MATS UTC Student of the Year: Will Baker

Prior to pursuing a PhD in geotechnical engineering at the University of Delaware, Will Baker logged significant hours on construction sites across the northeast as an intern and co-op student with Duffield Associates.  He gained valuable experience performing soil sampling, and field and laboratory material testing. This hands-on exposure to geotechnical engineering, a branch of civil engineering that investigates the engineering behavior of soil and rock, helped to determine Baker’s academic future.

Baker is now pursuing his PhD under the guidance of advisor, Christopher Meehan, PhD, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Delaware. Together, they see the promise of intelligent compaction (IC) and continuous compaction control (CCC), using sensors and spatial mapping, to radically improve the foundations upon which earthwork construction projects are built. The underlying principle is that a denser soil is stronger soil. Using current compaction equipment, such as drum rollers, inspectors rely on simple calculations, density gauges and spot tests to determine if the compaction passes/fails. Meehan and Baker are exploring how IC and CCC can provide real-time monitoring of the compaction process to provide 100% analysis of the prepared site and reduce reliance on random sampling.

Serving as a graduate research assistant and undertaking his PhD research, Baker is developing empirical models utilizing machine-learning techniques to better understand the relationship between CCC measurements and in situ measurements.  He continues to work on active project sites to analyze the compaction process with a compaction roller instrumented with a CCC system and is working to establish geospatial and statistical characteristics of CCC measurements during active construction.

“Will’s work on developing innovative techniques for effective quality assurance and quality control of soil compaction has the potential to yield a better finished product for constructed roadways at reduced cost,” noted Dr. Meehan. “His discoveries will help to advance our understanding about using machine feedback to guide decision making in a field environment, which will encourage the use of cost saving automation in construction. In addition, Will’s work ethic as a graduate student is second to none, and he is a real pleasure to work with.”

Baker and Meehan presented some of their findings at the 2016 MATS UTC annual meeting. Their poster, Utilizing a neighboring weighted-estimate method for outlier detection with a continuous compaction control data set, described the correlation of CCC readings with traditional in situ spot test results to develop target values for compaction, working toward the compaction roller as a QC/QA tool during the construction process.

MATS UTC has taken notice of Baker’s research progress, recently naming him ‘2017 Student of the Year’. “Will’s contributions to MATS UTC-funded research on CCC and soil compaction, as well as his leadership activities with other students, warranted the recognition,” stated MATS UTC Managing Director, Lindsay Ivey Burden.

Baker is currently the chair of the GeoCongress Planning Committee, organizing a leadership workshop for students at the national GeoCongress Conference in March, 2018. He will moderate a panel discussion with industry representatives from academia, governing agencies, consulting and more; providing students with opportunities to learn about career opportunities and industry trends from leaders in the geotechnical community.

Upon graduation, Baker intends to pursue his interests in soil compaction either in an academic or field setting. “Site preparation needs to be done correctly right from the start of the project,” explained Baker. “No matter whether a construction site is large or small, it’s hard to manage soil yet it’s the foundation of a safe and sustainable construction project. I’m excited to contribute to our understanding of soil preparation and the practical use of CCC technology on-site.”

He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Delaware and expects to receive his PhD in geotechnical engineering in 2020. Baker may be contacted at bakerwil@udel.edu. Meehan may be contacted at cmeehan@udel.edu.

Selected publications include:

Meehan, C. L., Cacciola, D. V., Tehrani, F. S., and Baker, W. J. (2017). “Assessing Soil Compaction Using Continuous Compaction Control and Location-Specific In Situ Tests.” Automation in Construction, Elsevier, 73, 31-44.

Baker, W. J. and Meehan, C. L. (2017). “Utilizing a Neighboring Weighted-Estimation Method for Anomaly Detection with a Continuous Compaction Control Data Set.” Proc., Geotechnical Frontiers 2017: Transportation Facilities, Structures, and Site Investigation, Geotechnical Special Publication No. 277, Orlando, FL, March 12-15, 2017, ASCE, Reston, VA, 55-65.

Cacciola, D. V., Meehan, C. L., Baker, W. J., and Tehrani, F. S. (2018). “A Comparison of Continuous Compaction Control Measurements with Localized In Situ Test Results.”  2018 ASCE Geo-Congress (pending).

Baker, W. J. and Meehan, C. L. (2018). “A Comparison Between of In-Place Unit Weight and Moisture Content Measurements Made Using Nuclear Based Methods and the Drive Cylinder Method.”  2018 ASCE Geo-Congress (pending).