UT Arlington civil engineering professor wins two NSF grants to study expansive soils

News Release — 18 November 2010


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

ARLINGTON - The National Science Foundation has awarded a University of Texas at Arlington civil engineering professor two grants that could change the way expansive soils are tested, leading to better construction practices.

Anand Puppala, a UT Arlington Distinguished Teaching Professor in civil engineering, said the three-year grant for $257,000 uses the Soil Water Characteristic Curve to test those soils. Puppala is teaming with researchers from Arizona State University in the study.

Arnand Puppala

Anand Puppala

“The Soil Water Characteristic Curve method injects water into soil, then dries it out and test what the soil does when we do that,” Puppala said.

Construction firms typically consider what is known as the “plasticity index” when assessing soil conditions.

“It’s a snapshot of the soil,” Puppala said. “But the soil acts differently in different seasons. It expands and contracts. If a structure is built during one of those extremes, it could lead to catastrophe.”

The Soil Water Characteristic Curve method, Puppala said, is a longer-term look at the soil. “It leads to better construction because the builders can plan for extremes.”

The procedure could save the construction industry millions of dollars, Puppala said. Structures from single-family homes to multi-story skyscrapers to roads and bridges could be built better with the technology.

Puppala also has won a four-year, $400,023 NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant to develop a triaxial testing device that would measure soil behaviors under different moisture conditions. NSF has funded only 15 percent of those grant proposals in the current year.

The device is unique, Puppala said, and should lead toward better evaluations of soil characteristics that would lead to better and safer design of civil infrastructure.

“You don’t have to drive very far here in North Texas to see major problems in construction because of bad soil. If things were built with better information at hand when first starting a project, we could save a lot of time and money,” he said.

The research team for research studying expansive soil includes Laureano Hoyos of civil engineering who is co-principal investigator, Bhaskar Chittoori, a post-doctoral researcher, and doctoral student Aravind Pedarla, all from UT Arlington. Arizona State University collaborators include Claudia Zapata and Sandra Houston.

Puppala’s interdisciplinary research team for building the testing device includes Hoyos, Saibun Tjuatja from electrical engineering and John Wickham, chairman and professor of earth and environmental sciences. The team is custom designing the instrument with a company and William Likos of the University of Missouri Columbia. Two doctoral students will be recruited to work with researchers on this equipment.

Puppala’s work is representative of the research under way at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive undergraduate and graduate institution of nearly 33,000 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.



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