Philadelphia-Based Expert in Geosynthetics Dies at 85

Robert M. Koerner, professor emeritus of Drexel University and director emeritus of the Geosynthetic Institute, has died at 85.

headshot of Koerner

Together with his wife and partner, Paula Koerner, he founded the Geosynthetic Institute as a research organization with international outreach programs for the design of geosynthetic materials in construction.

Koerner, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE(Ret.), Dist.M.ASCE, NAE, began his career in construction, and worked on a number of projects, including the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia, the Bailey Bridge in Easton, Pennsylvania, and the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York City. After three near-fatal accidents on the job, at his wife’s urging he found a safer career in academics, soon joining the faculty at Drexel, one of his alma maters.

Educating himself as well as others was in line with Koerner’s life motivation. A Life Member of ASCE (affiliated with the Geo Institute), he maintained a high level of engagement with ASCE’s continuing education programs and had taught webinars for the last 10 years, with dates still ahead of him. He was also a frequent Terzaghi Lecturer.

Koerner was a member of the ASCE Philadelphia Section and also belonged to the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. He served on the Geosynthetics magazine Editorial Advisory Committee and shared his expertise through the magazine’s “GMA Techline” and GSI News column, as well as in numerous articles.

One of his passions was to make books and educational materials more affordable for students, and his own contributions to the literature were most generous. He once said that after he coauthored the first textbook on geosynthetics, “the phone never stopped ringing.” But if he wasn’t there to answer it, he was probably out running one of his many marathons.

Every two years, the Robert M. Koerner Award and Lecture Series is bestowed by the Geosynthetic Materials Association on an individual who has had a measurable impact on the geosynthetics industry.

Koerner has been honored with symposia from Drexel (2003), ASCE’s Mechanics Section (2005), and the GeoInstitute’s Geoenvironmental Engineering Division (2015). In 2017 he received the Geosynthetic Materials Association’s Robert M. Koerner Biennial Lectureship and the annual GeoMiddle East Conference Lectureship.


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