Maggie Inhofe, a design and innovation graduate student in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in the name of research. After receiving a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, she spent the summer learning more about compressed earth block technology and designing modular building systems for rural communities.
Here is an excerpt from one of her posts about the experience on the SMU Adventures blog:
If I were to tell you that I spent the last week using a giant mixer, a piping bag and biscuit molds, you might think that I chose to redirect my Maguire grant to study the delightful field of baking. Rest assured, I’m still researching compressed earth block technology for a rural housing project. But I did get to use all of those things, and a lot of other seemingly kitchen-related material, out in the field when I attend DwellEarth’s training session last week.
I was one of 15 attendees at DwellEarth’s semi-annual training sessions. DwellEarth is a construction firm that specializes in compressed earth block construction.
The other participants came from all over the world. Though earthen construction is certainly lagging in America more than in other parts of our world, I am happy to say that I had some fellow Texans in my company. We began the week with a brief orientation before heading out, almost immediately, into the construction site where the hands-on learning would begin.
The first day focused on material science. We learned how to identify the different components of soil to determine how viable it was for construction. These tests ranged from incredibly simple – involving nothing more than your hand and a sprinkle of water – to more methodical – moving a mixture of soil and water through a series of test tubes to separate the different compounds.
Most soil is made of a mixture of clay, silt and sand. To prep the soil to be used in a compressed earth block, you need to know the proportion of these three components in the virgin soil, and see whether it needs any modification.