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Ryley Beddoe – Queen's 3MT runner up 2013

By Sharday Mosurinjohn

28th March 2013

PHoto of Ryley_BeddoeThree years ago, Queen’s School of Graduate Studies profiled Ryley Beddoe (Left), who had recently made the decision to return to Queen’s for a PhD in geotechnical engineering, and to immerse herself in the varsity athletics she’d put on hold for her previous degrees. This week we’ve had a chance to catch up with Beddoe, who’s now nearing the completion of her fourthdegree at Queen’s, in order to congratulate her on taking second place at the second annual Queen’s 3-Minute Thesis competition. Her runner-up status qualifies her to move on alongside top placegetter Xiaoqian Liu to the Ontario 3MT Championship next month.

For Beddoe, 3MT represents an opportunity to hone skills that are crucial to one of the things she loves doing most: teaching. In fact, one of her four degrees is a Bachelor of Education, which she acquired before returning to embark on graduate research in the department of Civil Engineering. Beddoe worked for a time during undergraduate summers as a director with Camp Outlook (a camp for youth at risk), and also considered a long-term career teaching with a local school board, but after garnering some experience as an instructor for undergraduate courses in her department, she ultimately decided that teaching at the university level is what’s in her future.

It’s clear that Beddoe has a gift for instruction, having made doctoral level geotechnical research crystal clear to an interdisciplinary audience at the 3MT finals. Geotechnical engineering is the study of the behaviour of soils under the influence of loading forces and soil-water interactions, and addresses engineering problems related to the design of foundations, slopes, excavations, dams, and tunnels. Under the aegis of Dr. Andy Take’s Geotechnical Group, Beddoe’s project shifts the focus in understanding landslides from the ominously steep slopes we can see to the composition of what’s called the “base;” that is, the land supporting the slopes.

According to Beddoe, studying the base – understanding the mechanical response of the ground, and the water within it – is crucial because, when water saturation of the base reaches a critical mass, landslides can trigger base liquefaction. And what better way to study such a powerful natural phenomenon than to observe it firsthand? “Thankfully,” says Beddoe, “I’ve never seen one happen live outside of experimental conditions.” Instead, Beddoe and her colleagues use a large-scale landslide flume to simulate landslides. They are also able to observe the phenomenon of static liquefaction through small-scale centrifuge models. “We can use a geotechnical centrifuge [a device that rotates at high speeds to increase the g-forces on the model to match stresses between model and prototype scale] to increase the action of gravity on a small amount of material and see how it behaves under those conditions.”

When asked what she would have elaborated on had she been given four minutes instead of three in which to explain her thesis, Beddoe says without hesitation that the extra minute would have gone to giving greater detail on the topic of liquefaction. “I understand,” she says, “why it might be hard for people to imagine an apparently solid chunk of land suddenly liquefy before their very eyes, but in effect, that’s exactly what can happen in a landslide.” Evidently, landslides represent a topic that commands a healthy mix of fear and awe, which is why it has attracted Beddoe’s curiosity as a researcher and galvanized her commitment to better understanding them today in order to save more lives tomorrow.