Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)
Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Dr. Mark Diederichs

Each year, the Prizes for Excellence in Research are awarded to top-ranking researchers at Queen’s who have made significant contributions to their field, paving the way for future scholars to follow in their footsteps and expanding the innovative world of research at the university. Recently, Leigh Cameron interviewed each recipient of the 2015 prize, exploring their research interests and inspirations.

[Dr. Mark Diederichs]
Photo of Mark Diederichs by Bernard Clark

Dr. Mark Diederichs is a professor of geological engineering with research interests in underground rock mechanics issues, engineering rock characterization in heterogeneous conditions, and geomechanics. Dr. Diederichs is a Fellow of the Engineering Institute of Canada and, in 2015, he received the CGS Thomas Roy Award for Excellence and Impact in Engineering Geology.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I have had many important mentors over the years. Dr. Cameron Kenney first inspired me to pursue research while I was a geotechnical undergraduate at the University of Toronto. Dr. Evert Hoek introduced me to the wide and wonderful world of rock engineering during my master’s research. During my PhD, Dr. Peter Kaiser convinced me that, in spite of the successes of experts past, we were a long way from an acceptable understanding of rock behaviour at great depth in tunnels and mines – we had a lot of work to do.

What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited for your research?

An impossible question to answer – I can’t decide between tunnelling under the spectacular Swiss Alps, exploring WWI tunnels under Vimy Ridge, investigating the geomechanics of ancient volcanic rock 2 km under the Andes or at 4km elevation in the Chilean Altiplano, working with village co-op miners in Zimbabwe, reviewing underground nuclear waste research labs in France, Switzerland and Scandinavia, or working on mine stability challenges 3 km below the Canadian Shield. It’s all amazing.

What is next for your research?

I have spent my research career working on the fundamental science of rock fracture and the practical application of this understanding to real-world tunnel engineering, mine design and the safety assessment for underground nuclear waste repositories. With respect to the latter application, I am turning my attention to complexities such as time, the impact of saturation in very low porosity rocks, and the impact of thermal stimulation. For tunnelling and mining, I aim to increase our ability to predict when benign brittle damage becomes violent and dangerous “rock bursting” in deep tunnelling operations.