In 2002, I was on my way to getting my degree in materials engineering at the Instituto Tecnologico de Chihuahua. As my graduation date approached, I accepted an internship in the research and development department of Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua in my hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico. At GCC, I learned the fundamentals of cement and concrete production and the importance of standardized tests, practices and specifications. It was not uncommon, whenever questions arose about a testing procedure, that Armando, the most knowledgeable technician of the group, would grab a copy of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards from the shelf, lean over the testing bench and read it very seriously; more often than not, the answers were there. I quickly realized that standards played an essential role in many aspects of the company. Standards provided GCC with the necessary tools for proper quality control, and allowed the company to optimize costs and develop new products, among many other benefits.
After working for GCC and later for a construction company for almost two years, I decided to enroll in a Ph.D. program at Louisiana Tech University in December 2006. During my graduate studies, my research focused on alternative cementitious materials based on alkali activated fly ash, so my understanding of the importance of standardization in cement and concrete was tremendously valuable. Given that alkali activated fly ash binders are relatively new, there are not yet any standards available for them. Thus, it was important to know which of the existing standards were applicable to these materials and which were not.
Besides the standardization issues that I already mentioned, there was another that surfaced as I concluded my research work at Louisiana Tech: now that I had results, how could I compare them with the results of others? The answer was that I couldn’t. Although my results, as well as the results of others, were accurate, it was very difficult to compare the two sets since they were not made and tested using the same procedures.
During graduate school I had become a student member of ASTM International. This allowed me to participate in a symposium that ASTM Committee C01 on Cement organized, and my contributed paper was included in the resulting Special Technical Publication, STP 1566, Geopolymer Binder Systems. My student membership also made me eligible to participate in research paper competitions and other contests. As a result of my participation in these student activities, I was honored to be chosen by Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates as the recipient of a scholarship during the last year of my graduate studies. This was a great experience as it also allowed me to attend one of the committee’s meetings and experience firsthand how standards are developed and the valuable efforts of ASTM committee members to keep standards up to date. There I saw that new standards and changes to existing standards are not dictated but agreed upon by committee members and that although ASTM committees are led by experts in particular fields, anyone can be involved and have a voice in the activities of ASTM.
I now hold a research engineer position at CeraTech Inc., Baltimore, Md., a company that specializes in the production of environmentally friendly ready mixed concrete and rapid repair materials, in which 100 percent of the portland cement is replaced with Class C fly ash. These products not only help the environment by keeping fly ash out of landfills but also by offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions associated with portland cement production. Having an understanding of which standards may be applicable to these materials and which may not has been very valuable in my current position.
Soon after I joined CeraTech, I changed my student membership to a professional membership to remain involved in ASTM. I am currently a member of Subcommittees C09.24 on Supplementary Cementitious Materials and C01.13 on Special Cements. I also chair a task group under C01.13 to develop a new standard test method for the compressive strength of alkali activated materials (WK42602).
Being a student member of ASTM has definitely helped me jumpstart my career. I enjoy attending the C01 and C09 meetings every June and December. It’s a great opportunity to be involved in the upkeep of current standards and the development of new ones, and to learn from experienced industry leaders.