Professor Andrew Schofield FREng FRS, winner of the 2017 Sir Frank Whittle Medal
A Cambridge engineer responsible for transformational research in soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering is to receive the Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal in recognition of sustained achievement throughout his career.

Professor Andrew Schofield FREng FRS, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge, has been a leading voice in the field since the 1960s. As a civil engineer specialising in soil mechanics, Professor Schofield also pioneered the use of centrifuge modelling for geotechnical and civil engineering applications. Recognising that the stresses and strains inside full scale earth structures could be replicated in miniature in a scale model subject to high acceleration in a laboratory centrifuge, Professor Schofield led the development of new, world-leading facilities dedicated to modelling geotechnical and civil engineering structures including tunnels, trenches, dams, deep and shallow foundations and retaining walls.

Over the decades, the evidence from thousands of physical model tests contributed to the evolution of new design approaches and to the validation of numerical computer modelling tools for engineering practice. Professor Schofield and his research teams developed miniature sensors for measuring pore water pressure in soils, enabling not only the movement but also the internal stress changes in the model to be measured and interpreted. The physical models provided extraordinary new insights into field problems ranging from the failure of levees to tunnel collapse and earthquake shaking.

The Sir Frank Whittle Medal will be presented to Professor Schofield at the Royal Academy of Engineering’s AGM in London on 5 September.

Professor Sarah Springman CBE FREng, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering and Rector at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, who supported Professor Schofield’s nomination, said: “It is almost impossible to try to quantify the degree of Andrew Schofield’s legacy, from the ideas that characterise and promote design for a robust infrastructure and in the people who he has inspired, both in practice and in academia. Andrew Schofield has made a sustained and truly outstanding contribution to the field of civil engineering and is enormously worthy of the 2017 Sir Frank Whittle Medal”.

After starting his career as a young civil engineer in Nyasaland in the 1950s, Professor Andrew Schofield became a research student at Cambridge University. In 1958 he co-authored a paper titled On the Yielding of Soils with Cambridge colleagues Kenneth Roscoe and Peter Wroth, which became a breakthrough publication. Inspired by the work of a Russian applied mathematician Vasily Sokolovsky, Professor Schofield approached the problem of predicting the behaviour of soil by studying the dissipation of energy required for the distortion of particulate materials, leading to the first mathematical model for plastic soil behaviour, which he called Cam-clay. In 1968 Professor Schofield published a book with Wroth, Critical State Soil Mechanics, that would transform generations of engineers’ understanding of the mechanical behaviour of sands, silts and clays.

Throughout his career Professor Schofield has been a forceful advocate for basing geotechnical engineering methods in design and construction on a rigorous approach to the underlying mechanics. This journey took him all over the world, where he engaged with universities, governments and industry to offer new solutions to their geotechnical challenges. He welcomed students and visitors to his research centre at Cambridge, renamed on his retirement the Schofield Centre for Geotechnical and Construction Modelling. He worked selflessly over the decades to export the technology and techniques he had developed, which are now used worldwide in university and industry research and practice and adopted by major organisations including Exxon (for developing offshore foundations for petroleum exploration) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (for modelling flood defences). Professor Schofield was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1986, and of the Royal Society in 1992.

Notes for editors

  1. Named after Britain’s jet engine genius and founding Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Frank Whittle Medal is awarded to an engineer resident in the UK whose outstanding and sustained achievements have had a profound impact on their engineering discipline.

    More information: Sir Frank Whittle Medal
  2. Professor Andrew N Schofield FREng FRS. Professor Schofield graduated with a BA in Mechanical Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 1951, and spent three years as a civil engineer in Nyasaland (now Malawi) before returning to Cambridge as a research student. After completing his PhD in soil mechanics, he spent most of the sixties as a Cambridge University lecturer before spending time at Caltech as a Fulbright Fellow and then as Professor of Civil Engineering at UMIST – now the University of Manchester. In 1974 he returned to the University of Cambridge and spent 24 years as Professor of Engineering before becoming Emeritus Professor in 1998. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1986, and of the Royal Society in 1992.
  3. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession

For more information please contact:

Aaron Boardley at the Royal Academy of Engineering

T: 020 7766 0655
E: Aaron Boardley