Professor Ian Johnston

  • Room: Level: 02 Room: 205
  • Building: Engineering Block B
  • Campus: Parkville

Research interests

  • Geotechnical Engineering, Geothermal Energy


Professor Johnston obtained a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1968 and a Ph.D. in 1972 from the University of Southampton (UK). After 3 years in industry, he joined Monash University where he was a lecturer, senior lecturer and associate professor. In 1993, he was appointed Professor and Dean of Engineering at Victoria University of Technology. In February 1998, he returned to full time consulting with Coffey Geotechnics where he was a Senior Principal. He joined the University of Melbourne in May 2009 as Professor of Geotechnical Engineering.
Although Professor Johnston’s consulting and research interests have covered a wide range of topics, he is probably best known for his work on soft, weak and weathered rock in civil and mining engineering. He has made many presentations on this general subject and others at local, national and international conferences. He has published over 120 technical papers including about 60 in refereed international journals. He has undertaken substantial consulting work on many projects in Australia and overseas both as an academic and as a consultant. He has also had considerable involvement with forensic geotechnical engineering and matters involving expert witness services for litigation and arbitration.
From 2012 to 2016 he was a member of the Technical Review Board which has a primary function to provide independent advice to assist the Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources and industry better manage ground control associated with mining in Victoria, in order to mitigate the risks this presents to public safety, environment, public infrastructure and security of power supply.
When he returned to a full-time academic position in 2009, Professor Johnston developed a strong interest in direct geothermal energy (or geoexchange) in which the ground relatively close to the surface is used as a source and sink for heat to heat and cool buildings. His research group developed several instrumented field test sites around Victoria to provide performance data for these systems. This data has led to more efficient and effective design methods for Victorian and Australian conditions.
At the end of 2015, Professor Johnston retired from the university although he maintains an active research interest through his appointment as an Honorary Professorial Fellow. He also continues to undertake consulting assignments.
He has been the recipient of several teaching and research awards including the E.H. Davis Memorial Award from the Australian Geomechanics Society in 1991 for "distinguished recent contributions to the theory and practice of geomechanics in Australia". He was also the recipient of the Australian Geomechanics Society’s highest award, the John Jaeger Memorial Award, in 2012 for “contributions of the highest order over a lifetime commitment to the geotechnical profession in Australia”. He has held offices in several learned societies, professional associations, educational boards, advisory panels and standards committees including the Founding Editor of Australian Geomechanics, Chairman of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering Committee on Soft Rock and Vice President and Board Member for Australasia for the International Society for Rock Mechanics.
In January 2017, Professor Johnston was appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) “For distinguished service to engineering, as an academic, researcher, practitioner and consultant, particularly in the fields of structural foundation engineering and geothermal energy”.

Recent publications

  1. Makasis N, Narsilio G, Bidarmaghz A, Johnston I. The application of retaining walls and slabs as energy structures in underground train stations. Springer Series in Geomechanics and Geoengineering. 2019, Issue 217729. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-99670-7_6
  2. Makasis N, Narsilio G, Bidarmaghz A, Johnston I. Carrier fluid temperature data in vertical ground heat exchangers with a varying pipe separation. DATA IN BRIEF. Elsevier BV. 2018, Vol. 18. DOI: 10.1016/j.dib.2018.04.005
  3. Makasis N, Narsilio G, Bidarmaghz A, Johnston I. Ground-source heat pump systems: The effect of variable pipe separation in ground heat exchangers. COMPUTERS AND GEOTECHNICS. Pergamon. 2018, Vol. 100. DOI: 10.1016/j.compgeo.2018.02.010
  4. Jensen-Page L, Narsilio G, Bidarmaghz A, Johnston I. Investigation of the effect of seasonal variation in ground temperature on thermal response tests. RENEWABLE ENERGY. Pergamon-Elsevier Science. 2018, Vol. 125. DOI: 10.1016/j.renene.2017.12.095
  5. Mikhaylova O, Johnston I, Narsilio G. Assessment of Effective Borehole Thermal Resistance from Operational Data. IGSHPA Technical/Research Conference and Expo 2017. 2017. DOI: 10.22488/okstate.17.000513
  6. Lu Q, Narsilio G, Aditya G, Johnston I. Cost and performance data for residential buildings fitted with GSHP systems in Melbourne Australia. DATA IN BRIEF. Elsevier BV. 2017, Vol. 12. DOI: 10.1016/j.dib.2017.03.028
  7. Lu Q, Narsilio G, Aditya G, Johnston I. Economic analysis of vertical ground source heat pump systems in Melbourne. ENERGY. Pergamon-Elsevier Science. 2017, Vol. 125. DOI: 10.1016/
  8. Mikhaylova O, Choudhary R, Soga K, Johnston I. Benefits and optimisation of district hybrid ground source heat pump systems. Energy Geotechnics - Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Energy Geotechnics, ICEGT 2016. 2016.
  9. Makasis N, Narsilio G, Bidarmaghz A, Johnston I. Effects of ground heat exchanger variable pipe separation in ground-source heat pump systems. Energy Geotechnics - Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Energy Geotechnics, ICEGT 2016. 2016.
  10. Mikhaylova O, Johnston I, Narsilio G. Ground thermal response to borehole ground heat exchangers. Energy Geotechnics - Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Energy Geotechnics, ICEGT 2016. 2016.
  11. Jensen-Page L, Narsilio G, Bidarmaghz A, Johnston I. Impact of the Seasonal Variations in Ground Temperature on Thermal Response Test Results. Geotechnical Special Publication. American Society of Civil Engineers. 2016, Vol. 2016-January, Issue 270 GSP. DOI: 10.1061/9780784480137.006
  12. Bidarmaghz A, Narsilio G, Johnston I, Colls S. The importance of surface air temperature fluctuations on long-term performance of vertical ground heat exchangers. GEOMECHANICS FOR ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Elsevier Science. 2016, Vol. 6. DOI: 10.1016/j.gete.2016.02.003
  13. Mikhaylova O, Johnston I, Narsilio G. Uncertainties in the design of ground heat exchangers. ENVIRONMENTAL GEOTECHNICS-JOURNAL. ICE Publishing. 2016, Vol. 3, Issue 4. DOI: 10.1680/jenge.15.00033
  14. Mikhaylova O, Johnston I, Narsilio G. Estimating Uncertainty of the Design Length of Borehole Ground Heat Exchangers. 15th Pan-American Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (PCSMGE) / 8th South American Congress on Rock Mechanics (SCRM). IOS Press. 2015. Editors: Manzanal D, Sfriso AO. DOI: 10.3233/978-1-61499-603-3-688
  15. Mikhaylova O, Johnston I, Narsilio G, Kivi AV, Aditya G, Noonan G. Performance of Borehole Ground Heat Exchangers under Thermal Loads from a School Building: Full-scale Experiment in Melbourne, Australia. Proceedings of the World Geothermal Congress. 2015. Editors: Horne R, Boyd T.

View a full list of publications on the University of Melbourne’s ‘Find An Expert’ profile