Dr. Ferron’s research lies at the intersection of materials science and civil engineering materials, primarily dedicated to research concerning portland cement-based materials. The overarching goal of Dr. Ferron’s research is to deepen the understanding about the materials science of concrete materials and to engineer concrete composites with advanced performance. She has developed a research program that bridges materials science, rheology, cement chemistry and concrete materials to create new knowledge that addresses challenges with respect to placement of cementitious material and durability. Her group places special focus on manipulating the processing and microstructure of these materials to get a desired performance and on engineering sustainable infrastructure materials.
Since her start at the UT Austin, she has served as co-principal investigator or principal investigator in externally funded research projects worth approximately $4 million in externally funded research. Her research has been supported by a diversity of funding sources, including but not limited to the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Shell.
A brief description of some current and paste research is given below:
In-situ Characterization of Fresh-state Microstructure in Cementitious Materials
The overarching goal of this research project is to advance the understanding of the microstructural development, flow behavior and deformation behavior of cement-based materials during the period at which the paste matrix is transitioning from a fluid-like material to a rigid-solid-like material. Specifically, we are investigating the flocculation properties of cement paste and how it relates to the rheological properties. Her work on rheological behavior and in-situ characterization of fresh state microstructure is increasing the cement and concrete community’s fundamental understanding about the behavior of cement-based materials during the fluid-solid transition period. By quantitatively measuring the rheological properties of cement pastes and then linking this behavior to fresh state microstructural features, the underlying mechanisms affecting aggregation kinetics of pastes during mixing is becoming elucidated. This is particularly important since studying the paste phase to gain insight into concrete behavior is common practice.
The goal of this project is characterize fly ash and relate these findings to key fresh, hardened, and durability properties of concrete, with particular emphasis on ASR and external sulfate attack. This is important since the chemical/mineralogical/physical properties of fly ash can vary significantly from one source to another, based on differences in fuel sources (coal), combustion conditions, and cooling regimes.
Bio-inspired Infrastructure Materials
The goal of this work is to investigate the mechanisms influencing biomineralization in cement-based materials and soils. The results of this research could be used to develop a sustainable, low-cost biocementitious composite material for residential applications. Self-healing capabilities of biomineralized materials are also under investigation. By initiating collaborations with a microbiologist at UT Austin,Dr. Ferron has started a new research direction at UT Austin in finding beneficial ways to leverage microbial communities to improve concrete performance. They have showed that self-healing concrete can be prepared using a bacterial inoculum consisting of vegetative bacteria that is not synthetically capsulated. This is advantageous since synthetic encapsulation considerably increases the cost of the bacterial inoculum.
Smart Infrastructure Fluids
The goal of this work is to develop a “set-on demand” infrastructure fluid based on magnetorheological principles. In the presence of an external magnetic field, the magnetic particles form magnetic dipoles which intern form chain like structures. These chains restrict motion and thereby increase the viscosity of the paste. Cement based MR fluids can potentially have applications in processes in which real-time control of fresh state behavior and setting behavior are crucial. This includes, but is not limited to cementing in oil and gas industries, high fluidity concrete pumping, and formwork pressure generation in self-consolidating concrete.
Self-Consolidating Concrete (SCC)
The objectives of this project is to study the impact of admixtures on SCC behavior. Specifically, we are investigating the impact of by-products from quarrying, shrinkage reducing admixtures, and clays. on fresh and hardened state properties. The variability of the fresh state behavior of highly flowable concrete is also being investigated. A key outcome of this work will be the development of a statistical criterion to describe robustness. The effect of sampling on the experimental testing procedure is also being investigated.
Development of a Standard Fluid for Cement Paste Rheology
This objective of this project is to develop a standard fluid that could be used for cement paste. This is a collaborative project that is being conducted with NIST and ACI Committee 238.