly - in recent times he’s exercised his own communication skills in the BBC’s Geronimo! programme. The series challenged would-be designers and inventors to build machines for a range of different situations. Professor Burland spent time discussing the design and build of the machines with participants and, importantly, discussing ways around problems when they arose which, he says, “is what engineering’s all about”.

His involvement with the public and the media, through programmes such as this and the coverage of his work in Italy opened up a platform to stimulate public interest in engineering.
Professor Burland retired from full-time teaching in 2004, however he continues to teach on the MSc course and assists in current research in soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering in his position as Emeritus Professor at Imperial College. He continues his exceptional contribution to engaging the public’s understanding of science, devoting significant time to public lecturing, particularly to young audiences.
Professor Burland will be presented with the Public Promotion of Engineering Medal at The Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Dinner on 05 June in London.

Notes for editors

  1. The Academy’s Public Promotion of Engineering medal has only been presented four times before, to author and TV presenter Dr Adam Hart-Davis in 2002 to BBC Producer/Director Ed Bazalgette and Assistant Producer Simon Winchcombe in 2003, to TV and radio presenter, Kate Bellingham in 2004 and to the creator of the Science Museum, Dr Lindsay Sharp in 2005.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Amy Abbott, Manager, Events and Awards, The Royal Academy of Engineering