Assistant civil and environmental engineering professor receives NSF Early Career award

By Jeremy Henderson

Published: Feb 2, 2021 12:00:00 AM

Jack Montgomery Jack Montgomery

Assistant civil and environmental engineering professor Jack Montgomery has been selected for the prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.

Montgomery, whose focus is geotechnical engineering, was awarded $531,818 to explore the relationship between soil piping and rainfall-induced landslides in unsaturated soils. 

"The recognition from my colleagues feels great and this award lets me expand my research and teaching into new areas," Montgomery said. "Most people are familiar with surface erosion caused by flowing water, but a similar process can take place below the surface as well. Soil piping can lead to sinkholes and failures of dams and levees. We have methods to assess how likely it is for piping to start, but once the erosion begins we don't have many ways to predict how it will progress. This project is specifically focused on piping in slopes, but the findings will apply to many different areas, including dam safety."

Much of Montgomery's previous research has focused on field work or computational analyses. 

"But this grant will allow me to build some really unique experimental capabilities at Auburn," he said. 

Specifically, he plans to take advantage of the 4,700-cubic-foot geotechnical test chamber — one of the few test chambers in the nation included in a university laboratory — inside Auburn's new $22 million Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory.

"We'll be using the geotechnical test chamber to build some near full-scale slope models," he said.

The award also involves integrating Montgomery's research into an outreach program geared toward increasing interest and retention among traditionally underrepresented students in civil engineering. 

"We'll be creating formal and informal educational activities, including educational modules for undergraduate and 7th-12th grade students, and a citizen science-driven database of sinkholes and piping features," Montgomery said. "We want to better connect to the life experiences of the audience, and I think improving the way engineers and scientists communicate their work will help us recruit and retain the next generation of diverse Auburn Engineers." 

Montgomery, who came to Auburn in 2015, is the fifth Auburn Engineering faculty member — and the third in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering — to earn the Early CAREER Award in 16 months, a fact that Andy Nowak, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, feels reflects the college’s commitment to hiring and retaining the best engineering minds in the country.

“Jack has already received plenty of professional accolades,” Nowak said. “But it’s always rewarding when the NSF recognizes the same promise in a researcher that you saw in them.”

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

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