German Fuentes, Chico State

German Fuentes smiling in front of a brick wall wearing a burgundy polo shirt

Over the last few summers as an undergraduate student, German has been interning at Holliday Rock, one of the largest independent suppliers of aggregate, concrete and hot mix asphalt in the United States. This fall he begins his senior year at Chico State, where he is majoring in concrete industry management. German has been quite busy with his courses while also serving as an amabassdor for the undergraduate program at Chico. As an ambassador, German explains the program and his personal experiences to help inform students and recruit them into the program.

Under the direction of Dr. Feraidon Ataie, an assistant professor with degrees in civil engineering, German is involved in ARI-funded research which focuses on developing and testing structural building products. Concrete, for example, has been used for thousands of years and today is the most commonly used building material in the world. The Romans were masters of concrete, building monuments and temples that were both aesthetically pleasing and durable. Modern concrete buildings have not demonstrated the same strength or resilience. While concrete materials are strong in compression, they are weak in tensile (stretching) strength, which is why rebar is used. Small synthetic fibers have been used to increase tensile strength, but these are expensive. Wood fibers have been used, but they degrade.

Northern California is a major rice producing region in the U.S., but everything other than the rice grain is waste and must be disposed of. Rice waste is high in silica, which unlike wood fibers, does not degrade over time. Dr. Ataie and German are conducting research supported by the ARI and the rice industry to determine if rice waste can be used in building materials to increase tensile strength while maintaining all the other positive characteristics of concrete. If products can be developed, the rice industry will have an additional use for a byproduct that previously was never used. The building industry will gain concrete products with improved performance, with the added bonus of a sustainabie additive at a favorable price point.

Involvement in this research project has allowed German to think about science and engineering concepts and how they may be integrated into practice. His industry internships and family background had already provided German familiarity with concrete and its uses, but few ever consider looking to agriculture for engineering solutions. German feels that this project allowed him an unique opportunity to learn more deeply about materials technology and to contribute toward solving a problem that has long vexed the building industry.