Obituary 10 Dec 2017

TunnelTalk Reporting

Born in Krakow, Poland, in 1936, Zdzislaw Bieniawski became recognized internationally as one of the leading authorities in the area of rock engineering in tunnelling and in mining, with 45 years of experience in engineering practice, teaching and research. His special expertise was in engineering design methodology, principles and management.

Zdzislaw T (Richard) Bieniawski – 1936-2017
Zdzislaw T (Richard) Bieniawski – 1936-2017

After moving his family from Poland to South Africa in the late 1950s, he graduated in 1963 with a Master’s Degree in Engineering Mechanics from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and earned a PhD in Tunnelling and Mining from the University of Pretoria in 1967.

For 21 years, from 1977-1996, he was Professor of GeoEnvironmental Engineering at Pennsylvania State University and became Distinguished Professor at the University of Madrid, Spain, and at the Krakow University of Science and Technology where he was awarded doctorate honoris causa by each in 2001 and 2010 respectively.

In his university postings, he taught undergraduate and graduate students in rock engineering, strata control, tunnelling, environmental engineering, engineering design methodology, and STS (science, technology and society).

In his career, and of distinction, he developed a rock mass classification system known as the Rock Mass Rating (RMR) that is used currently throughout the world for design of tunnels and mines. The RMR system combines all the significant geologic parameters of influence and represents them with one overall comprehensive index that can be used directly in the design and construction of tunnelling projects to improve safety and to increase efficiency.

Professor Bieniawski also developed one of the main methods used for determining the strength of rock and coal pillars in mining and proposed a detailed methodology and principles for design of excavations in geologic media.

He is the author of more than 200 journal articles and 18 books in English and Spanish, some translated into Chinese, Korean, Polish and Russia. The most significant of these are:

  • Rock Mechanics Design in Mining and Tunneling; Balkema, Rotterdam, 1984
  • Engineering Rock Mass Classifications; John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1989
  • Design Methodology in Rock Engineering; Balkema, Rotterdam, 1992

He guest-lectured in more than 30 countries and held visiting professorships at:

  • The University of Karlsruhe, Germany
  • Stanford University (Petroleum Engineering) in California
  • Harvard University (Graduate School of Design) in Massachusetts
  • The University of Cambridge, England, UK (Design Engineering)
  • The AGH University of Science and Technology, Krakow, Poland
  • The University of Madrid, Spain

An award-winning teacher and dedicated educator, Professor Bieniawski was a Fellow of the Penn State Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. He was particularly interested in curriculum design for the 21st Century and in interaction of science, technology and society. He never forgot his Polish heritage. He stayed connected to the tunnelling industry in Poland and founded a scholarship for young scientists in the area of rock mechanics and tunnelling.

He received the AIME-SME Rock Mechanics Award for Outstanding Contributions in Scientific and Practical Applications of Rock Mechanics to Mining and Tunneling.

His was National Chairman of the United States Committee on Tunneling Technology (1984-1985) and as the US representative to the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA). At the ITA WTC (World Tunnel Congress) at Iguassu Falls in Brazil in May 2014, he delivered a most memberable closing lecture entitled Quo vadis tunnel engineering? Predicting the unpredictable. His favorite quotation was perseverantia omnia vincit - perseverance conquers all things.

Professor Bieniawski died on 10 December 2017 at his home in Prescott, Arizona, USA

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