Doctoral (PhD) full time position in ‘Innovative SuperAbsorbent Polymers for crack mitigation and increased service life of concrete structures’.


The PhD research targets to reduce shrinkage cracks in concrete by means of internal curing resulting from the addition of superabsorbent polymers. Moreover, the construction elements will possess self-sealing and self-healing characteristics. The deformations and crack mitigation efficiency will be followed up with advanced monitoring techniques. An important task is the evaluation of the concrete resistance against freeze-thaw effects, carbonation, chloride ingress, and corrosion initiation and propagation. Furthermore, the strength, shrinkage, internal curing, self-sealing and self-healing will be modelled. The study will also look into the prolonged service life of concrete structures applying this technology.

This PhD project is taking place in the framework of the iSAP project (partners Ghent University, Artes Depret, Inter-Beton, ChemStream) and is funded by SIM (Strategic Initiative Materials - Flanders). The position starts at 1/01/2018 and will last for 3 years.

Some further information on the iSAP project and the related SIM SHE program is provided in appendix.


Skills and personal qualities:
Applicants should have a master’s degree (or equivalent) in Engineering – Building & Construction or related studies, with a strong interest in polymer chemistry, durability and sustainability assessment, monitoring, and modelling. Above all, applicants should have a high interest in scientific research; an independent and well-organized working style, demanding high quality of your own work; well-developed social skills directed towards working in an interdisciplinary team, excellent interpersonal and communicative skills; strong motivation to succeed in scientific research, excellent presentation and scientific writing skills, excellent English language skills (verbally and written).

Applications must contain the following documents in Dutch or English: a personal (motivation) letter and curriculum vitae, a copy of degree certificates and associated certificates, a copy of degree projects and any previous publications and a proof of English language skills.
The documents should be sent to
Professor Nele De Belie, Department of Structural Engineering, Magnel Laboratory for Concrete Research, UGent.


SIM SHE project iSAP

The iSAP project aims at fostering breakthrough knowledge and prototype development of iSAP based concrete to mitigate shrinkage cracking, increase water-tightness, and increase service life through crack healing. This will be achieved by the synergistic combination and critical mass of the industry and research partners, to fulfil the following objectives:

  1. Gain more knowledge about the relation between the polymer structure of SAPs and their quantitative effect on internal curing and autogenous and plastic shrinkage mitigation;
  2. Develop novel, superior superabsorbent polymers for internal curing / self-sealing /self-healing and compare their potential with benchmarked SAPs and commercial types;
  3. Develop a three-step approach for obtaining crack free concrete by combining novel/commercial SAPs with optimal properties for each step: crack avoidance (internal curing) / rapid crack sealing / subsequent crack healing;
  4. Illustrate the effectiveness of the developed SAP (combination) through:
    - reduction of the amount of autogenous and plastic shrinkage cracks (up to complete mitigation; reduction of observed cracking by 50%);
    - decrease in water permeability with a factor 1000 versus cracked (non-sealed) concrete;
    - full crack closure (by visual/microscopic observation);
  5. Measuring and monitoring protocols to study the amount of shrinkage and healing in real-size structures;
  6. Modelling the shrinkage and healing, combined with corrosion properties;
  7. Quantify regain in mechanical properties (strength, stiffness) of the developed smart concrete;
  8. Demonstrate the general application in-field with large-scale tests and calculating the reduction of shrinkage-reducing reinforcements, leading to a higher durability;
  9. Prove the feasibility of the use of SAP with the execution in field; provide recommendations i.e. for watertight construction elements and validation of industrial mixing of concrete with SAPs; develop a new production line.


The iSAP project is part of the SIM (Strategic Initiative Materials) program on ’Engineered Self-Healing Materials (SHE)’. Amongst other, iSAP will be based on previous results obtained in SHE, e.g. within the strategic basic research project SECEMIN (Self-healing cementitious and mineral building materials).