We are pleased to announce that Javier Rodriguez Corral won the best paper award at the 3rd International Conference on Geotechnical Research and Engineering (ICGRE’18) in Budapest last month. The conference aim was to become the leading annual conference in fields related to geotechnical engineering, with over 120 papers presented. The conference paper: Agarose Gel as a Soil Analogue for Novel Ground Improvement Applications, introduced the concept of agarose gel as a soil analogue for engineered bacteria testing. An experimental investigation was performed to analyse the mechanical properties of agarose gels and describe their similarities to saturated cohesive soils.
Biological agents can be used to mitigate construction problems – such as poor-quality soils – in a more sustainable manner. Furthermore, recently, a new multidisciplinary field has emerged called Synthetic Biology, based on Genetic Engineering of microorganisms, which attempts to engineer biological systems in such a way that their properties and response to external stimulus from their environment can be controlled. However, the implementation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on civil infrastructure systems is far from realistic due to the constraints involved when manipulating this type of living organisms outside a controlled environment. Therefore, a method is needed in which GMOs can be cultured in a high controllable material with appropriate mechanical properties and tested under different physical and chemical conditions.
Thus, this abstract introduces the concept of agarose gel as a soil analogue for engineered bacteria testing. An experimental investigation is performed to analyse the mechanical properties of agarose gels and describe their similarities to saturated cohesive soils. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) inspection showed that agarose gels have a fibre-pore honeycomb microstructure, with pore sizes ranging 0.2-20 µm in diameter, depending on the agarose concentration. Further, mechanical tests (Unconfined Compression and Unconsolidated Undrained Triaxial) have been performed in order to analyse the stress-strain relationship of the gels. Oedometer tests were also performed in order to analyse the one-dimensional consolidation behaviour of the gels.
Therefore, if the results show that agarose gels can be a valuable soil analogue, their implementation could contribute to the development of novel bacteria-based ground improvement methods.