Tiny grains - big win

5 November 2014

Professor Itai Einav winner of Europe's prestigious ALERT Research medal in his laboratory
Professor Itai Einav winner of Europe's prestigious ALERT Research medal in his laboratory

We are yet to truly understand sand says University of Sydney Professor of Geomechanics, Itai Einav who was recently awarded Europe 's prestigious ALERT Research Medal for his "exceptional contribution to scientific research in Geomechanics" by the Alliance of Laboratories in Europe For Research and Technology.
While in Europe Professor Einav accepted the 2014 George Stephenson Medal from the UK 's Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) for his work on breakage mechanics.

Professor Einav accepted the prestigious award from the ICE on behalf his team - Dr Giang Nguyen and Chunshun Zhang - who together published their research titled The end-bearing capacity of piles penetrating into crushable soils in Géotechnique.

Their paper which won them the Medal described a new formula for understanding the resistance of piles penetrating into crushable grains, their size distribution and their evolution in time and space.

Professor Einav says his research into granular materials including their mixing, segregation, crushing, agglomeration, heat-transfer, and patterns of movement is driven by a passion for the unknown and a determination to extend the boundaries of geomechanical knowledge.

His work is focussed on understanding how particles of different sizes such as a grain of sand or a lump of rock behave under varying conditions.

"I work with everything from the micron-sized particles found in powdered substances used in drugs to beach sand to large boulders. Anywhere there are particles," says Professor Einav.

His lifelong fascination for understanding grains started as a young boy when he played with sand and wondered at its ability to move in different ways.

His recent research conducted with Dr Pierre Rognon at SciGEM has improved the understanding of heat transfer within granular media and led to commercial applications in seemingly unrelated systems, such as the cooling of computer processors and medical units.

A previous theory developed by Professor Einav has also led to applications aimed at improving the productivity of mining operations, by blasting to precondition rocks so that they flow more freely without compromising safety.

"But I didn't set out to achieve either of those applications. I'm driven simply by the desire to understand fundamental phenomena. Then, once a particular phenomenon is understood, we'll know what we can do with that knowledge."

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