Sarah Springman DBE

Professor Dame Sarah Springman DBE, FREng, is the Principal at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford. Sarah was educated at Wycombe Abbey, and then went on to read Engineering Sciences at Girton College, Cambridge. After five years working on civil engineering projects around the world, she returned to Cambridge to read an MPhil (St Catharine’s) and a PhD (Magdalene) in Soil Mechanics. Sarah was the first female Research Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, before going on to become a university lecturer in 1990. In 1997, Sarah moved to ETH Zurich, Switzerland, becoming the first female Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in Western Europe and the first female Professor of Civil Engineering in Switzerland. Her expertise lies in soilstructure-interaction and geotechnical aspects of natural hazards. Sarah was Rector of the university from 2015-2021.

Projects and Recognitions

Sarah’s research has focused on the geotechnical modelling of soil-structure-interaction problems. While in Zurich, she became increasingly interested in the geotechnical aspects of natural hazards. As part of this research her team drilled 13 boreholes into three different rock glaciers 2,500m to 3,000m above sea level and instrumented them. They then used an ice cream van to transport the frozen samples back to Zurich. Her team was the first to carry out advanced geotechnical element testing on undisturbed specimens of alpine permafrost in the lab to be able to model its behaviour and predict future response.

Sarah particularly enjoyed commissioning the institution’s drum centrifuge, which was the biggest in the world at the time.

Alongside this research, Sarah started using computer aided learning to enhance undergraduate students’ education. She worked with Les Davison from the University of Western England to improve opportunities for teaching and learning of soil mechanics, specifically for the ETH syllabus and building on material from the GeoCal program, which was later redesigned and extended to become the Geotechnical Information Platform.

She was elected a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering in 2009 and of The Swiss Academy for Technological Sciences in 2015. Professor Springman was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to engineering and international sports administration.