(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.
UTSA prides itself on giving students a well-rounded education. Combining a top-tier academic program with opportunities for personal growth prepares students to compete in a global economy. And that's not all. They learn to be informed and engaged citizens as well. At the heart of that academic program is an award-winning core curriculum.
For four consecutive years, UTSA has received an A-rating from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni for the caliber of its core curriculum. According to ACTA, UTSA requires its students to take six of the seven courses deemed "crucial" to a well-rounded education: composition, literature, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science. Only a handful of other institutions in the U.S. are giving students these tools, which are needed to succeed in careers and the community.
Did you know? UTSA is one of only three Texas institutions and 23 in the United States to receive the highest rating for its core curriculum in the 2014-2015 edition of the ACTA's "What Will They Learn?" report.
Cheer on the UTSA Roadrunners at their home-opener against the Kansas State Wildcats.
Alamodome, 100 Montana St.
As part of National Recovery Month, a panel of substance abuse practitioners and members of the recovery community will discuss issues related to substance abuse treatment and recovery.
Durango Building 1.124 (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus
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