Computational Mechanics and Design Group

Department of Civil & Structural Engineering

Dr Colin Smith

Senior Lecturer

+44 114 2225717

Department of Civil and Structural Engineering
Sir Frederick Mappin Building
Mappin Street,
S1 3JD


Colin Smith graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1987. He joined the Cambridge Soil Mechanics research group in the same year and completed a PhD in 1991. Following 2 years as a research associate at Cambridge he moved to the University of Sheffield in 1992 where he is now a Senior Lecturer.

His main research interests focus on:

  • Limit analysis in geotechnics: development of new numerical and analytical tools, including development of a  new numerical technique Discontinuity Layout Optimization (DLO) for solution of plasticity problems and its application in a range of areas including offshore and unsaturated soils.
  • Masonry arch bridge analysis, modelling and assessment, including the development of a full scale plane strain testing tank for soil structure interaction in masonry arch bridges in collaboration with the University of Salford.
  • Design code development focusing on theory and application of design codes using numerical methods and Eurocode 7.

The experimental work has a strong basis in physical modelling, supported in particular by innovative digital imaging techniques.  Whilst at Sheffield his research has been funded by EPSRC, NERC and industry.

He is co-founder of a University spin-out company LimitState Ltd. The company specialises in the development of novel ultimate limit state analysis and design software applications which make use of research methods developed in the University, including LimitState:GEO, a rapid tool for geotechnical limit analysis in use in industry and universities in over 30 countries across the world. 

His teaching portfolio includes teaching of geotechnical analysis and design at undergraduate and MSc level.  He has led four externally funded teaching development projects within the Department, and contributed to several teaching publications.


MA (Cantab)


Research project(s)

Ultimate and permissible limit state behaviour of soil-filled masonry arch bridges

Masonry arch bridges form a vital part of the UK railway and highway infrastructures. These bridges typically contain soil backfill, which contributes significantly to their overall load-carrying capacity. This project aims to improve understanding of soil-arch interaction in masonry arch bridges under both static and cyclic loading regimes. This joint...

Yield-line analysis of slabs using discontinuity layout optimization

Yield-line pattern
One of the oldest and most fundamental problems in the field of engineering mechanics involves calculation of the amount of load that can be carried by a structure, and in identifying the associated failure mechanism (layout of failure planes, or ‘discontinuities’). Discontinuity layout optimization (DLO) is an engineering analysis procedure...


(2017). Large-scale physical modelling of soil-filled masonry arch bridges. International Journal of Physical Modelling in Geotechnics, pp. 1-14. (Full Text).
(2016). Use of a physics engine to model soil filled masonry arch bridges. In Proc. 8th International Arch Bridges Conference.
(2016). Behaviour of backfilled masonry arch bridges subjected to cyclic loading. In Proc. 8th International Arch Bridges Conference.
(2016). Proposed permissible limit state assessment criteria for masonry arch bridges. In Proc. 8th International Arch Bridges Conference.
(2016). Limit analysis of reinforced embankments on soft soil. Geotextiles and Geomembranes, 44 (4), pp. 504-514. (Full Text)., Abstract: Previous research into the stability of reinforced embankments founded on soft soil has presented limited studies based on a narrow range of assumed failure mechanisms. In this paper comprehensive parametric studies of reinforced and unreinforced embankments were conducted using the general purpose...
(2015). Squeezing bearing capacity and effects of increasing strength with depth. In Frontiers in Offshore Geotechnics III - 3rd International Symposium on Frontiers in Offshore Geotechnics, ISFOG 2015 (pp. 1299-1304).
(2015). Editorial. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers-Engineering and Computational Mechanics, 168 (3), pp. 89-89.
(2015). Modelling rotational failure in confined geometries using DLO. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers-Engineering and Computational Mechanics, 168 (4), pp. 155-168. (Full Text)., Abstract: Discontinuity layout optimisation (DLO) is a generally applicable numerical limit analysis procedure that can be used to identify critical plastic collapse mechanisms in engineering problems. Considering the modelling of in-plane failure, the authors have previously presented a formulation capable...
(2015). Modelling granular soil behaviour using a physics engine. Géotechnique Letters, 5 (4), pp. 243-249. (Full Text).