Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Civil Engineering

Major Professor

Dayakar Penumadu

Committee Members

Eric C. Drumm, Jens Gregor, Andreas Koschan


Problems involving mechanics of partially saturated soil and physics of flow through porous media are complex and largely unresolved based on using continuum approach. Recent advances in radiation based imaging techniques provide unique access to simultaneously observe continuum scale response while probing corresponding microstructure for developing predictive science and engineering tools in place of phenomenological approach used to date.

Recent developments with X-ray/Synchrotron and neutron imaging techniques provided tools to visualize the interior of soil specimen at pore/grain level. X-ray and neutron radiation often presents complementary contrast for given condensed matter in the images due to different fundamental interaction mechanisms. While X-rays mainly interact with the electron clouds, neutrons directly interact with the nucleus of an atom. The dual-modal contrasts are well suited for probing the three phases (silica, air and water) of partially saturated sand since neutrons provide high penetration through large sample size and are very sensitive to water and X-rays of high energy can penetrate moderate sample sizes and clearly show the particle and void phases.

Both neutron and X-ray imaging techniques are used to study microstructure of partially saturated compacted sand and water flow behavior through sand with different initial structures. Water distribution in compacted sand with different water contents for different grain shapes of sand was visualized with relatively coarse resolution neutron radiographs and tomograms. Dual-modal contrast of partially saturated sand was presented by using high spatial resolution neutron and X-ray imaging. Advanced image registration technique was used to combine the dual modality data for a more complete quantitative analysis. Quantitative analysis such as grain size distribution, pore size distribution, coordination number, and water saturation along the height were obtained from the image data. Predictive simulations were performed to obtain capillary pressure – saturation curves and simulated two fluid phase (water and air) distribution based image data. In-situ water flow experiments were performed to investigate the effect of initial microstructure. Flow patterns for dense and loose states of Ottawa sand specimens were compared. Flow patterns and water distribution of dense Ottawa and Q-ROK sand specimens was visualized with high resolution neutron and X-ray image data.

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