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UT Arlington civil engineer researching new ways to assess, prevent damage to highways, underground pipes

News Release — 22 April 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media contact: Herb Booth, (817) 272-7075, hbooth@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - A University of Texas at Arlington civil engineer has secured $1.75 million in grants this year, part of which will go toward developing a new sensor that will help measure soil stability and advances in soils treatments to better support highways and water and sewer pipes in unstable soils.

Among the awards to Anand Puppala, a UT Arlington distinguished teaching professor in civil engineering, is a new, highly competitive grant from the National Academy of Science’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The grant is part of the prestigious Innovation Deserving Exploratory Analysis, or IDEA, program.

Sulfate-induced heaving

This road near Joe Pool Lake shows sulfate-induced heaving. Photo courtesy of Les Perrin, former chief of geotechnical section at the Army Corps of Engineers office in Fort Worth.

Puppala and his research team will use the funds to create a field sensor capable of more quickly and accurately detecting sulfate- or gypsum-induced buckling, also known as heaving, in soil.

Such breaks can wreck havoc on road systems and underground water and sewer pipes. Several North Texas roads have bee damaged by heaving, including stretches of Texas 161, some south Arlington roads and roads near Joe Pool Lake at Cedar Hill State Park.

Gypsum is a sulfate crystal that can lead to the formation of a mineral called ettringite in the soil when mixed with cement or lime. When ettringite is exposed to water, it expands, which in turn damages roads and structures.

Lime makes the soil less expansive, easier to work with and stronger, Puppala said. Most soils in United States are treated with lime or cement before roads are constructed, he said.

“It is important to develop a new field methodology that could tell us quickly whether the native soil treatments with lime and cement could lead to this type of heaving,” Puppala said. “The field sensor will be designed to save construction time and money.”

Puppala is working with Simon Chao, an assistant professor in civil engineering, on the project.

The Transportation Research Board administers the IDEA program along with state departments of transportation, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration. The NCHRP was created in 1962 to conduct research in acute problem areas that affect highways.

Among Puppala’s other research grants:

  • $500,000 from the NCHRP project to identify alternative methods to using nuclear-gauge tools for addressing the compaction of natural subsoils and aggregate bases that support pavement infrastructure. If compaction of the materials is not properly done in the field, then the pavements experience high rutting and cracking. Puppala said there is an industry movement away from nuclear-gauge tools that measure the soils. The joint project includes the University of Texas at El Paso and Louisiana State University.
  • $381,550 from the Texas Department of Transportation to study how to improve high sulfate soils in Texas. UT Arlington is the lead institution in this joint project with Texas Transportation Institute of Texas A&M University. The study focuses on developing treatments to address soils containing high amounts of sulfates. Roads in various districts including Austin, Fort Worth and Paris, Texas, have experienced problems tied to sulfate levels. The research will develop methods that may reduce buckling in such soils.
  • $175,143 from the Tarrant Regional Water District to study ground treatment options for subsoils that would better support large pipe infrastructure. Puppala said his team would study on how to stabilize soils at the bottom of the trench for supporting large pipes. Stabilization methods address both durability and sustainability aspects.

Laureano Hoyos, associate professor in civil engineering, and Srinivas Chittoori, a faculty associate researcher, are working with Puppala on the projects along with several doctoral and master’s students.

Puppala’s work is representative of the research under way at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of 33,800 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.

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