(July 30, 2012) -- After three years of research, scholars at The University of Texas at San Antonio have created a process for injecting plants with polymers to develop a synthetic root system that stabilizes soil.
Once optimized, the composite material can be applied to structures and roadways, where soil stability is critical, and to dams, levees, embankments, landfills and other soil structures that are prone to landslides and erosion.
"The roots of plants and trees help keep soil in place," said Drew Johnson, associate professor in the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "However, plants are prone to diseases, drought, ageing and animal grazing, and when the plants die, their root systems weaken. This leaves the soil less stable and prone erosion or shifting. We thought that if we could fill the roots with a plastic that has a low biodegradability factor, we would get the benefits of the root system even after the plant dies."
Funded by a $354,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Johnson, with help from Mark Appleford, UTSA assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Valerie Sponsel, UTSA professor of biology; and UTSA graduate student Karl Eisenacher, developed the composite material and tested it on the roots of Artemisia annual (Sweet Annie), a hardy plant that grows rapidly and has a dense root structure. The plant also has a single stem, making it ideal for polymer injections.
A series of tests comparing natural Sweet Annie roots to the same roots injected with the polymer suggest that the infusion of the polymer increased the root strength.
When the NSF reviewed the team's 2009 proposal, one reviewer noted, "This research is a beginning, in its infancy, high-risk, highly innovative, but with tremendous future potential."
The scholars now are seeking to optimize the process so the polymer permeates the outer parts of a root system, once it is injected.
>> Their article, "Strength Enhancement of Plant Roots through Polymer Infusions," was published recently in the Journal of Composite Materials.
The annual Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE) 100K Venture Competition and Exposition will be held on the Main Campus on Dec. 1. Twenty-eight teams from across the university will exhibit their project; six teams will compete for a prize pool of more than $100,000 in funding to launch their new venture / company. More than 650 students have participated in launching new technology ventures.
Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering (BSE 2.102), Main Campus
This concert features 50 community children performing music in the UTSA Downtown String Project Winter Concert. The children, led by UTSA music students studying to be music teachers, will join together in playing the Theme from Batman at their concert. The Batman of San Antonio, a local celebrity figure, will make an appearance at the concert. This event is free.
Buena Vista Theatre, Downtown Campus
Graduate student uses storytelling to highlight important issues facing children
As touch screens and e-books demand more and more attention from both casual readers and scholars, many people say the handwriting is on the wall for the printed page.
At UTSA, the handwriting is on the wall for a library that doesn't have any printed books.
Since March 2010, the bookless library in the Applied Engineering and Technology Building has given UTSA students an innovative way to read, research and work with each other to solve problems.
With ultra-modern furniture and a décor featuring desktop computers, scanners and LCD screens, the AET Library is designed to engage students in an online format. But it also offers group study niches and study rooms with whiteboards and glass walls on which students can write. The space encourages teamwork, communications and problem solving for the next generation of scientists and professional engineers.
Did you know? The UTSA AET Library is the nation's first completely bookless library on a college or university campus. It served as a model for Bexar County's first-in-the-nation public bookless library system and one of its branches, the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech.
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.