Engineering students testing new concrete mixture

By Gus Bode

As the cold steel door rose, the room filled with frigid air and the six-man team of SIUC students shuddered as they as they waited Thursday morning for four tons of concrete to arrive.

The students, who were dressed in jeans and light coats, waited quietly, anticipating the truck that would bring an end to their three-day experiment.

The project, which was funded by the Illinois Clean Coal Institute and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, explored whether bottom ash, a coal refuse product, would make the concrete stronger when added to the mix instead of sand.


The students-turned researchers completed the first part of their experiment with the aid of Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, an associate professor in civil engineering. Before beginning the second phase, Kumar took them aside to explain and show them how minor changes could affect the results. On this, their third and final day of experiments, the team found the right mixture for the concrete.

“You can’t teach this teamwork out of a book,” Kumar said.

For one hour at 8 a.m., the students braved the elements as the final day of their project commenced. They would then return to SIUC’s laboratory for warmth.

The team instantly formed a line as the truck arrived, pushing a wheelbarrow for the concrete. They only had a small window of time to work before the concrete froze in the early morning air.

The work then shifted behind them to 100 plastic cylinders. The cylinders were to be filled with the special concrete.

Once again, time became an issue. The cylinders would have to be filled quickly, Kumar said, or the day’s project will be ruined.

“The window for the concrete is 45 minutes to an hour,” Kumar said.


If the window passed, the concrete would harden to where it is no longer workable, Kumar said.

As the minutes ticked away, the students filled the cylinders scoop by scoop. Like worker bees, each student pushed each other to work faster and to ensure the survival of the project.

Once the daunting task was complete the students charged with the rush of the experiment sighed in relief. For the past three days, they have been up at sunrise, filling 100 cylinders a day.

Rich Adams, a senior studying civil engineering from Edinburg, said that with the diverse group of educations really helped the learning development.

“I think we learned a lot because of the different level of education,” Adams said.

Satish Sumkeri, a graduate student studying electrical engineering from India, said this particular group of guys really made work a lot easier.

“We all worked well together and it made work more efficient,” Sumkeri said.

Kumar said that although the work is challenging, the real world experience and teamwork they have gained is immeasurable.

Kumar, who has been working with this group since September, said he has formed a strong relationship with the students.

“These are my clients, they are my friends, they are my students,” Kumar said.

Reporter Matthew McConkey can be reached at [email protected]