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Microbial-Induced Calcite Precipitation and How It Can Help Geotechnical Engineers


In this episode, we talk to Mary J.S. Roth, Ph.D., P.E, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College, about microbial-induced calcite precipitation (MICP) and how it can help geotechnical engineers in their career as well as be beneficial to engineering students.

Microbial-Induced Calcite Precipitation

Here Are Some of the Questions We Ask Mary:

  • What is bio-geotechnics?
  • What is microbial-induced calcite precipitation (MICP)?
  • How did you get involved in MICP work?
  • Why would you say MICP is a potentially useful tool for geotechnical engineers?
  • What are course-based research experiences (CREs)?
  • What are the benefits of having students involved in a CRE related to MICP?
  • Where are you in the process of developing the CRE and what are the next steps?
  • What final piece of advice would you like to give engineers out there?

Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About Microbial-Induced Calcite Precipitation:

  • Bio-geotechnics is becoming a subfield of geotechnical engineering. The focus is on technologies that have engineering applications that use either naturally occurring bio-geotechnical processes, or that are inspired by biology.
  • Microbial-induced calcite precipitation (MICP) takes advantage of a microbial process to bind soil particles together using calcite. It is an alternative to traditional grouting and is a process to help soils that are loose, weak, or susceptible to liquefaction to become stronger. Large amounts of bacteria are needed to create a chemical called urease. If you add urea to urease-rich soil, the urease splits the urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide. They then become ammonium and carbonic acid, which increases the pH of the soil. It creates an environment where calcium carbonate can come out of solution to become calcite and bind soil particles together.
  • It takes seven days for the pH level in the soil to reach the right level. It takes another seven days for the calcite to come out of the calcium carbonate and start to bind the soil particles together. After 14 to 21 days, the microbial-induced calcite precipitation process is complete.
  • Course-based research experiences are opportunities for all students to have research experiences by including the experiences in their required courses. The students must make discoveries that are of interest to stakeholders outside the classroom. The results of their research must be made publicly available in a large database. Apart from engineers, doctors also look through this database in search of phages that could be a fit to help their patients.
  • If students across the world could collect soil samples and add their findings to a shared database, other researchers and students could look at this database and find out which soils are more suitable for this process. The different bacteria in the soils will also be made available. It will contribute to a lot of information gathered that everyone could learn and benefit from.
  • Course-based research experiences (CRE) are very beneficial to historically unrepresented backgrounds and help to get them interested and persist in the sciences. They have improved the retention of these students in research and have increased the diversity of students engaged in research. To develop a course-based research experience (CRE), you must have the idea and pilot your idea. You must get a better handle on things like how much variability there is in the results of the treatment process on a control sample. You can then approach a national science foundation to get a grant to take your CRE further and get other institutes to take part in the CRE.
  • Any student or geotechnical engineer should spend some time on the work done by bio-geotechnical engineering. Cultivate curiosity because we would not have gotten to where we are if people had stopped asking questions.

More Details in This Episode…

About the Guest: Mary J.S. Roth, Ph.D., P.E.

Lafayette CollegeDr. Mary Roth is the Simon Cameron Long Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She received her degrees in civil engineering from Lafayette College (B.S.), Cornell University (M.S.), and the University of Maine (Ph.D.). She joined the faculty at Lafayette in 1991, and her research interests include risk assessment for earth-retaining structures, site investigation methods in karst, use of bacteria to modify soil properties, and engineering pedagogy.

She has authored or co-authored over 70 publications—including AAC&U’s Leadership for Interdisciplinary Learning: A Practical Guide to Mobilizing, Implementing, and Sustaining Campus Efforts—and has served as principal or co-principal investigator on nine grants from the National Science Foundation. At Lafayette College, Dr. Roth has served as Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director of Engineering, and Associate Provost for Academic Operations in addition to multiple faculty committee assignments. She has led campus-wide accreditation and assessment initiatives, implemented new faculty orientation programs, collaborated on the development of multiple proposals to private foundations, and coordinated interdisciplinary academic programs.

She has received several awards in recognition of her scholarship and teaching, including a Fulbright Scholarship in Norway, an American Council of Education Fellowship, and multiple teaching awards. Dr. Roth is a member of ASCE, ASEE, Phi Beta Kappa, and Tau Beta Pi. Dr. Roth is a licensed engineer in the states of Maine and Pennsylvania.

About the Host: Jared M. Green, P.E., D. GE, NOMA

Geotechnical EngineeringJared, originally from southwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, graduated from Syracuse University’s College of Engineering in 2001 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. He later went on to attain his M.S. in Civil Engineering (Geotechnical Focus) from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Campaign, in 2002. In 2003, he began working in the New York City office of Langan. He has since become a Principal / Vice President and is one of the owners of this international land development engineering consulting firm. After 15 years at Langan, Jared moved to the Philadelphia office and is one of the geotechnical practice leaders in that office.

Jared is a consultant and team leader who also enjoys mentoring young engineers and first-generation college students. He has been instrumental in increasing the number of pre-college students who are interested in STEAM majors and fields. He strives to make complex engineering topics relatable and understandable to people new to the field and to people who are completely unfamiliar with engineering. Jared and his family currently reside in Flemington, New Jersey. He and his wife have three energetic, inquisitive, and awesome children. You can connect with Jared here.

Sources/References:

Lafayette: Turning Students into Scientists
Blog: Mary J.S. Roth, Ph.D., P.E.
Article: A Faculty Internship
Geo-Congress 2022
CBBG: Center for Bio-mediated & Bio-inspired Geotechnics
Connect with Mary J.S. Roth, Ph.D., P.E, on LinkedIn

Please leave your comments or questions in the section below on microbial-induced calcite precipitation.

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To your success,

Jared M. Green, P.E., D. GE, NOMA
Host of The Geotechnical Engineering Podcast



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