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T.W. “Bill” Lambe, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering, dies at 96

Longtime MIT professor and author of two influential texts was a leader in geotechnical engineering.
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Professor Emeritus T.W. “Bill” Lambe
Professor Emeritus T.W. “Bill” Lambe
Photo courtesy of Lambe family.

T. William “Bill” Lambe, professor emeritus in civil and environmental engineering, passed away on March 6. He was 96 years old.

Lambe SM ’44 PhD ’48 arrived at MIT to pursue graduate studies in civil engineering after a brief stint working in the engineering industry.

As a graduate student in 1945, Lambe began working as an instructor at MIT. By July 1959, he was a full professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He held the first Edmund K. Turner Professor of Civil Engineering professorship from 1969 until his retirement from teaching in June 1981.

Lambe’s research is remembered for having a close relation to engineering practice, reflective of his own career path. His academic contributions to geotechnical engineering were fundamental and far-reaching, and included research of soil chemistry, soil stabilization and freezing, the stress path method, and the formalizing of geotechnical prediction. Lambe’s predictions are one instance of the overlap between engineering practice and academia. His contributions as an academic were fundamental to geotechnical engineering.

His textbooks, “Soil Testing for Engineers,” published in 1951, and “Soil Mechanics,” co-authored with Robert Whitman and published in 1969, were also groundbreaking in the field.

Another example of Lambe’s ability to have research and practical engineering benefit from each other was the instrumentation of foundation work on multiple MIT buildings constructed during the building boom of the 1960’s and for Boston-area subway construction. MIT geotechnical students were educated to become engineers through practice-oriented research and direct or indirect involvement in Lambe’s consulting projects.

Following his retirement from MIT, Lambe returned to the engineering industry, serving as a consultant on numerous international projects. These projects included landslides; earth dams for storage of oil, mining waster, and water; building foundations; foundations for an off-shore storm surge barrier; and hydraulic reclamation projects, among others. He remained active as a consultant until his early 90’s.

Lambe was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, an honorary member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, an honorary member of the Southeast Asian Society of Geotechnical Engineering, and an honorary member of the Venezuelan Society of Soil mechanics and Foundation Engineering. His more than 100 publications earned him many awards including the ASCE’s highest award, the Norman Medal, in 1964; the ASCE Terzaghi Award in 1975; and the N.C. State University Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award in 1982.

He is survived by five children: Philip and wife Catherine; Virginia and husband Robert Guaraldi; Richard and wife Michele; Robert and wife Judith; and Susan and husband Scott Clary, who live in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia, respectively. His growing family includes 14 grandchildren and their six spouses, and seven great-grandchildren.

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