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Durham University

Department of Engineering

Sustainable Infrastructure

Our research aims to tackle the challenge of ensuring sustainability and resilience of the Infrastructure that underpins our society and economy. We are working on challenges relating to transportation (rail and road), energy and communications networks as well as addressing water and waste systems and supporting our emergency services.

A strong focus is on climate resilience, dealing with drought and flooding events, as well as climate change. To tackle these challenges we draw on our areas of research excellence in communications, computational mechanics and geotechnical engineering. We work with industry and government agencies within the UK and with international partners, particularly from Africa and Europe, to find solutions to maintain and improve Infrastructure, nationally and globally.

Research Challenge Director: Prof. David Toll
Deputy Research Challenge Director: Dr Ashraf Osman

The Sustainable Infrastructure Research Challenge will be hosting two major conferences in 2020:

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference, 5-8 April

British Geotechnical Association Piling 2020 Conference, 15-16 September 2020.

Research areas

Geotechnical Engineering

Research in this area covers a wide range of topics in geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering including:

  • Unsaturated soil mechanics
  • Weather and climate impacts on slopes, retaining walls and foundation systems
  • Earthen construction materials
  • Remediation of contaminated land and improvement of soil health

We have a world-leading Unsaturated Soils laboratory for performing tests to determine soil water retention properties and strength and stiffness in unsaturated conditions with measurements of suction. We have developed a commercial tensiometer capable of measuring suctions to 2MPa and have experimented with a prototype device capable of measuring to 7MPa. We use both Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) and Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) equipment for measuring and mapping water content changes.

Computational Solid Mechanics

Here we are unique in covering almost all computational methods used for solid mechanics, and much of our research is concerned with improving or developing these methods. Topics we cover include:

  • Finite element, meshless and boundary element methods
  • Development of elasto-plastic constitutive models for soils
  • Modelling of fracture using various approaches, including phase fields and cracking particles
  • Discontinuous Galerkin methods, peridynamics and point collocation for solid mechanics problems


We conduct research on the broad area of wireless communications and in particular on the fifth generation (5G) of cellular networks and beyond. We have unique channel sounders for active wireless channel measurements including millimetre wave and spectrum monitoring, major facilities and equipment. Topics under investigation include:

  • Channel measurements in the bands from 250 MHz to 90 GHz for mobile links
  • Precipitation measurements for fixed links in the millimeter wave band
  • Ultra-wideband radar for radio imaging
  • Massive MIMO
  • Energy harvesting
  • Physical layer security
  • UAV-enabled wireless communications

Detailed information about research on communications can be found at the Centre for Communications Systems website at:

If you are interested in studying for a PhD with us then take a look at our staff profiles via the People tab to the left and get in contact if you have any queries.

Piling 2020 Conference

Piling 2020 Conference

NEWS! British Geotechnical Association PILING 2020 Conference.

Durham University will be hosting a major international conference on Piling, organised by the British Geotechnical Association (BGA) with support from the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS). It will be held in Durham in 15-16 September 2020.

NEWS! The ASCE Engineering Mechanics Institute International Conference is being hosted by the Department in April 2020. Full details here