CEE's Ben Mohr wins 2007 Powe and Sigma Xi awards

"Concrete doesn't have to crack," insists Tennessee Tech University civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Ben Mohr.

With this conviction, Mohr focuses his award winning research on concrete, the most widely used engineering material in the world, and studies this highly visible material at an almost invisible level. At TTU, Mohr is leading research that has earned him a 2007 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

"Billions of dollars are spent annually for the repair and rehabilitation of concrete structures damaged due to common durability problems that can be mitigated through proper design or construction," said Mohr.

To that end, Mohr is investigating concrete durability topics at a level rarely investigated. He is looking at the nanoscale differences at different stages in the maturing process of concrete.

"We looking at the stages of a product that forms during cement hydration that in later ages causes expansion and cracking," explained Mohr.

"People think of cement and concrete as very low-tech material," said Mohr. "But the only way to understand what everyone sees is to study the materials at the microstructural level where it is apparent that the properties are most complicated."

Mohr also is the recipient of the 2007 TTU Sigma Xi Research Award. This award was granted for his paper "Microstructural and Chemical Effects of Wet/Dry Cycling on Pulp Fiber-Cement Composites" published in Cement and Concrete Research .

Mohr, who points out concrete is the most consumed material other than water in the world, also is working on durability issues that may have an effect on the world-wide use of some building materials.

According to Mohr, about 10 percent of all residential siding in the United States is made from portland cement-based materials. Often used as an alternative to vinyl siding, the material is prone to durability problems.

"We are developing the first progressive model to study the degradation of wood fibers in portland cement so that we can learn how to stop the degradation before damage occurs," said Mohr.

What Mohr and his colleagues learn from the model is important because the material is a low-cost alternative that can be used throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, to replace construction materials that contain asbestos.

Mohr considers himself a non-traditional civil engineer, willing to take an interdisciplinary approach to his work. His first National Science Foundation proposal, dealing with the internal curing of high performance concrete, was activated last August and funded for $220,000 over three years.

"I like to look at the environmental factors and the combination of materials and microstructure to find better solutions," said Mohr, who also recently was honored as the 2nd place recipient of the ASEE Southeastern Section New Faculty Research Award.

Ralph E. Powe Awards provide seed money to allow faculty members in their first two years of tenure track to enhance their research. Mohr received a $5,000 unrestricted research award that will be matched by TTU. His was one of 30 proposals chosen from 93 applications.

Oak Ridge Associated Universities, one of the nation's most respected university consortiums to advance science and education, has awarded more than $1.5 million in the last 17 years. The 88 major research institutions join national laboratories, government agencies and private industry to advance science and education.

Sigma Xi is an international scientific research society. Each year, the Tennessee Tech chapter recognizes excellent scientific research by one faculty member for a research paper published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed, professional journal.