Assistant Professor Mija Hubler is a recipient of a three year, $548,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award for her proposal “Mechanical Modeling of Living Building Materials for Structural Applications.”
Major advances are being made in the study of living building materials that can be grown in the laboratory and could replace concrete, a significant driver of CO2 emissions in the construction industry
“This research is about creating a mechanical model for living building material,” Hubler said. “The model will enable the design of structures and the engineering of living building material to achieve the desired performance needed for structural applications.”
NSF CAREER awards support early career faculty who are dedicated to research and education. Hubler is using this project to integrate her education and research goals through the study of mechanics in civil infrastructure materials, as well as to improve the recruitment and retention of female and non-traditional students in research and innovation career tracks.
“These activities can help meet a growing workforce demand and support cross-disciplinary innovation for infrastructure materials,” Hubler said. “I hope to grow interest in research careers from a broad audience in this area in part by working with Colorado Mesa University to engage students there in working with living building materials.”
Hubler said that using living building materials for structural applications will help replace concrete as the main building material used in construction today.
“Living building material does not require cement, which is the binding ingredient of concrete that drives its large carbon footprint,” Hubler said. “It is much more crack resistant than concrete and enables material recycling.”
Alternatives to concrete are of interest to civil engineers and the construction industry to address both building durability concerns and CO2 impact. Although past new construction materials have been rejected due to lacking the mechanical properties and behavior of traditional materials, Hubler said living building materials show major promise.
“I have been inspired to better understand what features of the material control the mechanics to engineer new materials to better meet expectations, and also to develop mechanical models of new construction materials to enable them to be adopted into design practices,” Hubler said.
Hubler believes that the model her group will develop will also be applicable to other novel materials, including reinforced metal foams and stabilized soils. She anticipates developing a practical model for living building materials within the next two years, with a five-year goal of using the model to design a full-scale beam composed of living material.
Hubler is a faculty member at the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and the Materials Science and Engineering Program and serves as the Co-Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Energy and Space Testing.