John T. Germaine, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
"For my profession, standards are an essential part of the business, and every graduate student should be aware of both the general nature of standards and - in addition - the specific standards used in routine practice."
At what university and in what department do you teach?
I am a principal research associate and lecturer in the department of civil and environmental engineering at MIT. This is a position without tenure and involves both teaching and research. I came to MIT in 1976 as a graduate student and joined the staff in 1982.
What is the nature of the courses you teach?
Over the past 20 plus years I have taught one graduate and one undergraduate laboratory-focused subject each year, which is the typical teaching load at MIT. The graduate subject is geotechnical measurements and exploration; it is something like our incoming graduate student boot camp, is heavily hands-on and covers everything from Atterberg limits to computer-controlled triaxial testing. The course prepares our graduate students to conduct independent experimental research as well as evaluate data collected by others. The undergraduate subject changes frequently but has always been some form of laboratory-based subject ranging from geotechnical methods to general civil engineering methods. Currently, I am teaching civil engineering materials, which covers soils, metals, concrete, and wood. The scope is very broad to give sophomores an appreciation of testing methods as well as a feel for material behavior.
What year did you join ASTM International? In which committees are you active? Are you a committee officer?
My ASTM involvement began at the June 1986 meeting of ASTM Committee D18 on Soil and Rock in Louisville, Ky. I was invited to prepare and present a paper on the state of the art of triaxial testing at the Symposium on Advanced Triaxial Testing of Soil and Rock. I went as a nonmember, stayed for the entire Committee Week, attended a bunch of the subcommittee meetings and was totally hooked on the process.
Since then I have only missed two D18 meetings. I have invested a lot of time and energy in D18 activities and am active on a number of our technical subcommittees. I have made major contributions to several standards and provided technical review for countless others. I have been a member of D18's executive subcommittee since 1992 as a member at large, second vice chairman, and vice chairman. I am a member of the planning subcommittee and the awards subcommittee, have been a member of the Hogentogler Award subcommittee and a member of the editorial board for the Geotechnical Testing Journal. I also was one of the organizers (along with Richard Ladd, Bob Donaghe, and Jan Wildman) and member of the project management team for the ASTM/ISR Reference Soils and Testing Program that developed four reference soils and precision statements for nine D18 standards.
What are some advantages of your participation in standards development?
For me ASTM provides a mechanism to impact my profession in a positive way. Much of my research involves testing, development of equipment, analysis and interpretation of data. Standards are the perfect mechanism to solidify this knowledge and get it into practice. Unlike technical literature, standards are focused on a specific outcome, have been certified by consensus acceptance and hence are much easier to apply by the practitioners. In addition, I find the meetings very rewarding. We generally engage in extensive technical discussions with experts from around the world with very different backgrounds and experiences. I feel that I make a positive contribution at the meetings and I always return with new perspectives and often solutions to my own problems. Finally, the social aspects of the Committee Weeks are an important factor. ASTM attracts good people. I have made many friends over the years through D18 and I always look forward to the social gatherings at the meetings as well as the technical ones.
Do you incorporate standards, ASTM or otherwise, into your curriculum? If so, what types? How are they implemented (case studies, research, other)? What is the value of doing so?
Yes, for any test method for which there is a standard, I use it as a reference and often a reading assignment. In fact, I spend time talking about the ASTM consensus process, delineating the life cycle of a standard, explaining the format of standards, and detailing the process and application of the precision section. I generally divide test standards into two categories, index and engineering. Index test methods are based on historical practice and have prescribed conditions (equipment or procedures) to constrain the result. Hence the answer depends on the specifics of the method. For index tests (e.g. Atterberg limits, compaction, and expansion index) these standards are essential because decisions made in prescribing the standard method directly impact the results. Change the process and you get a different number. For this type of test, I require the students to follow the standard. On the other hand, engineering standard methods prescribe the general conditions and methods necessary to measure the correct parameter. For standard methods to measure strength and consolidation properties, I use the standard as a guide to the correct equipment and approach.
Have you worked in industry, either past or currently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this experience?
My industrial experience is exclusively through individual consulting. Generally, I am involved with specialized testing, data interpretation, and problem solving. Standards for sampling and test methods have been useful in discussions with clients. Where applicable, I use or refer to the appropriate standards and have found reference to standards a good mechanism to get everyone on the same page.
Have you been involved in research, either past or presently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this research?
Yes, I spend essentially half of my time conducting funded research. Most of this research involves some aspect of experimentation or interpretation of experimental data. I am mainly interested in learning new things about the mechanical behavior of particulate materials and the transport of fluids through the pore space. Exploring these topics generally involves building new devices, adding computer controls to existing devices, or performing non-standard experiments with conventional equipment. Over the years, I have investigated a diverse range of topics, including strain rate effects, strength anisotropy, sampling disturbance, soil structure interaction, colloid transport, soil suction, and air sparging.
Standards do have a role in my research. I certainly apply the standard test methods for measurements that are standardized. This is especially true for the index tests. For other tests, I have used standards more as a reference source. There is certainly a lot of experience documented in standards, and I find this useful when planning new experiments. Obviously, standard specifications and classifications are also important when purchasing equipment.
What advantages do you see for students to have an understanding of standards and their development?
I think it is most important that students understand the ASTM standardization process as opposed to any particular standard. Knowing that each standard is the product of the extensive input of experts in a particular area provides enormous impact. Students need to understand that testing is a systematic, precise, and controlled process that requires detailed consideration. In addition, the background work has been completed and documented in each standard. Finally, standards provide the common language of testing that is used for everything from specification, to procurement, to operation and reporting of results.
In your view, should a familiarity with standards be required for graduate-level education, particularly in engineering, law and business disciplines? Would this assist in gaining professional success?
I can only comment on engineering. For my profession, standards are an essential part of the business, and every graduate student should be aware of both the general nature of standards and - in addition - the specific standards used in routine practice. Today the standard of care and in fact professional responsibility require the engineer to make use of standards in collecting sampling, testing, and construction control.