Xi ChenMaterials Section
Supervised by Prof. Nick Buenfeld and Dr Hong Wong

Prior to starting her PhD, Xi completed her undergraduate and MSc studies in Civil Engineering at Tianjin University in China. Xi was awarded with a Chinese Government Scholarship to undertake her studies.

Why did you decide to do a PhD in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering?
Cementious material is broadly used in constructions all over the world. It includes a huge variety of traditional and novel materials with different compositions and properties. I found great passion into understanding the chemical reaction and microstructure of cementitious material when I did my Master. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College is equipped with world-leading research facilities, and a wide range of research topics are provided for selection. My supervisors have been inspiring and supportive ever since I applied for the PhD, so I decided to do a PhD here.

Tell us about your PhD research
Spacers are used to support reinforcement and ensure correct concrete cover. According to BS 7973-2:2001, spacers should be located at every meter (or less) along the length of reinforcement bars. And they are left permanently in the structures. It was found that the presence of spacers produces a highly porous interface with concrete, which provides easy access of aggressive agents and compromises the durability of concrete structures. My research mainly focuses on finding methods to improve the spacer-concrete interface and producing more durable cementitious spacers. This includes investigation of cementitious material which could be re-activated by fresh concrete components or their hydration products, optimization of the mix composition and creation of efficient producing methods of these spacers.

What impact do you hope your research will have/what do you hope your research will lead on to?
I hope effective cementitious material with reactive potential could be found and fully understood through my research. The weak interface between spacer and concrete could be diminished without compromising the durable behaviour of spacers. Cementitous spacers with higher sustainability and durability could be adopted to replace the traditional spacers used in constructions. In addition, the investigated cementitious material could be applicable for other precast construction productions.

What is a typical week like for you?
My research is mainly based on lab work, so preparing and testing samples normally takes the most time of my week. Analysing test results, reading published paper and having regular meeting with my supervisors are also essential for a typical week. And my favourite part of the time at Imperial is to chat with people in my office. I am working in an office with brilliant people coming from different backgrounds and working on different projects about infrastructure materials. Talking with people in my office is always helpful to refresh myself and broaden my horizons.

How have your skills developed, both professional and personal?
From the perspective of doing research, I am more independent in analysing and solving problems, and better at arranging and operating things logically and efficiently. Personally, I have learnt a lot from the people around me, like innovative thinking and a persistent attitude towards research.

What do you enjoy most about being a PhD in the Department?
The atmosphere. People in this department are always encouraging and supportive. Frequent activities like PhD breakfast events, the Christmas party and seminars provide us with a lot of opportunities to get in touch with people from other groups.