Prof SW Jacobsz

SW Jacobsz graduated from the University of Pretoria with BEng (Cum Laude) and MEng (Cum Laude) degrees and then worked at Jones & Wagener Consulting Civil Engineers as a geotechnical engineer before leaving for the United Kingdom to study towards a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. His PhD research involved investigation the effects of tunnelling near piled foundations by means of centrifuge modelling. After his PhD studies he worked for Arup for one year on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project in London and carried out post-doctoral research on the development of wireless displacement transducers for use in tunnels in a UK government funded collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to South Africa in 2003, again working for Jones & Wagener before joining the University of Pretoria in 2010. He is a rated researcher with the South African National Research Foundation.

Recent projects:

A study in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Geomechnics at the University of Western Australia, modelling cave mining in the geotechnical centrifuge has been completed.

A project supported by the South African Water Research Commission (WRC) investigating the application of distributed strain sensing in unsaturated soils using fibre optic cables to detect leaks in pipelines has recently been completed.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC - UK; Grant Ref: EP/P029434/1)   funded the Wind-Africa project which investigated aspects of the behaviour piled wind turbine foundations founded in unsaturated swelling soils in collaboration with the Universities of Durham and Cambridge.  Centrifuge models of wind turbine foundations in expansive soils have been tested at the University of Pretoria as part of the project to complement large scale field testing of prototype foundations in expansive soils which were tested near Vredefort in the Freestate province. Numerical modelling and laboratory testing are carried out by the other research partners.

Centrifuge modelling of foundations under alternating loads in overconsolidated clay with Kassel University funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) - RE 3881/4-1.

A PhD project funded by Fraser Alexander, investigating the liquefaction potential of upstream tailings dams in South Africa, commenced in 2021.  The work involves the installation of total stress cells, tensiometers and moisture content probes in tailings dams to observe the effective stress path development associated with normal operation of tailings dams. Innovative wireless low cost data aquisition systems have been developed as a spin-off from these studies.

A PhD study funded by Anglo American and aimed at investigation triggers that can cause liquefaction failure of tailings dams commenced in 2022.  Physical models of tailings dams will be caused to fail in the geotechnical centrifuge during which pore pressure responses will be studied.

A mobile soil laboratory with four triaxial cells and two dynamic cyclic simple shear apparatuses is being set up in an 8-ton truck, supported by Anglo American.  The laboratory will be used to test tailings samples as close as possible to the point of extraction from where the sample is taken to minimise sample disturbance associated with long-distance transport.

Current teaching duties (2023)

  • Supervising postgraduate research students and undergraduate final year research project students (SSC 411)
  • SBZ 321 - Civil Engineering measurement techniques
  • SGS 787 - Analytical Soil Mechanics for Geotechnical Engineering graduate students
  • Third year academic tour


Current research interests

  • Physical modelling in the geotechnical centrifuge
  • Physical modelling of sinkholes in dolomitic soil profiles and the associated soil-structure interaction effects
  • Physical modelling of cave mining in the geotechnical centrifuge
  • Physical modelling of soil structure interaction problems
  • Application of unsaturated soil mechanics in practice
  • Liquefaction failure of tailings dams
  • Evolution of the effective stress state in active tailings dams
  • Foundations for wind turbines on expansive soils
  • Fibre optic strain and temperature measurement
  • Fibre optic leak detection


Publications list  (Google Scholar profile)  (Researchgate Profile)


Current research students:


Previous students:

Theses of students who have completed their studies can be downloaded below:

Jack Basson (MEng) - Contribution of matric suction to the slope stability of tailings dams

Shaun Cramer (MEng) - Physical modelling of a soil wall reinforced with extensible and inextensible reiinforcement

Jason Barry (MEng) - Using Brillouin frequency shift to detect underground pipe leaks

Nicholas Schoeman (MEng) - The effect of overburden and horizontal confining stress state on cave mining propagation

Tiago Gaspar (PhD) - Centrifuge modelling of piled foundations in swelling clays

Paul le Roux (MEng) - The measurement of the soil water retention curve using the tensiometer method

Jacobus Breyl (MEng) - Sinkhole formation due to subsurface erosion above undermined ground

Kate Purchase (MEng) - Effects of soil strength on propagation mechanisms above deep trapdoors

Louis Geldenhuys (MEng) - Comparing failure mechanisms of Ultra-Thin Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavements (UTCRCP) under cycling and monotonic loading

Fabianus Gomachab (MEng) - Effect of structural stiffness on the response of portal frames to groundwater extraction-induced ground movements

Sebastian Jahnke (MEng) - Pipeline leak detection using in-situ soil temperature and strain measurements

Sachin Ravjee (MEng) - Discrete element modelling investigating the effects of particle shape on backfil response behind integral bridge abutments

Benjamin Oberholser (MEng) - Investigating cavity propagation in dense sand using centrifuge trapdoor experiments

Dawie Marx (MEng) -  The optimal placement of geogrid reinforcement in landfill clay liners

Tiago Gaspar (MEng) - Investigating the tensile behaviour of unsaturated soils using the Brazilian Disc Test

Jean Potgieter (MEng) - Finite element versus limit equilibrium stability analyses for surface excavations 

Stephan van Eeden (MEng) - Electricity generation as a beneficial post closure land use option for dormant tailings storage facilities.

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