"Rock star" geoscientist receives Legget Medal

Doug Stead makes his acceptance speech at the Canadian Geotechnical Society conference in Ottawa.

November 29, 2017

SFU geoscience professor Doug Stead’s lifelong contributions to the geotechnical field in Canada have garnered him the 2017 R.F. Legget Medal from the Canadian Geotechnical Society.

Stead’s 30-year career has taken him around the globe to assess the stability of open-pit slopes and underground mine excavations, analyze landslides and investigate sites for highway and foundation construction. He joined SFU’s Department of Earth Sciences in 2000 and holds the FRBC (Forest Renewal BC) Chair in Resource Geoscience and Geotechnics in the department of Earth Sciences.

He is internationally recognized for the advances he has brought to numerical modeling techniques in geotechnical engineering. Thanks to his work, geoscientists now use two- and three-dimensional computer codes to simulate the behavior of landslides and underground excavations. The model mimics brittle fracture/cracking and displacements of rock masses under various stresses, allowing users to assess hazards and improve engineering designs.

Throughout his career, Stead has used his academic and industry experience to successfully organize conferences and professional development workshops, and brings his experience working with private research projects to the classroom.

Nominator Marc-Andre Brideau, of BGC Engineering, says Stead has made “significant contributions in fostering the transfer of knowledge between academics and the industry.”

With his graduate students, Stead has also advanced remote sensing technology, which engineers and geoscientists use to collect data from dangerous or hard-to-access areas via satellite, aircraft, drones or ground-based methods.

 “Through remote sensing, we can characterize the geology of natural and engineered slopes and measure displacements,” says Stead. “This helps enormously in monitoring stability.”

Stead enjoys both teaching and research, but is especially grateful for opportunities to help improve conditions around the world. He cites the example of traveling to Nepal to investigate landslide activity after the 2015 earthquake.

“I appreciate the social impact that this work has. Many countries don’t have the resources to do this kind of work, so it’s fantastic that we can make this kind of contribution.”

He also enjoys collaborating with former students who now work in senior positions in industry and academia.

“Seeing my students do well gives me enormous satisfaction,” he says. 

Stead is excited about the future of geoscience and engineering geology. He is working on new technologies that combine virtual and mixed reality, and that produce holographic images that will bring significant benefits to teaching and research.  

He is also pleased that the employment outlook bodes well for his students.

“There are numerous opportunities right here in B.C. and around the world. The future is very bright.”