“I tremendously enjoy being down there [in the lab] and working with my students …. Thinking, experimenting, sharing knowledge and ideas with the students is extremely important.” With his concrete stained jacket and friendly demeanor, Dr. Sary Malak, Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering – Faculty of Engineering (FE) at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), has an infectious enthusiasm for research. His current projects center on composites used for the retrofit of existing structures– High Performance Fiber Reinforced Cement Composites (HFRCC).
In particular, the projects deal with steel fiber reinforcement as an alternative to fiber reinforced polymer composites: strengthening the concrete by intermixing it with small steel fibers, as opposed to wrapping it with an epoxy resin-based material. Steel fibers, says Dr. Malak, have the potential to limit cracks and produce multiple cracking resulting in a more durable and ductile material as compared to fiber polymers. Although fiber polymers produce higher strengths, they are brittle in nature and are not recommended for high energy absorption demands.
In addition, Dr. Malak is experimenting with a newly developed material called Novaplak, which is an environmentally friendly, waterproof and fireproof fiber reinforced polymer. It is being tested to replace steel reinforcement in regular concrete beams to be used as a permanent formwork with decorative exterior finishes.
Outside, Mini-slabs – concrete blocks, reinforced with steel fibers and fiber reinforced polymers – lie drying in the open air. These slabs will be tested for impact, and the data will be used to create a theoretical model for debris impact on existing building slabs. These mini slabs, along with the final project, testing pull out behavior of regular steel bars set into fiber composites, are part of an ongoing project with the American Concrete Institute (ACI) Committee 544 – a leading authority and resource worldwide for the development, distribution and adoption of consensus-based standards, technical resources, educational programs, and proven expertise for individuals and organizations involved in concrete design.
Once the data is collected, the professor and students will take their findings out of the lab and set about building mathematical models to predict future behavior, with the eventual goal of publishing the research in a high impact paper like the ACI.
Dr. Malak is a member of the ACI’s 544 committee which works on composites. “Money is scarce, so the best way through this is affiliation with high impact publications,” says Dr. Malak when discussing his affiliation with the ACI, “once you have affiliation, you have an agenda doing reports and getting papers published.”
However, it is not just his research and the one of his students’ that Dr. Malak insists on. As he walks through the lab, he mentions that, although he does not know the specifics, the work that other professors conduct is equally important. “I totally believe that research and collaboration with universities, societies and committees is what promotes the university to become at the forefront and ahead of all other universities,” he added, going on to explain that research also enables students to practice real-world applications of their studies, as well as adding to both their academic portfolio and that of their university. Dr. Malak recognizes and acknowledges the expertise and knowledge of the lab instructors and the lab technician whose advice and help has played a major role in this job. It is the everyday brainstorming and sharing ideas, among all, that makes things happen in the lab and research work.