A tribute to Prof. em. Dr. Sarah M. Springman

Professor Sarah M. Springman was a professor of geotechnical engineering at ETH Zurich from 1997 to 2015 and was also the first woman to hold such a position in Western Europe. Rector of ETH Zurich from 2015 to 2022, she took up the role of principal at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, in February 2022.

Professor Springman was a member of our society’s board from 2013 to 2014, where her distinguished competence and expertise shaped that period. She was responsible for the society’s highly successful conference on “Seismischer Entwurf und Bemessung in der Geotechnik” (Seismic Design and Dimensioning in Geotechnical Engineering) held at ETH Zurich in 2014. 

We want to take this opportunity to thank her for her dedicated services to our society and for promoting research and science in the field of geotechnical engineering in Switzerland and abroad.

Here is a brief review of her remarkable career:  

Professor Springman studied engineering at the University of Cambridge, where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in 1978 and a Master’s degree from St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, in 1984. She completed her PhD at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1989 and worked in Great Britain, Australia and Fiji before starting an academic career in 1990. In 1997, Professor Springman became a full professor of geotechnical engineering at ETH Zurich. In 2013 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath and another from the University of Bern in 2016.

Her research interests focus on soil-structure interaction and the geotechnical aspects of natural hazards, especially landslides and melting permafrost. Professor Springman has initiated and led many multidisciplinary field experiments, such as drilling and monitoring campaigns on rock glaciers at Muragl and Murtèl-Corvatsch in the Engadin and Furggwanghorn. She also supervised landslide tests above Saas-Balen and Meretschibach “Bochtür” in the Canton of Valais, at Tössegg and the most famous one at Rüdlingen, where a 130 m³ landslide induced by artificial rainfall could be measured and filmed.

Professor Springman was involved in various national and international research committees, such as the Swiss Science and Technology Council, now called the Swiss Science Council (SWR), from 2000 to 2007. From 2005 to 2010, she chaired the Technical Committee in “Physical Modelling in Geotechnics” at the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE), and in 2010 she hosted the quadrennial International Conference on Physical Modelling in Geotechnics (ICPMG) at the Institute for Geotechnical Engineering at ETH Zurich.  

We wish Professor Springman every success in all future academic endeavours and professional opportunities.