Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research vitally complements undergraduate education by expanding your classroom knowledge toward the edge of engineering knowledge. Research is creative, exploratory, methodical, and rewarding. I’m motivated to recruit students who are intrigued by some of the topics below. If you have your own research idea to propose, then I’d love to learn more about it!

Here is a list of projects that I am (co-)advising or have (co-)advised in the past:

  • Art-Inspired Design of Mortar Molds – Drs. Daniel Castaneda and Shraddha Joshi (JMU) supervised a design thinking-inspired approach to create curricular materials aimed at utilizing engineering skills and tools with non-engineering students. Undergraduate esearch assistants helped to create course materials for student learning of different problem solving techniques as they go from idea to application to creation.
  • Bio-Fiber Reinforced Concrete – Drs. Daniel Castaneda and Heather Kirkvold (JMU), among others, led an experimental study where hemp fibers and hurd, an agricultural waste product in the Shenandoah Valley, were used in concrete mixtures to explore effects on mechanical performance, dimensional stability, and change in hydration reactions.
  • Life Cycle Analysis of Concrete – Drs. Daniel Castaneda, Heather Kirkvold (JMU), and Samuel Morton (JMU) developed analytical protocols to measure the environmental impact of emerging alternative concretes, which may or may not be environmentally sustainable if cradle-to-grave factors are not well considered.
  • Respirable Crystalline Silica Study – Drs. Daniel Castaneda and Heather Kirkvold (JMU), with support from the Department of Engineering, explored the extent of respirable crystalline silica and respirable dust in university concrete research lab environments. The impact of this work informs required safeguards needed to ensure the quality of human health.
  • Quarry Fines in Concrete – Drs. Daniel Castaneda and Alex Brand (VT), with support from 4-VA, explored how quarry fines generated from aggregate crushing operations might be used as inert and/or supplementary cementitious materials in Portland cement concrete. The impact of this work contributes toward a circular Virginia economy.

Other topics that are of interest to me, yet are not actively being advanced by JMU undergraduate research students, include:

  • Material Science of Alternative Binders – The production of Portland cement, the key ingredient in Portland cement concrete, generates upwards of 5-7 % of worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions, a leading greenhouse gas. Alternative binders are continually being explored within civil engineering in order to offset or replace Portland cement. In this study, one or more students would explore the material and mechanical properties of acrylic concrete, which is a composite that utilizes waste acrylic paint. Discoveries made at the microscale using SEM/EDS equipment will inform mechanical (Instron) and material performance.
  • Citizen (Science) Engineering – Forthcoming community partnerships will create opportunities to engage people in the community in “citizen engineering” projects. Faculty and student researchers will interact with members of the community on specific engineering projects that benefit the community and generate new knowledge about inclusivity in engineering research and practice.

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