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Delwyn G. Fredlund – Biography


Personal and Work History

Delwyn G. Fredlund was born in 1940, the second child of George and Esther Fredlund. His grandparents emigrated from Sweden and later his father and mother would establish a small farm near Norquay, Saskatchewan. A small stream passed through the woods on the farm and became the place where Del would spend much of his time. As a young boy he loved to be outdoors, hiking in the woods and building small dams across streams. The dams never got much higher than one meter before they were washed away because of “an inadequate spillway design.” The spillway was always a challenge, but he learned “from the beaver” that rocks, sticks, and mud provided a spillway that would withstand the flows from most rainfalls. It became axiomatic that, in the hands of skilled practitioners, wise and appropriate use of even these common materials would serve the builders well.

Del attended a small country school called Moss Lake and later went to Norquay High School. He was selected as Valedictorian of the 1958 grade 12 graduating class. He then began his engineering education at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. He graduated with his B.Sc. degree in 1962. He then attended the University of Alberta in Edmonton where he obtained his M.Sc. degree in 1964. His Master’s thesis was entitled Comparison of soil suction and one-dimensional consolidation characteristics of a highly plastic clay, making him one of the earliest researchers in this field. He later returned to the University of Alberta and completed his Ph.D. degree in 1973. His Ph.D. thesis was Volume change behaviour of unsaturated soils.

Del worked as a Research Assistant with the Division of Building Research of the National Research Council in Saskatoon during the summers of 1962 and 1963. It was here that he was first introduced to the foundation problems associated with expansive soils in Western Canada. His work involved monitoring the movement of light buildings as well as instrumentation of test plots in expansive soils.

Following completion of his M.Sc. degree, Del was employed by R.M. Hardy and Associates Ltd. as a geotechnical engineer. He was involved in a wide range of geotechnical studies encompassing the investigation, design, and analyses of slopes, dams, and underground structures, as well as rather unique problems of vibration analyses, hydrocarbon spills, contaminant migration, and freezing and thawing of soils.

In 1966, Del accepted an offer from the University of Saskatchewan to join the Department of Civil Engineering to teach and undertake research in the geotechnical area. He remains in the Department as a Professor of Civil Engineering as the time of this publication.

Del married JoAnne and they had four children: Murray, Jocelyn, Kenton, and Brendon. At the time of publication of this monograph, Murray had graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan with a B.Sc. degree, had completed his M.Sc. degree, and was working towards a Ph.D. degree in geotechnical engineering. Jocelyn had graduated from veterinary medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, Kenton was studying optometry at Pacific College in Oregon and Brendon was attending Walter Murray High School in Saskatoon. The Fredlund family enjoys and participates in music. Del plays the saxophone and JoAnne has her ARCT and Licentiate degrees in Piano Performing. They were joined by other members of the family for many years as they traveled and performed musical concerts. They also produced two long-play records of sacred music.


University and Professional Activities

Del has always enjoyed teaching, at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. He puts his teaching first, maintaining that “to be a successful professor, one must be able to reduce the most complex of mechanisms into simple pictures which can be envisioned by the students”. He has also served his department can college on numerous committees, such as the Executive Committee of the College of Engineering, the University Review Committee, and the International Committee.

From 1989 to 1995 Del was Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. He led the department into several new areas of research, including a focus on geo-environmental engineering, at the time a new, emerging area in civil engineering practice. Del maintained that “now more than ever before, Civil Engineers are called upon to be faithful stewards of the environment”.

Del has served on a number of national and international technical committees and conference committees. In 1997 he was appointed Chair of the Geotechnical Research Board of Canada. He was Regional Director for the Canadian Geotechnical Society, Chair of the Canadian Geotechnical Society Expansive Soils Subcommittee and a member of the Landslides Committee of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering. He served as a member of the Computer Application Division of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Grant Selection Committee. He was also appointed a fellow of the Engineering Institute of Canada.

Del served as an Associate Editor for the Canadian Geotechnical Journal for seven years and was a member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Saskatchewan committee to review all applications for registration received from foreign countries.

Del was also a member of a number of international technical committees and organizations. These included the Soils Properties Committee and the Committee on Embankments, Dams and Slopes of the American Society for Civil Engineering (ASCE), and the advisory board of Expansive Soil Research Centre at the University of Colorado. He served on the scientific Committee and editorial board of the Vietnamese Geotechnical Journal.

Del was Chair of the Expansive Soil Committee of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering (ISSMFE) from 1989 to 1997. During his appointment he orchestrated the change in name of the committee from the Expansive Soils Committee to the Unsaturated Soils Committee. He felt a name change was necessary to broaden the scope of the committee to include all soils that had negative pore-water pressures and were unsaturated. He also was a member of the ISSMFE Residual Soils and Computer Applications in Geotechnical Engineering Committees.



Del has received numerous awards and delivered many prestigious lectures in the area of unsaturated soils. In 1996 he won three important awards, including the University of Saskatchewan’s most prestigious research award, the Distinguished Research Award; the Spencer Buchanan Award of Texas A & M University; and the Saskatoon Engineer of the Year Award. Del also received the highest honor of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan, the Gold Medal signifying the Distinguished Service Award. The Saskatoon Geotechnical Achievement Award and Canadian Geotechnical Colloquium Award were the other honors conferred on him.

During 1998, Del received even more recognition in Canada and internationally. He received the highest award of the Canadian Geotechnical Society, the R.F. Leggett Award, presented annually to the person who has made exceptional contribution to Geotechnical Engineering in Canada. He was further recognized by being a keynote speaker at the 2 nd International Conference on Unsaturated Soils in Beijing, China, and he received the Kassif Medal from the State of Israel for his research on unsaturated soils. In 1999, he received the Scotiabank-AUCC Award for Excellence in Internationalization. In particular, the award was for “Contribution of Research to Internationalization,” resulting from a CIDA project on Land and Water Management in the Red River Basin of Vietnam.

He was the prestigious Cross-Canada Lecturer of the Canadian Geotechnical Society in 1995, one of many such honors. He was the keynote speaker for many international forums, among them the First International Conference on Unsaturated Soils, Paris, 1995; INFOGEO’96 Conference on Computers in Geotechnical Engineering, 1996; Third Brazilian Symposium on Unsaturated Soils, 1997; ASCE Geo-Logan Conference on Unsaturated Soils, 1997; and the Second International Conference on Unsaturated Soils, Beijing, 1998. He has been an invited lecturer at more than 80 geotechnical seminars, professional associations and organizations, and other public forums in Canada and around the world.


Research and Consulting

Del developed a balanced program of fundamental and applied research funded from private industry, provincial and national government agencies, and international organizations. This research funding grew progressively in the 1980’s and 1990’s. As a result, he supervised graduate students from many countries on M.Sc., M.Eng., and Ph.D. programs. By 1998, he had supervised at least 55 M.Sc. and 15 Ph.D. students. Del also trained several research engineers and postdoctoral fellows. Visiting scholars came from several countries of the world to spend at least one term studying unsaturated soil behaviour at the University of Saskatchewan. These highly qualified personnel became the leaders of this relatively new, but important, field of unsaturated soils, around the world. Del was also interested in collaborative research work. He was the founder and chairperson of the Unsaturated Coils Group (USG) at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

In 1978 he was awarded a strategic NSERC grant to study the behavior of expansive soils. He was also given access to research data from the Division of Building Research, NRC, Saskatoon. He held a NSERC grant from the Government of Canada that continuously increased during his tenure at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1994, he received, along with Professors S.L. Barbour and G.W. Wilson, a three-year strategic grant for study of fractured, unsaturated clay behavior.

The focus of Del’s research program was in two key areas: the behavior of unsaturated soils and modeling the stability of slopes. These research studies were theoretical and analytical, while at the same time including case histories and retaining a relevancy to geotechnical engineering practice. The theoretical developments subsequently led to analytical procedures that were accepted for practice in numerous countries.

Research papers, study reports, and journal papers were present4ed in many international outlets. By 1998, he had published approximately 180 conference papers, 90 journal papers, as well as numerous research reports and other articles. About 70% of the papers relate to the behavior of unsaturated soils and about 30% to slope stability studies. In addition, he offered numerous short courses and workshops on understanding and applying unsaturated soil mechanics. Other research personnel assisted in these courses, which were offered to practicing engineers nationally and internationally. Del is a strong believer of transferring theory into practice and the need for life-long learning.

Del has written chapters in books and edited several other books. He realized there was a need to synthesize research information available on the behavior of unsaturated soils. Since much of the research had been done at the University of Saskatchewan, he set out to produce such a document. With the assistance of Dr. Harianto Rahardjo of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, he wrote a book on unsaturated soil behavior. The work, which took almost ten years to complete, was published by John Wiley & Sons, New York, in 1993. Soil Mechanics for Unsaturated Soils is 560 pages in length and was the first book to address the engineering behavior of unsaturated soils in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. It was translated into Chinese and sold by a publisher in Beijing. The topic unsaturated soil mechanics provided a unified theoretical context for analyzing soils around the world that had become known as “Problematic Soils,” including expansive soils and collapsing soils such as loess, residual soils, and other soils in arid regions.

In the late 1960’s, Del recognized that the computer would have a significant influence on the future practice of geotechnical engineering. He wrote a comprehensive slope stability computer program, and in 1977 he and his brother Lorne, a computer science major, started a software company called Geo-Slope Programming Ltd. Initially their software was supported on mainframes through software bureaus. In 1984, the transition was made to the microcomputer environment. Their products expanded to embrace most types of numerical analyses required to support geotechnical engineering. Del maintained that classical, saturated soil mechanics was a special case of the more general area of unsaturated soil mechanics. The software distributed by Geo-Slope was developed to analyze both saturated and unsaturated soils problems. As such, it remains at the forefront of numerical modeling in geotechnical engineering. In 1998, Geo-Slope International Ltd. was the oldest and largest geotechnical software company of its kind, marketing to more than 80 countries.

Del consulted on projects locally, nationally and internationally. In 1979, he was asked by a Hong Kong consulting engineering firm to assist in slope stability studies in Hong Kong. This led to a number of research studies over a period of several years, including research contracts from the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) Government of Hong Kong, on specialized testing of Hong Kong residual soils. Domestically, Del was a staff consultant to several engineering consulting firms. Internationally, he was called as an expert witness on a number of litigation cases. Over a period of about ten years, he acted as a research review consultant to the Corps of Engineers at the Waterways Experimental Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Cold Regions Research Laboratory, Hanover, New Hampshire.


International Cooperation

Much of the research conducted on the behavior of unsaturated soils was of particular interest to the more arid regions of the world. As a result, his research led him to Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and most countries in Europe. Technological interaction with the United States was also extensive. Two sabbatical leaves were spent at universities in the United States: 1977 to 1978 at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas and 1984 to 1985 at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. He was subsequently appointed as an Adjunct Professor at Colorado State University. From 1992 to 1993, he spent his sabbatical leave at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Del held the view that training highly qualified personnel from developing countries was one of the best forms of assistance that could be given to those countries. He supported and trained graduate students, visiting scholars, and technicians from many countries including Brazil, China, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam.

Research on behaviour of unsaturated soils, along with a personal interest in developing countries, led to the establishment of two International Development Research Centre (IDRC) exchange research programs. An IDRC exchange program was established with Tsinghua University, Beijing, China in 1990. A second IDRC exchange program was established with the University of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1992. Each of the programs extended over a three-year period and led to international linkages through the transfer of technology. The exchange program with China emphasized the design of shallow foundations on expansive soils while the exchange program with Kenya focused on the design of highways on expansive soils. Both exchange programs resulted in exchange visits by engineers from the respective countries. In 1996, a technology exchange program sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was undertaken with Vietnam. This five-year program, “Land and Water Management in the Red River Basin,” was in cooperation with the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan.

Del has traveled extensively promoting the technology for unsaturated soils as developed at the University of Saskatchewan. He maintains that it is not enough to do research, but that the work ought to be “tested” in the research arena and then transferred to areas of need. He is recognized internationally as the person who established the stress state variable approach to unsaturated soils and subsequently derived the theory to establish the engineering behavior on a scientific basis. He maintained the same categorization for soil mechanics problems as was historically developed for unsaturated soils.



This appreciation would not be complete without a final comment on the philosophy of life that had been Del’s motivation throughout his life. One heard this philosophy come through quite clearly in many of his most common sayings:

“If I live for myself, I will feed the ego.

If I live for others, I will feed the soul.”

“We make a living by what we get,

We make a life by what we give,” (Winston Churchill)

“The person who has never had a problem to solve is indeed a poor person.

The person who has never had a need, is indeed a poor person.

I have found rich countries, because I have found places with many problems and many needs.”

This philosophy sprang from deep rooted faith in Jesus Christ, who said: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Del’s life-long commitment to meeting human needs is not only a response to a moral responsibility, but rather the response of a grateful heart.

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For a complete listing of items click the "News / Events" title above to be taken to our news listings page.

 SEPTEMBER 8-10 / 2009

International Symposium on Geoenvironmental Engineering, ISGE 2009, Hangzhou, China

 SEPTEMBER 19-26 / 2009

Canadian Geotechnical Conference, Halifax, Canada

 OCTOBER 5-10 / 2009

17th International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE) Alexandria, Egypt

 OCTOBER 26 / 2009

Lovell Lecture, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indianna

 NOVEMBER 23-25 / 2009

4th Asia-Pacific Conference on Unsaturated Soils Newcastle, Australia

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