Engineers’ Day 2013: Paul R. LaPointe (PhD Mineral Engineering ’80)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering will honor the achievements of eight distinguished alumni during the 66th annual Engineers’ Day celebration on Friday, October 11, 2013. These honorees demonstrate the diverse and profound impact UW-Madison engineers have on industry and academia. In the lead-up to the event, Badger Engineers will be sharing bios of all the award recipients.

Engineers’ Day festivities will begin with a continental breakfast at 8 a.m. in the lobby of Engineering Hall, 1415 Engineering Drive. Seminars will begin at 8:30 in Room 1610 of Engineering Hall. The evening banquet and awards ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive.

Paul R. LaPointe has used his UW-Madison training in geology and mineral engineering to show the energy industry how important it is to understand fractures in hard rock.

“In the 1970’s, not too many people worried about how to rigorously characterize and model the natural fractures in rock for engineering design,” LaPointe says.

As LaPointe finished his master’s degree in geology at UW-Madison in 1976, engineers began turning to more complex problems that would require them to better understand the effects of natural fractures. But after an inspiring visit to a granite quarry with Materials Science and Engineering and Geological Engineering Professor Bezalel C. Haimson, he decided to pursue a PhD in rock mechanics.

“I was able to blend my structural geologic background with my newly developing engineering skills to formulate novel ways to characterize and model fractured rock masses for engineering purposes,” he says.

His graduate work was an early contribution to a modeling approach and technology that came to be called Discrete Fracture Network (DFN) modeling. After completing his PhD, he spent 11 years working at ARCO Oil and Gas as both an engineer and a geologist, where he formulated and tested novel mathematical characterization techniques for fractured reservoir development and undiscovered resource assessment, and for which he won ARCO’s Major Technical Achievement award in 1987. Moving to Golder Associates in 1992, he continued to develop and commercialize DFN technology and currently manages Golder’s worldwide fractured reservoir consulting services. La Pointe was the co-recipient of Golder’s Outstanding Technical Excellence award for 2011, Golder’s highest award, for his role in the development of DFN technologies for shale gas and oil shale.

The DFN software and technology Golder created allows engineers to create 3-D models of fracture patterns in rock in order to solve flow, transport and geomechanics problems. It has been used in applications from nuclear-waste repositories to dams, transportation tunnels and the development of shale gas, and has become the industry-standard approach to the characterization and modeling of large carbonate oil fields. Having played a significant role in the development of a new technology, and working with it from its earliest days where it was the subject of academic research, through to the present where it is a widely-used technology, is the achievement of which he is most proud.

LaPointe fondly recalls the geographically and intellectually diverse group of students and professors he worked with at the College of Engineering.

“In the ‘70s, the number of students who were not U.S. nationals was fairly low in many geology departments, including Madison’s, but matters were quite different in the College of Engineering,” he says. “I became part of a very large, highly multicultural and multidisciplinary team. It was wonderful”

LaPointe has shared his expertise on rock fractures and other subjects through numerous books, professional publications, lectures and courses for professional societies and universities. He is a member of many technical and honorary societies, including the American Rock Mechanics Association where he served on the Board of Directors, Sigma Xi, and the Society of Petroleum Engineers, including an international lecture tour on the topic of fractured reservoirs, and was elected a Fellow of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. LaPointe is grateful to his wife, Margaret La Pointe, and his late mother, Gladys La Pointe, for their support throughout his career.

In his free time, LaPointe is an avid cross-country skier, sea kayaker and soccer player. He lives in Woodinville, Washington.

This entry was posted in Focus on Alumni. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.