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NSF Grant Supports Faculty Research on Contaminants’ Migration

Kristin Sample-Lord, PhD
Kristin Sample-Lord, PhD

After a year that included seed grants for research she’s conducting with Syracuse University, special recognition for her journal publications, a six-figure award from the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and a new addition to the family, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Kristin Sample-Lord, PhD, has received $255,000 of a $360,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a joint project with University of Wisconsin-Platteville. The three-year Engineering for Civil Infrastructure program award is for "Closing the Gap between Theory and Evidence: Coupled Phenomena in Unsaturated Bentonite Barriers Under Variable Temperature and Chemical Conditions." The goal of the research is to advance the understanding of coupled thermal-hydraulic-chemical (THC) behavior of bentonite, a high-swelling clay, which is critical to addressing the challenges of growing energy demand and environmental protection.

The term “coupled phenomena” means each process may affect all other processes, such that one cannot accurately predict behavior by considering each process individually. The coupled flow phenomena are relevant to applications involving engineered barriers for radioactive, municipal and hazardous waste disposal, liquid (e.g., petroleum) storage facilities, and carbon sequestration. The results will narrow the knowledge gap in understanding THC behavior of bentonites and improving the ability to predict how contaminants migrate through environmental containment systems.

Working with Gretchen Bohnhoff, PhD, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UW-Platteville, Dr. Sample-Lord’s research will utilize novel approaches to quantify coupled phenomena in bentonites through the development of innovative laboratory testing systems where coupled phenomena will be investigated under variable degrees of saturation and elevated temperatures typical in many energy and environmental applications.

The project supports a Villanova PhD student and undergraduate researcher and enhances existing STEM outreach efforts with the addition of new modules for grades K-12 on soil engineering properties.