Graduate Profile, Lisa Burris, Ph.D.
Name: Lisa Burris
Hometown: Leavenworth, Kansas
Advisor: Dr. Maria Juenger
Area of research: Construction Materials Research, specifically characterization and performance of cement-based systems
How does it feel to be graduating?
It’s exciting to be graduating, but at the same time a little scary to be finally finished with school – you never know quite what you’re going to get when you make a big life change. I’ve worked a long time to get to this point. I’m excited to be taking the next step in my career, getting to use some of the skills I’ve been honing in grad school and learning some new ones – like winning projects and leading a research group.
Why did you choose to pursue your graduate studies at UT Austin?
I chose to pursue my Ph.D. at UT Austin because the Construction Materials Research Group here is known throughout the world as being one of the best places to do concrete research. The faculty are all phenomenal researchers and teachers and the lab out at the Pickle Research Campus is one of the best equipped facilities for this type of research in the world.
Looking back, who influenced you the most during your time at UT Austin?
In graduate school you’re definitely most influenced by the other students around you. It is your lab mates who you spend the most time around and who you work through issues, set up experiments, practice presentations and just have fun at work with. I’ve been really blessed to have been surrounded by some truly amazing people who I have no doubt are all going to become leaders in our field.
What projects did you work on while you were here?
My dissertation research investigates improving natural zeolite minerals to use as a supplement to fly ash to make concrete stronger and more durable, but I have also worked on two other projects – one looking at better understanding the creation and implementation of geopolymers and one that investigated applying coatings containing TiO2 to highway traffic structures (bridges, jersey barriers, retaining walls).
It seems that one of the driving forces in the construction industry right now is reducing our environmental footprint, and I think it is really cool that all of the projects I’ve been a part of share that aspect. My dissertation work with zeolites seeks to reduce the amount of cement CO2 emissions associated with concrete by replacing a portion of the cement with a reactive natural material. The geopolymer project is looking at developing and understanding a different type of binder that is made of 100% recycled materials. The TiO2 project is the most unique – TiO2 has been shown to be able to remove pollutants from the air when it is exposed to UV light, so this project investigated how feasible it would be to use these coatings to control pollution in high traffic areas such as Houston. It was really cool to get to work on this project because I first became interested in concrete materials research, back in my undergrad, after attending a presentation about the replacement of the collapsed I-35 Minnesota bridge, which also used TiO2 cement on part of its structure.
What are your plans after graduation?
My eventual goal is to become a Civil Engineering professor and lead my own research group, and in August I will be continuing down that path, starting work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia. I’ll be overseeing the work of other graduate students, running a few of my own projects, doing lots of writing and publishing and learning how to be a successful professor.