Ralph Brazelton Peck

National Medal of Science

Engineering

For his development of the science and art of subsurface engineering, combining the contributions of the sciences of geology and soil mechanics with the practical art of foundation design.

For his development of the science and art of subsurface engineering, combining the contributions of the sciences of geology and soil mechanics with the practical art of foundation design.

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Birth
June 23, 1912
Age Awarded
62
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Subsurface Infrastructure
Soil Mechanics
Awarded by
Gerald R. Ford
Education
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Areas of Impact
Energy & Environment
Affiliations
University of Illinois
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Ralph Brazelton Peck’s first exposure to “soils” wasn’t in the halls of academia. The summer after high school, Peck, a junior member of a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad signal gang, performed trackside manual labor for 55 cents per hour. The work, mostly involving a shovel, made college seem like a good idea.

Peck enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1930, eventually earning a doctorate in civil engineering.

After getting laid off from this first job, he attended a soil mechanics course at Harvard before moving to Chicago to help survey and monitor excavations being made for the city’s subway.

In 1942, he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois, where he helped build a geotechnical engineering program and authored the field’s most influential textbook, “Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice.”

“Engineering is indeed a noble sport,” he said, “and the legacy of good engineers is a better physical world for those who follow them.”

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