UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Peter Collins, a civil engineering doctoral candidate, recently received a three-year NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity (NSTGRO), formerly known as a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship, and a one-year Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium NASA Graduate Fellowship to study how concrete can be developed in space.

“Civil engineering is not a heavily represented field in the realm of space technology, but the future goals for human space exploration are starting to change that narrative, and I am proud to be a part of it,” Collins said.In 2019, NASA introduced the Artemis program, the organization’s commitment to establishing a sustainable exploration presence on the moon and eventually, Mars. To accomplish this feat, astronauts will need to build resilient structures away from Earth — likely using concrete, the most widely used construction material in the world, according to the American Concrete Institute.

Collins is a member of the Concrete Research Group at Penn State, led by Aleksandra Radlińska, associate professor of civil engineering. The group’s ongoing project, Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), investigates how concrete, typically made with a mixture of small rocks, sand, water and Portland cement, solidifies under different gravitational forces.

“I cannot thank Dr. Radlińska enough for her continued support and the opportunity to work on such remarkable research,” Collins said.Through its partnership with NASA, the MICS team sent a variety of cement mixtures to the International Space Station (ISS) to be mixed and solidified. The samples were returned and compared with identical mixtures developed on Earth and found that cement’s solidification reaction and resultant microstructure is dependent on the level of gravity.