Monday, November 10, 2014

URSP Student Dominick Casciano Researches Hollow Glass Microspheres as Lightweight Aggregate in High-Performance Concrete

A picture of me in the concrete laboratory at Vulcan Materials in Springfield, Va.
I’m a civil engineer who is primarily interested in both water treatment systems and the environment. I came to be interested in this project through my involvement in the American Society of Civil Engineers chapter on this campus. As a member of this organization, I was partly responsible for getting our first-ever concrete canoe into the water. 

Part of concrete canoe is learning how to do mix design. Since we are aiming for making national competition, it is imperative that we develop a strong, lightweight, and sustainable mix. At first glance, these objectives seem to be mutually exclusive. Through my research and hands-on experience with the cement, however, I have learned that it is indeed possible to fulfill all of these objectives in one product. This has been my drive to research and develop cements that do not rely on ordinary Portland cement as their primary binder. 

It’s easy to see how concrete has become the most used construction material on Earth. This is a material which is strong in compression and relatively inexpensive. It’s benefits, however, must be considered with the knowledge that the production of ordinary Portland cement (OPC) - the primary and essential constituent of ordinary concrete - releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For the sake of future generations, it’s important to research new materials and methods that are sustainable. Today we know that it is possible to create high performance cement and therefore concrete without the inclusion of OPC. My long term goal is sustainability and this endeavor fits with this goal. If I am successful, I will discover methods to incorporate industrial byproducts and user friendly reagents into geopolymer cements suitable for construction.

On a weekly basis, I look for new research papers to digest. I am in the process of acquiring the necessary ingredients for polymerization. This week, I discovered that my initial plan of action was not possible. This is because the alkaline reagent I planned to use to catalyze the reaction is too caustic. A 12 molar solution of NaOH (lye or caustic soda) is too dangerous to be working with at this level of research. This is another motivation to continue research into more user-friendly methods for potential field applications.