Research laboratories

Published on 18 February 2008

Over the last century, earthworks engineering methods have progressed massively, and this has largely been due to laboratory research.

Dynaplaque: a device for measuring ground load bearing developed by the LPCs
Gammadensimeter: equipped with a radio active source it allows soil density to be analysed

In 1831, the laboratory of the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées was founded. Originally intended to train the students in limestone analysis and tests on rocks susceptible to frost fracture, it now carries out research in the field which is of interest to us. As early as 1934 for example highway soils were being studied.

In 1949, it became by decree the Laboratoire Central des Ponts et Chaussées .
(LCPC) (Central Laboratory of Bridges and Highways) which carries out scientific and technical research. Soil and ground analysis and identification are conducted at a particularly high level, as well as acceptance testing for earthworks structures.

In 1952, the first regional laboratories of bridges and highways were created, of which there are now 20. They engage in research work in cooperation with the LCPC.

Large earthworks engineering firms have their own site traceability and control laboratories. Their research activity is focused on new materials, problems of processing with hydraulic binders, problems of incline stabilisation, of compaction etc. They often work in tandem with research institutes or university laboratories which are well equipped with state of the art research equipment.

In this way, synthetic materials have been developed, such as geotextiles and geomembranes that allow drains, filters and seals to function well. There are original materials with some remarkable characteristics that are the products of laboratory work, such as Texsol, Nid d’abeille (Honeycomb), Armaterre. The use of polystyrene in light infill construction has continued to grow. In the field of chemistry, the development of hydraulic binders for the treatment of clay soils using industrial by-products (fly ash, blast furnace slag etc.) is the subject of research.