What if concrete materials (the most utilized material in the world) could sustain plant life on its surface and help restore ecological functions to urban areas? How can we leverage modern cement chemistries to provide essential nutrients for plant survival? How do plan root growth mechanisms occur in the pore structure of these new concrete technologies? This project seeks to answer these questions by pairing modern cement chemistry to develop one-of-a-kind Mg-P cementitious materials and plant physiology characterization techniques to understand the mechanisms for plant growth.
The primary aim of this research is to elucidate the unique process-structure-properties (i.e., phase assemblages, pore solution chemistry, porous structure) of new bio-receptive Mg-P cement chemistries. Beyond elucidating the process-structure-properties of new Mg-Al-P-N cement chemistries, this project has as a secondary aim to understand how plant root exudation for N- and P-retrieval occurs at the root scale as a result of various root phenotypes (e.g., root length, rhizosphere content) and growth rates. Further scientific understanding of these root growth mechanisms is critical to understand the long-term material durability when subjected to infrastructure service conditions. At the bleeding edge of innovation, this scientific research leverages recent advances in Mg-P cement chemistries by the PI on the dissolution-precipitation reaction potential of P-rich phases to accommodate root growth.
The innovative aims of this scientific study will be accomplished with three main research objectives (OBs), namely: (OB.1) multi-phase characterization and thermodynamic prediction of new Mg-P cementitious materials leveraging quantitative x-ray diffraction and Gibbs Energy minimization thermodynamic modeling; (OB.2) in-situ 4D micro-computerized tomography and laser ablation tomography of novel cementitious material-root systems of grasses at the micro-scale to understand time-resolved structural changes; and, (OB.3) long-term assessments of the durability and mechanical performance of material-root composite systems subjected to infrastructure service conditions (RH, Temp.). These OBs will leverage unique multi-disciplinary research facilities at the Pennsylvania State University, such as the Root Lab and the Center for Quantitative Imaging – world-leading facilities for the characterization of root growth and time-based pore structure degradation mechanisms. Lastly, this research is supported by the Responsive and Adaptive Infrastructure Materials Laboratory - a unique cement chemistry laboratory for the in-depth characterization of new low-CO2 and sustainable cementitious materials - as well as the Materials Characterization Laboratory - world-renowned materials characterization multi-user facility with 50,000 square feet dedicated to current and future generations of characterization and fabrication tools.
Applying for this position:
If you are interested in this research for your Ph.D., we are looking for creative, curious, and gritty student researchers to join our team. Send the PI, Dr. Juan Pablo Gevaudan (e: [Email Address Removed]), an email with your CV and a 1-2 page research interest statement where you explain your main research interests, your research approach, and how Penn State can help this research. Include a paragraph about how the envisioned Ph.D. project links to your vision, personal motivation, or career ambition. This will allow us to assess your research and professional development as well as the curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity that you will bring to our research group.