David Elton, professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, and Ram Gupta, alumni professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, have received a $260,000 collaborative research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The proposed research, "Water Stabilization using Microparticles," addresses fundamental aspects of soil liquefaction during earthquakes, where loose, saturated sands turn to a fluid state during shaking, causing severe distress to buildings founded in these soils.
While current technology requires significant building disruption during the preventative retrofitting process, Elton and Gupta's method will allow the liquefaction risk to be removed without upsetting building services. The technique will use specially coated nanoparticles to immobilize water and stop the liquefaction process. The specialized coating process was developed by Gupta under a previous NSF grant and is currently used in the pharmaceutical industry.
The coated particles can easily be placed under buildings or on new construction sites, saving money and potentially lives. For research purposes, the microparticles will be placed in lab-scale liquefaction tanks to evaluate particle installation methods and actual reduction in liquefaction susceptibility.
"This research is far reaching, especially in the environmental area" says Elton.
Elton foresees this water immobilization technology in wide-ranging uses beyond liquefaction abatement, including groundwater contamination remediation, dam rehabilitation, foundation repair, canal lining and landfill isolation. New medical, agricultural and chemical engineering applications are expected.
Elton and Gupta have applied for a U.S. patent on the technology and its applications.