An assistant professor of civil engineering will access the ancient worlds of Rome, Greece and other European sites that have buildings, structures and roads that have endured for centuries. Her goal: to determine why these ancient materials have lasted so long and if they can be recreated synthetically in a laboratory.
Warda Ashraf has received a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award (YFA) to fund her research. Her two-year, $495,465 project, "Recreated Roman Concrete using Alkali-Activated Calcined Clays," could be extended by another $1 million and three years.
"Most structures in the United States are designed to last around 50 to 100 years," Ashraf said. "There are several building structures in those European countries that are 2,000 years old and still performing well. Why are they so much better than the current building materials?"
Previous research shows that certain combinations of volcanic ash and seawater were used in the composition of those ancient structures.
"The goal of this project is to mimic this ancient technology to produce highly durable and resilient construction material," Ashraf said. "We will use ingredients that are easily available in the U.S. to achieve similar performance."
Ali Abolmaali, chair of the Civil Engineering Department, said Ashraf's work has significant implications for the civil engineering community.
"Her accumulation of projects in her young, relatively short academic career has been exemplary," Abolmaali said. "This project could rewrite how materials are made around the world."
In addition to studying ancient construction materials, Ashraf also is researching the idea of using recycled plastics in road construction, a project funded by the Texas Department of Transportation. In another National Science Foundation-funded project, Ashraf will investigate ways to develop durable-environmentally friendly construction materials using biomimetic ingredients.
The objective of the DARPA YFA program is to identify and engage rising stars in junior research positions, emphasizing those without prior DARPA funding, and expose them to Department of Defense (DoD) needs and DARPA's program development process. These grants are highly competitive, with only about 20 to 30 awards distributed annually to all disciplines. The YFA program provides funding, mentoring and industry and DoD contacts to awardees early in their careers so they may develop their research ideas in the context of national security needs.