Bio-Inspired Anchorage System


Our work on the bio-inspired anchorage systems is focused on exploring the biological analog of tree root systems in order to identify and understand how different forms, behaviors, and/or principles may be extrapolated and adapted to improve conventional pile foundations and anchorage systems.

Current Year ’15-’16 Focus 

TITLE: Root-Inspired Foundations and Retaining Systems

RESEARCHER: Matt Burrall (

ADVISOR(S): Dr. Dan Wilson (, Jason DeJong (

COLLABORATOR(S): Prof. Ted DeJong, Prof. Astrid Volder

THRUST: Infrastructure Construction

USE-CASE: Non-linear, material efficient, root foundation solutions as alternatives to shallow/deep foundations.

TRANSFORMATIVE CONTRIBUTION: Versatile, energy-efficient and material-efficient anchor designs; enhanced understanding of soil flow mechanisms and interaction effects.


  • Unknown flow mechanisms around irregular shapes and closely spaced elements
  • Unknown magnitude of capacity increase associated with shape modifications
  • Unclear relationship between complexity and capacity for anchor shapes


  • Identification of important parameters and underlying mechanisms governing performance
  • Possible scale effects on the performance of new anchor designs
  • Economic considerations: modified anchor shapes may be difficult or expensive to manufacture and difficult to install


  • Analysis of tree root anchorage literature
  • Collaboration with plant biologists for idea development and for better understanding of the biological system
  • Air-spade excavation and analysis of tree species with disparate anchorage capacities
  • Pullout tests of tree species with disparate anchorage capacities
  • 3D model development of root systems through stitching of photographs
  • Centrifuge testing of tree root inspired models to isolate important parameters and to assess the potential for capacity increases above existing foundation types


  • Designers: This research will facilitate exploration of versatile foundation options and the ability to tailor design to the conditions at the site
  • Owners: More sustainable (material-efficient and energy-efficient) options will be made available
  • Academia: The varied testing regimes will result in a better understanding of soil flow mechanisms and the extent of arching effects
  • Society: The development of alternatives to common, energy-heavy, concrete-heavy methods will shift engineering practice to more closely model nature’s equanimity

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