ENVS Summer Research – Kevin and Joe

Kevin in the CNS lab

This summer, we researched a mineral known as pyrrhotite, an iron-sulfide prone to oxidation and subsequent deterioration. It has been implicated in the cracking of foundations in homes across northeastern Connecticut. Such damage can require renovations running into the thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Therefore, pyrrhotite testing of concrete has been a major subject of focus in the Environmental Science Program, with the main objectives being to develop a comprehensive method for measuring pyrrhotite contamination and estimating probable-effect-concentrations.

Current Trinity sampling methods utilize a combination of X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), Carbon Nitrogen and Sulfur analysis (CNS), and magnetic susceptibility to determine mineralogy and sulfur concentration. In short, sulfur concentration is an indicator of pyrrhotite concentration, but pyrrhotite is not the only sulfur-bearing mineral present in concrete samples. Thus, the objective this summer was to determine the extent to which other sulfur-bearing minerals contribute to overall sulfur concentration. The process involved calibration/adjustment of the CNS analysis method in conjunction with XRD analysis. Our  overall goal is to provide a more comprehensive quantification of pyrrhotite in concrete. We also worked on understanding the relationship between pyrrhotite and its oxidative products. Such knowledge is key to achieving better risk assessment as well as establishing a time scale for concrete deterioration.

Joe breaking apart a concrete core sample.

An X-ray Diffraction (XRD) scan comparing a pure pyrrhotite sample to concrete.



ENVS Research on Concrete Foundations Makes Local News

It all started about a year ago when Jon and Christoph began analyzing crumbling concrete foundations from northeastern Connecticut. The presence of pyrrhotite, a magnetic (you might see where this is going) iron sulfide, in aggregate used for concrete foundation lead to the premature decay of homes as the pyrrhotite decays into a variety of secondary minerals.

In collaboration with the Connecticut Coalition against Crumbling Basements (CCACB) Jon and I started analyzing concrete samples and found that we could detect and quantify pyrrhotite through a combination of magnetic and chemical analyses. In February we submitted a manuscript to Cement and Concrete Research describing our method, talked to homeowners, realtors and engineers, and for the past few months we have been analyzing people’s homes.Trinity’s Alumni Magazine was the first to spread the word. A very famous wall made it on the title page (still bummed that they chose the wall over a heroic portrait of Jon and myself :-), and we got a few pages in he bowels of the issue. The Manchester Journal Inquirer came next, giving us a nice shout-out (yep, you have to read all the way to the end – we’re not that famous), and the Hartford Courant followed suit a few days later. They actually wrote a story about us and, if you are really observant you might see the same wall again in the multi-media part.

In the mean time we got some video practice with Trinity’s video guy who spent a morning interviewing us and our students and shooting video about the process. As far as I know that video is not out yet, but it was great practice for our two seconds of fame when Jon and I were interviewed by the local NBC station.
NBC’s investigative reporter Len Besthoff spent a few hours with us and we ended up with 10 seconds of fame a few hours later. Instant fame ensued: even our neighbors are suddenly recognizing us in the street!

In October Jon and I attended a concrete symposium in Trois-Rivières and just in time, on the up North, we received an e-mail that our paper on thermomagnetic pyrrhotite testing was finally accepted for publication in Cement and Concrete Research. By now it’s actually published and you can download a copy from here (until December 1st ). The meeting in Quebec was amazing. Since my French is pathetic we all got headphones and enjoyed the amazing skills of two simultaneous translators. Jon and I felt like at the United Nations.

At the United Nations :-)

By now we’re working on a new manuscript to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Washington DC, and are eagerly awaiting our new rock crusher to help with all the concrete cores that are flooding the lab.

I’d say it has been an interesting summer.


Homecoming McCookout was a Blast

Despite my haphazard organizational skills, the first annual (its good to have ambitions !) homecoming McCookout went really well. The weather cooperated, and by noon-ish Joe had the grill going and loaded up with goodies. I would love to claim that the dinosaur cake was the star of the event, but the great pie bake-off between Amber and Jon took center stage.

The epic battle of the pies!

Amber’s was all whole-wheaty and supposedly healthy (but we all know there is no healthy pie crust worth the try …), while Jon went crazy with his mysterious “cinnamon pen” decorating the top with fancy swirly designs. About two dozen testers declared the pies worthy, but with room for improvement (we hope for more of them in the near future !!). Alumni were a bit slow in showing up. Only Adam remembered that “the early student gets the cake” and was there half an hour early. Good man!

The early crowd at McCookout. Once the party got going I was having too much fun to take pictures, but you can believe me – it was huge! Bigger than the last presidential inauguration. :-)

In the end we had maybe two, three dozen students and alumni attending. Our guest star was Joan Morrison, who came all the way from New Mexico. I’d say Lauren came in second,all the way from Portland, Maine. Stephani and Adam tied for closest commute: both made it all the way through town.

Unbeknownst to us we even had a satellite event! Hi Kelsey and Kate! Thanks for saying Hi. From the background it looks you two went all veggie. Oh, succulents – i get it.

Kelsey and Kate celebrating with us in San Diego! OK, Joan, you just got booted to number two.

We had so much fun that we decided to do it again next year. Always god academics we promptly founded a Homecoming McCookout Organizing Committee (HMcCOC) to make next year’s event even bigger and better: Vania and Lucian happily agreed to help out, so stay tuned.

We’re all looking forward to seeing you next year.

P.S. The dinosaur cake was eaten first – take that you apple pies!