Graduate Student Dan Kennedy Goes Deep

As a Civil Engineering graduate student, with a geomechanics focus, Dan Kennedy (BCE 2018, MS 2020) studies deep foundations necessary for tall, slender structures. He is advised by Bojan Guzina and Joseph Labuz.

“I am extremely impressed with the CEGE program and have been since the first time I visited the building. It is apparent that everyone associated with CEGE is passionate about engineering.”

“Working closely with Professors Guzina and Labuz has been great. I am not micromanaged and am given plenty of intellectual freedom to explore different research ideas (some successful, some not). Professor Guzina has a great technical background and helps keep my research on track. Professor Labuz has found great ways for me to get involved with the department. For example, I helped organize the 2020 annual UMN Geotechnical Engineering Conference and am also helping organize the upcoming 2021 Conference. My participation has given me the chance to get to know a number of engineers and professors in the field. Professor Labuz also got me involved with the UMN Discover STEM camps where we demonstrated concepts related to soil mechanics (shear strength, angle of repose, and liquefaction) to visiting high school students.”

Kennedy with his daughter at a STEM camp
Kennedy with his daughter at a STEM camp

Kennedy also enjoys sharing his work with his 8-year-old daughter Ella. “She has been to the department many times, and she loves it here. She is impressed that my office is 100 feet underground. Every time we come she wants to see the ‘quicksand machine’ in the Soil Lab. Ella is so proud of me and tells everyone 'My dad works at the University of Minnesota!'”

Kennedy is researching deep foundations necessary for tall, slender structures. The goal of his research is to establish an innovative and non-destructive technique to determine the in-place pile lengths of High Mast Light Towers (HMLTs). Kennedy notes, “This pile testing technique has the potential to save the state of Minnesota over $4 million in unnecessary foundation replacement costs.”

HMLTs can be 140 feet in height. Such tall, thin towers could easily topple if not set on a suitable foundation. To avoid overturning, high mast light towers require a unique foundation system set 30-40 feet deep, with three inclined piles connected to pile cap. The towers cannot be certified for Load and Resistance Factor Design without pile depth information, yet over 200 such light towers in Minnesota lack that information. Replacing an existing, uncertified light tower costs around $20,000. A reliable technique for testing the pile depths could save Minnesota around $4,000,000.

HMLT in the field and sketch of a pile foundation
HMLT in the field and sketch of a pile foundation

Kennedy’s research is helping to establish a non-destructive, field testing technique to determine in-place pile lengths of HMLTs using seismic waves. Kennedy and the team of researchers has been able to explore responses from various pile end depths, and they have seen a nice correlation between their field tests and their model.

Kennedy was recently awarded a graduate scholarship from the International Association of Foundation Drilling (ADSC-IAFD) for the third year in a row. In 2018 and 2019, Kennedy received the ADSC-IAFD's Michael W. O'Neill Scholarship, including a trip to the 2019 ADSC Annual Meeting held in Nassau, Bahamas, where he was formally introduced to the membership. This year, Kennedy received the ADSC-IAFD's Ohio Valley Chapter Thomas A. Buzek Scholarship. He plans to attend the 2021 ADCS Annual Meeting in Amelia Island, Florida.

Budgeting for graduate school usually does not include money for such trips, so Kennedy valued the opportunity to travel and to meet industry-leaders at the conference. He has also appreciated opportunities to interact with local ADCS-IAFD members.

In addition, Kennedy noted, “The scholarships I received have helped me not worry about expenses such as books, student fees, and parking costs. Those things can really add up but are not typically given much thought when budgeting. Now I am able to focus on my courses and research, and not think so much about the next paycheck.”

Kennedy is on schedule to graduate in 2022. After that, he hopes to continue working on similar projects that require new and innovative testing procedures to solve.