It has been a rocky road to hosting RockEng22, the 22nd Canadian Rock Mechanics Symposium.

For a start, the Canadian Rock Mechanics Association (CARMA) hasn’t hosted a symposium since 2012. And when the 2019 board decided it was time to bring the symposium back on a more regular basis, they picked a 2020 date for the next event.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizer Jennifer Day (PhD’16, Artsci’12, Sc’11), who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering here at Queen’s as well as CARMA’s board chair, opted to postpone the symposium until it could be held safely in-person. The end result is this year’s event scheduled for Aug. 8 through 10 at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.


“Rock mechanics and rock engineering are basically involved with anything to do with human interaction on or in the ground,” she says. “Anything from creating tunnels for subways, to utility tunnels, nuclear waste repositories, geothermal energy, CO2 sequestration, and how to extract underground natural resources like metals and petroleum in a safe and efficient way. We’re making sure the work environments are safe and protect both people and infrastructure.”

The symposium will bring upwards of 150 attendees including industry, academics, students, and government to Kingston. The packed technical program includes a diverse list of 40 invited speakers representing the top achievers in Canadian Rock Mechanics over the last four decades. These lectures will be grouped around four key themes:

  • Innovations in Rock Mechanics Testing,
  • Rockmass Mechanics & Structure Networks,
  • Innovations in Rock Mechanics Modelling, and
  • In Situ Monitoring and Rock Engineering.

The aim is to ensure attendees hear from a diverse mix of professionals across all the different applications of rock mechanics and rock engineering. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, organizers like Day intend that innovations and developments in the field are shared across the many different applications.

“The complexity and variability of the natural materials we work with is vast,” she says. “Every engineering solution is different and it’s tough to do cookie cutter design. There is no ‘building code’ – just guidelines and standards. Every single project pushes the boundaries of what we do, which makes it both fun and challenging.”

In addition to the comprehensive technical agenda, the program includes opportunities for visitors to experience some relevant local features such as the Brockville rail tunnel, which will host an evening banquet on the Tuesday of the conference. But you’d be mistaken if you thought the trip to Brockville was just for fun.

“I first learned of the Brockville rail tunnel in 2010 when the city of Brockville contacted me,” explains conference technical chair and Queen’s Professor Mark Diederichs. “It was boarded up and no one had been in it since the 60s. I conducted the feasibility study to help the city make it safe for pedestrians and tourists without changing the overall character of the tunnel. Now, our students hone their skills there every year.”

In addition to helping speakers with their technical needs, Diederichs will be speaking about rock engineering design and how changes in the technology in recent years aren’t being fully capitalized on by industry.

“There are lots of new and exciting tools which allow us to simulate the behaviour of these complex systems, but they are not being integrated into the design process,” notes Diederichs. “In my talk, I hope to narrow the gap between research and putting these tools to work in design.”

Since it has been so long since CARMA’s last conference, organizers are also taking time to acknowledge successes among its members over the past few years. Day is among the award recipients being recognized, as she received a 2017 American Rock Mechanics Association award for her PhD thesis – a prize she says is not often won by Canadians.

See the full symposium program on the RockEng22 website. Registration is now closed.


Jennifer Day