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Self-Healing Clay-Polymer Mixtures: Towards a New Material


The project will develop new clay-polymer mixtures that enhance the ability of clay to self-heal developing fractures, hence helping the emergence of autonomously-repairing geotechnical structures.

Please contact the supervisor directly at the following email address for any enquiry regarding this opportunity:


Professor Abbas El-Zein.

Research location

Civil Engineering

Program type



Fissuring of clay causes a number of problems in geoenvironmental and geotechnical engineering, especially in foundation systems, waste containment, pollution control, slope stability, roads and embankments. The goal of the project is to develop a clay-based material or clay-polymer mixture that the ability to heal any fissures that might form, hence giving rise to geotechnical and geoenvironmental structures that can autonomously repair inflicted damage. There is, currently no theory properly accounting for fissuring and healing of clay and relatively little experimental data that would allow the emergence of such theory. Several major questions are raised such as how is fissuring produced in clay, what is required for healing to occur in a failure surface, what factors control changes in strength and hydraulic conductivity as a result of swelling and what is the most optimal clay-polymer arrangement for promoting autonomous repair of fissures? A combined experimental and numerical investigation is conducted into the fissuring and healing of clay and clay-polymer mixtures, under changing loading and moisture conditions. Experiments at pore scale and representative element volume (REV) scale will be setup with single or multiple fractures and used to test a number of hypotheses about fissuring and healing of clay. Results will be used to validate predictive models towards better accounting of fissuring and healing in hydro-mechanical theories of clay behaviour. The project will be part of an Australian Research Council Discovery project starting in 2017 and will give the candidate an opportunity to be part of a nationally and internationally significant research effort. The successful applicant will be trained in the theoretical and experimental unsaturated soil mechanics and geoenvironmental engineering. He or she will develop an expertise in macro- and pore-scale modelling as well as laboratory techniques in geomechanics. Papers are expected to be published in one or more leading journals in the field such as Geotechnique, Applied Clay Science, Water Resources Research and/or International for Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics. The work will also be presented at leading international conferences in the field.

Additional information

The School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney has a long tradition of cutting-edge research, is ranked 20th in the world by the QS World University Rankings by subject and has been ranked 12th in the world by QS in 2013. The successful candidate will join a thriving community of scholars at the School with a large and diverse group of PhD and Masters students.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2165

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