Rock steady

Professor Anna Giacomini, Principal Researcher in the University's Priority Research Centre for Geotechnical and Materials Modelling, is committed to innovating, promoting and improving safety in mining and civil environments.

Dr Anna Giacomini

Whilst the Australian mining industry is recognised globally for its focus on workplace health and safety, mining personnel are challenged with risks every day. Rockfalls threaten human lives, machinery and the portal structures for underground entry located at the toe of highwalls. Such hazards can also have profound financial consequences if production temporarily stops for safety issues.

Anna has been working in Rock Mechanics and Civil Engineering for more than 12 years, having received her PhD from the University of Parma, Italy in 2003. In 2007 she joined the University of Newcastle as a research academic.  Anna has enriched her extensive research experience in rockfall analysis and rock mechanics from civil engineering to mining, adapting to her new Australian environment. As the principal researcher of an Australian Research Council Linkage Project she helped develop new designs for barriers to protect valuable infrastructure, such as roads and railways, from rock fall hazards.

Her contributions to the field have been recognised by the Australian industry as she leads three major projects through the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) on rockfall hazard and mitigation. Anna's research focuses on these hazards and their impacts in open pit mines. Together with her team, she uses innovative full scale experimental testing, novel laboratory testing techniques and advanced 3D numerical modelling to provide a rigorous and comprehensive assessment of all the major components of rockfall hazard at a given mine site.

"While each mine site is different and each highwall has different needs depending on the geological configuration of the outcropped rocks and how the highwall has been excavated, our numerical tool can be used at any mine," she explains."We can provide mines with the information they need to manage the risk of rock fall at their particular site."

"We can also give an indication of the residual hazard associated with rock fall drapery system protection measures and provide crucial information for the safe and effective design of portals and roads in open cut mines."

Within her recently honoured ACARP project Rockfall Hazard matrix for Risk reduction in mine sites, supported by Rio Tinto and Glencore, Anna and her team are extending their rockfall hazard methodology with a new Evolving Rockfall Hazard Assessment methodology that incorporates field data, current analytical and numerical tools and cutting edge research developments in rock fall hazard assessment and zoning. These results will provide greater accuracy in locating personnel, machinery, and structures across work sites, thereby improving safety and reducing the risk of interruptions in production.

While Anna's research has developed locally to understand the intricacies of the Australian environment, it is universal in scope and is potentially adaptable to many mining sites worldwide. Innovation in the mining sector cannot solely focus on technology, meaning Anna's work on processes and programs to improve safe work practices in dangerous worksites are valuable to industry and individuals.

From 2012 Anna and her team of two post-doctoral researchers and four post graduate students used advanced experimental and numerical analyses to investigate the energy absorption capacity of waste rock (muck) engineered barriers in various surface mining applications. Data provided unique worldwide experimental evidence on the effect of dynamic impacts of trucks on safety berms and useful recommendations for a safer mining environment.

This research is developing advanced numerical modelling which will allow the simulation of trucks running into windrows with a various range of velocities and approach angles (up or over 60km/hr). The outcome will provide more rigorous guidelines for windrows for haul roads enabling the mine sites to define speed limits with more confidence, and to adapt the design of windrows for various scenarios where trucks can potentially travel at high velocities.

Anna's studies were recognised by University of Newcastle in 2013, awarding her the Pro Vice-Chancellor Research Excellence Award. In 2014, she was invited to become a member of the Computer and Geotechnics Editorial board. Her global expertise has also seen her supervise international masters and postdoctoral students, become an assessor for national and international funding bodies and review international journals in the rock mechanics and engineering field.

Women in STEM

Anna is a co-founder of HunterWiSE, a group dedicated to promoting and supporting girls and women in STEM.

HunterWiSE features two interlinked actions aimed at increasing the number of girls and women participating in STEM through a school program and a series of networking events across the Hunter for women STEM professionals.

This approach is designed to steer women toward STEM, and encourage their retention in the STEM pipeline.

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.