Imperial College London


Faculty of EngineeringDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Professor of Particulate Soil Mechanics



+44 (0)20 7594 6117cath.osullivan Website




501Skempton BuildingSouth Kensington Campus






My research considers discrete element analysis and the micro-mechanics of granular materials.  My full list of publications is available here or at my google scholar page.

Current Research (PhD) Students

show research

Tokio Morimoto

Oct 2019 - present


Nov 2018 - present

tara Sassel

Oct 2018 - present

peter adesina

Oct 2018 - present

Sara Bandera

Oct. 2017 - present

Fundamental analysis of the influence of structure on clay behaviour

Hoang Nguyen

Feb. 2016 - present

Micromechanics of shear wave propagation and small-strain stiffness in granular soil

Previous Research (PhD) Students

show research


PhD 2017, Imperial College London

Particle scale analysis of soil stiffness and elastic wave propagation


MPhil, 2017, Imperial College London

Numerical evaluation of internal erosion due to seepage flow


PhD 2016, Imperial College London

Assessing the potential for suffusion in sands using x-ray micro-CT images

Shire, Thomas

PhD 2014 Imperial College London

Micromechanical study of suffusion in soils

huang, xin

PhD 2014 Imperial College London and University of Hong Kong (Joint PhD)

Exploring critical-state behaviour using DEM

O'Donovan, John

PhD 2014 Imperial College London

Discrete element simulations of wave propagation in soil

Ni Bhreasail, Aine

PhD 2013 Imperial College London

Micro computed tomography to study micro mechanics of permafrost


A micro-mechanical investigation of drained simple shear tests on dense sand using discrete element simulations

PhD 2012, Imperial College London

Dr Joana Fonseca

The evolution of morphology and fabric of a sand during shearing

PhD, 2011, Imperial College London


Micromechanics of sand production in oil wells

PhD 2010, University of London


The influence of particle characteristics on the engineering behaviour of granular materials

PhD  2009, University of London

DR. Daniel Barretto

Numerical and experimental investigation in to the behaviour of granular amterials under generalised stress states.

PhD 2009, University of London

Dr. Liang Cui

Developing a Virtual Test Environment for Granular Materials Using
Discrete Element Modelling

PhD 2006, University College Dublin


show research
  • In June 2018 Catherine delivered a special lecture to the Japanese Geotechnical Society entitled " A particle scale perspective on internal erosion and filter design.  Her presentation slides"  are here.
  • Catherine delivered a presentation on the use of DEM to advance understanding of load:deformation response at the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo in June 2018.  Her presentation slides are  here.
  • Catherine presented some of her recent research at the 2018 Pre-Rakine Seminar.  Her presentation slides are here.
  • Catherine participated in the 25th meeting of the ICOLD European Working Group on Internal Erosion in Sept 2017.  Her presentation slides are here.
  • Catherine participated in the 25th meeting of the ICOLD European Working Group on Internal Erosion in Sept 2017.  Her presentation slides are here.
  • In October 2016 Catherine participated in a 1 day Doctoral School on DEM held in conjunction with the GEO-RAMP RISE project. The presentation was titled Developing robust DEM models to simulate element tests
  • Catherine visited Japan in May 2016 and delivered a presentation at IMS Chibu entitled Underpinning Empiricism with Particulate Soil Mechanics.
  • Catherine gave the 2015 BGA Geotechnique lecture on Nov 17 2015. A pdf of the presentation is available.

Research highlights: micro-computed tomography in soil mechanics

show research

MicroCT Image of Sand Illustrating Individual Particles and Voids (PhD Howard Taylor 2016)

 Micro-computed tomography (microCT) allows us to  image real materials and observe their particle-scale kinematics.

Research highlights: Use of particulate DEM in geomechanics

show research

DEM models are highly idealized and so it is important to verify these models as well as to establish their limitations and this has been a key research theme.


Direct shear test: comparison of physical tests and DEM simulation (Cui and O'Sullivan, 2016)

Research highlights: Soil stiffness

show research

Combined experimental and DEM analysis of surface roughness effects on stiffness (PhD Otsubo, 2017)

  • The doctoral research of Dr. Masahide Otsubo looked at the influence of roughness on stiffness using DEM and experimental approaches.  In collaboration with the University of Bristol, Otsubo et al. (2015) examined the influence of surface roughness on small strain stiffness experimentally.  This contribution was followed by a DEM-based consideration of surface roughness effects in Otsubo et al. (2016).   Otsubo et al. (2016) examined the influence of both stress level and packing density on the dynamic response of granular materials.
  • In collaboration with the University of Bristol, an EPSRC funded study (grant  EP/G064954/1)  focussed on the particle-scale mechanisms of shear wave propagation, focussing on bender element test interpretation. The initial publications from this study focussed on two-dimensional systems (O'Donovan et al. 2012) and (Marketos and O'Sullivan 2013).  O'Donovan et al. 2015a and O'Donovan et al. 2015b considered stiffness and wave propagation in three dimensions for an ideal, lattice material. Comparison of the numerical model and experimental results is given in O'Donovan et al. 2014.

Research highlights: Soil strength

show research

EPSRC grant EP/D50631X/1 funded the doctoral research of Dr. Daniel Barreto.  As summarized in Barreto and O'Sullivan (2012) and further developed in O'Sullivan et al. (2013), a key outcome from this study is the demonstration that the sensitivity of soil strength to the intermediate principal stress ratio is a consequence of the way in which the force chains of highly stressed particles buckle under the three dimensional stress state. 

Developing this line of research, we have considered how the intermediate principal stress influences the position of the critical state line (Huang et al. 2014a).  Huang et al. (2014b) used DEM to show the applicability of the state parameter as a predictor of soil behaviour in a three-dimensional stress state.

Also considering large-strain behaviour Hanley et al. 2015 considered particle crushing in compression and shear.

Research highlights: Permeability, Filters and Internal Erosion

show research


Dr. Elisabeth Bowman, University of Sheffield, Joint EPSRC projects EP/P010393/1 and EP/P010423/1, 2017 - 2019

Guest Lectures

Plenary Lecture Particles 2019, CIMNE, Barcelona, 2019

Keynote Lecture DEM8, University of Twente, Twente, Netherlands, 2019

Theme Lecture: IS-Glasgow 2019 7th International Symposium on Deformation Characteristics of Geomaterials, University of Strathclyde, 2019

Plenary Lecture IS-Atlanta 2018 — Geo-Mechanics from Micro to Macro in Research & Practice, Georgia Institute of TEchnology, 2018

Plenary Lecture International Symposium on Geomechanics from Micro to Macro (IS-Cambridge 2014), 2014

Research Student Supervision

Bortolotto,M, Investigation on the thermal behaviour of granular materials

Morimoto,T, A DEM analysis of thermal effects on micromechanics of packed granular beds