Vice Principal (Research) & Professor (Civil Engineering)
Think fully about the implications of your research
by Karen Richardson
As Vice-Principal of Research, Kerry Rowe (who is the only Canadian in 2010 to be elected a Fellow of the United Kingdoms Royal Academy of Engineering) oversees all of the research that is conducted at Queen's University, from the humanities to health sciences. This entails helping to attract funding for research and overseeing compliance and regulatory issues related to research. Dr. Rowe is also Professor of Civil Engineering and a Research Director at the Geoengineering Centre at Queen's and the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston. .
The GeoEngineering Centre, founded in 2001, is a collaborative venture between faculty members at Queen's and RMC. Drawn from four different engineering departments at the two institutions, the centre's members are dedicated to innovation and advancement of knowledge in geotechnical, hydrogeological, geochemical, geomechanical, geoenvironmental and geosynthetics engineering. "One of the things we pride ourselves on is the level of interaction and collaboration between faculty members. The breadth and the level of interaction in the geoengineering program is, I believe, unique worldwide," says Dr. Rowe.
With the involvement of government and industrial partners the centre provides exciting opportunities for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in specialized or multi-disciplinary fields of interest. "We have world-class laboratory facilities. And in terms of geoengineering, we have the best-funded group in the country in terms of competitive grants," says Dr. Rowe. Faculty members are known for their outstanding quality as researchers and as mentors for graduate students.
Dr. Rowe's research and consulting is in the fields of geotechnical, geosynthetic, hydrogeologic, landfill and geoenvironmental engineering, with a major focus on the long-term performance of barrier systems for landfills. Dr. Rowe is the lead author of the book Barrier Systems for Waste Disposal Facilities, editor of the Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering Handbookand has more than 400 referenced journal and conference papers and two books.
Dr. Rowe wrote the book because he claims "there was a need for something that brought together the state-of-the art and the practice with respect to various systems for waste-disposal facilities." The new edition is a leading textbook and is also widely used by consultants in this field. He also contributes to the teaching of a landfill course that focuses on geoenvironmental issues related to landfill design.
His graduate students are working on projects ranging from finding techniques for cleaning up PCB and hydrocarbon spills in the arctic to the long-term performance of landfill barrier systems.
"At the GeoEngineering Centre we have arguably the strongest geoengineering group in Canada and are recognized internationally as one of the best in the world. This means that people from all over the world are paying attention to the research that is being done here," says Dr. Rowe.
Many of the graduate students are hired by major consulting companies in Canada and worldwide. "There is incredible demand by consulting companies for our students," he says. Former students are involved in mining projects in South America, dam-building projects in Africa, while many have gone into the geoenvironmental and geosynthetics field working for Canadian and U.S. consultants; some have also gone into the academic field.
"Our past graduate students have an incredible track record in terms of awards and success in their careers," says Dr. Rowe. "The work they have done has been widely recognized and has been very high-quality. Many students have won awards for best-paper in journals such as the Canadian Geotechnical Journal, Geotextiles and Geomembrane and Geosynthetics International, while others have won prizes from the International Geosynthetic Society and the North American Geosynthetic Society, for example.
One of the great strengths of the program is that it extends beyond simply completing a thesis, says Dr. Rowe. "Students work on complex problems that require interaction. Many also get the experience of interacting with industry because we have a lot of industry partners. And they get the advantage of working with multiple professors. They develop skills in project management and through the collaborative geoengineering program they obtain good opportunities to develop some of the soft skills, such as presentation and writing skills. A lot of our projects involve a combination of field work, laboratory work and theoretical work." The department also hosts a graduate seminar series paid for by consultants, which brings in world-renowned speakers on a regular basis.
Dr. Rowe has supervised a large number of graduate students, many of whom have won awards for their research. His own research and teaching has been recognized by a number of awards including, most recently, the Killam Prize and an invite to present the 2005 Rankine Lecture. He is currently Editor of the journal Geotextiles and Geomembranes, a Co-Editor of the International Journal of Geomechanicsand an Associate Editor or member of the editorial board for 12 other journals.
Dr. Rowe encourages his students to think fully about the implications of their research and to look at their research from a holistic perspective. "Often students only look at one aspect of the problem with a solution and discover they have actually generated other problems." He enjoys the discussions and the mentoring in working with graduate students as well as hearing their ideas. "I enjoy following their careers after they have left and take pride and pleasure in their success."