Elmo was born in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania, USA, on 12 September 1931. His family had proud Italian roots. He was trained as a civil engineer specialising in geotechnical and structural engineering, earning a B.Sc. from Pennsylvania State University in 1953, an M.Sc. from Princeton University in 1955 and a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1965.
Elmo came to NGI for the first time in 1955 on a Fulbright scholarship. The purpose of the scholarship was “To Study Civil Engineering”! He was employed by NGI for the first time from August 1958 to September 1960, for the second time from June to August 1962 and for the final time from October 1965, after post-graduate studies under Professor G.P. Tschebotarioff and Professor Ralph B. Peck. When Elmo left New York to cross the Atlantic to Norway, he wrote to NGI’s director, Laurits Bjerrum, in June 1958: “I don’t think I have ever been so enthusiastic about anything before.”
In 1958, Elmo met Jorunn Foss at NGI. In December 1960, she became Jorunn DiBiagio. Elmo became head of NGI’s instrumentation division in 1965, a position he held until 1984, when Elmo became a technical advisor. Although Elmo officially retired from his position at NGI in 1998, he continued to work for NGI – paid or unpaid – until the Covid 19 pandemic put an end to his visits to NGI in 2020.
Elmo was always at the forefront in developing new solutions within technologically demanding and constantly changing areas, both nationally and internationally. His early years at NGI involved a lot of work on the construction of the underground in Oslo and large-scale field trials where instrumentation was essential. During the major expansion of hydropower in Norway and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s, Elmo led NGI’s critical contributions within instrumentation and monitoring – an area that required a great deal of new development, as there were no good solutions at the time. As hydropower faced competition from the oil sector, the focus increasingly shifted to offshore installations and safety monitoring of concrete and steel structures.
There are now many new NGI employees ready to support and continue the work that Elmo establishing. Expertise and solutions were applied to new challenging problems, such as in the wind turbine sector. From the late 1950s right up to today, Elmo and his colleagues have updated and adapted their knowledge and solutions to the new challenges, which is essential for keeping up within instrumentation and performance monitoring.
Elmo helped to establish a pleasant atmosphere at NGI. MTEK Pizza Company was formed to supply the department with authentic Italian pizza. When employees returned from assignments abroad, there was often a party with food and drink from the country where the work had been carried out.
In 1957, NGI established the Geonor company to market the geotechnical equipment that NGI had developed. Elmo and his colleagues were behind a lot of equipment that were sold worldwide by Geonor, helping to create jobs and increasing awareness of NGI’s expertise. The vibrating wire technology that NGI used to a great extent in its sensors, and which was partly developed at NGI, became widely respected within the international community.
Elmo made a strong impression on the international professional arena, in particular with the development of FMGM (Field Measurements in Geomechanics), as a member of its Advisory Committee and as the driving force behind two of the international conferences under the auspices of FMGM organised at NGI in 1991 and 2003. Elmo was also a permanent adviser to ICOLD (the International Commission on Large Dams) in the field of instrumentation and safety monitoring.
On his retirement in 1998, a "Tribute to Elmo" was prepared (Note: both with Norwegian and English text content), with contributions from all corners of the world. Among those sending their best wishes was Professor Ralph B. Peck – one of the true greats of geotechnical engineering. He said: “Your genius and ingenuity have made you Mr. Instrumentation for the entire geotechnical world". In 2013, Elmo gave an invited lecture in Chicago at the 7th International Conference on Case histories in Geotechnical Engineering, commemorating Professor Ralph B. Peck: "Instrumentation - the Link between Theory and Practice in Geotechnical Engineering", where one can follow the evolution of instrumentation and monitoring.
Elmo was genuinely interested in the world around him, whether it was technology, nature or his fellow human beings. He remembered details that the rest of us had forgotten, and he could describe links that we had not made. He was always interested in how we were doing and he helped us to develop professionally and as human beings. He was a true mentor.
His final work for NGI included, on his own initiative, taking on the enormous task of digitising over 6,000 slides and associated project summaries for subsequent publication and as archive material. This says a lot about his lasting commitment. Another example is the completion of a report on measurements from the Vaterland tunnel in Oslo, which remained incomplete when the work was done in 1970. Elmo completed this in autumn 2020 and had it linked up on NGI’s website!
We are left with the memory of an incredibly fine colleague and a wonderful human being. Elmo helped to build up field instrumentation and safety monitoring to what it is today, both at NGI and abroad, and he also gave us so much as a person. Elmo’s contribution and his personality will forever be written in NGI's history. May he rest in peace.
On behalf of NGI's current and former colleagues,