Chloe Arson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She teaches Mechanics of Materials, Finite Element Methods and Tunneling. She is a theoretical and numerical expert in damage and healing rock mechanics, thermo-chemo-poromechanics, and underground storage. She received two research prizes for my Ph.D. on nuclear waste disposals. She regularly gives lectures in Europe and the U.S., organizes sponsored research workshops, and serves as a reviewer for more than 25 journals. Her research covers Continuum mechanics and thermodynamics of damage in rocks; Damage and healing mechanics of salt rock; Particle crushing mechanics; Modeling of flow in deformable porous media and in dynamic networks; and Numerical modeling of coupled Thermo-Hydro-Mechanical coupled processes in granular and porous media. Dr. Arson’s cross-disciplinary research interests were supported by a diversity of funding sources, including federal agencies (National Science Foundation - NSF), state agencies (Georgia Department of Transportation), the industry (ConocoPhillips), research laboratories (American Association of Railways; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and internal support. At Georgia Tech, Dr. Arson leads the Energy Geotechnology undergraduate laboratory and she is supported to study ethics and hydraulic fracturing.
What brought you to Georgia Tech?
I have always wanted to be a professor. At the age of 14, I knew that I wanted to get a Ph.D. to become a researcher. The topic of my studies changed a few times in the course of my curriculum, because of the people I met. I got inspired by continuum mechanics and its applications to environmental issues. In reality, I like research for research's sake and I am equally driven by my will to improve technology to protect our planet than by my purely academic dream to reinvent a theory of damage and healing mechanics. What excites me the most about my research is to create thought models and develop a language to teach and improve these models. I am truly inspired by the teamwork I do with my Ph.D. students. There is something magic about creating something new that only we can understand - at least for a few minutes. The complicity and the intellectual growing process during that very moment is a unique experience.
Georgia Tech is just the perfect environment for me. The campus is populated by bright, enthusiastic and energetic scholars. I have received a lot of advice from mentors who have been generous of their time with me. Every day on campus, one can feel the energy of the busy bees building the nest of innovation. I have got the chance to work with very interesting and interested students, and I discovered that nothing is really impossible at Tech. During my interview, I finished my seminar by a quote from J-J Cousteau: "Only the impossible missions are the ones that succeed". All the signs I have received since then are "Yes, that is why we hired you." I like Georgia Tech because this institution dreams the impossible.
Describe the energy-related applications of your work.
My group implements complex thermo-hydro-mechanical models into Finite Element programs that enable the long-term performance assessment of energy geotechnologies (e.g., hydraulic fracturing, geothermal systems, Compressed Air Energy Storage, nuclear waste disposals and geological carbon capture), sustainable infrastructures (e.g. design of railroads to avoid ballast crushing, design of epoxy injection methods to repair bridge girders). Recently, I got involved in the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-Inspired Geotechnics, in which I am responsible for the cross-cutting thrust on numerical modeling of coupled Thermo-Hydro-Chemo-Bio-Mechanical processes. In that framework, I collaborate with a biomechanician to understand and model the accommodation, adaptation and competition of flow porous networks in nature. One of the engineering goals is the optimization of fracture patterns for fluid injection and withdrawal in rocks, for enhancing technologies deployed for oil and gas extraction, geothermal energy production, and carbon capture.
The application of my group's research to energy, along with our involvement in engineering ethics and cross-disciplinary education, is hopefully going to have an impact on the design of safe and sustainable energy infrastructure, the management of water resources, the storage of ultimate waste and environmental policies on mineral resources. Our research on damage and healing is also expected to be useful to understand fault dynamics and predict seismic events.
How do geologic, hydrologic, and topographical conditions factor into sustainable design?
My group designs and formulates models that link microscopic damage and healing processes to macroscopic rock behavior. For example, we explain how salt grain sliding mechanisms can result in crack propagation and how diffusive mass transfer at grain interfaces can actually heal these cracks. We study crack propagation at multiple scales, in shale for instance, and how crack patterns affect rock strength, stiffness and permeability. We also use principles of micro-mechanics and thermodynamics to understand fragmentation processes in granular assemblies - ballast for example. I lead multiple networks of scholars interested in salt rock mechanics and I organized multiple workshops and conference sessions on geotechnical education and damage poromechanics. At Georgia Tech, I created the Vertically Integrated Program on Energy Geotechnology undergraduate laboratory and received funding to study ethics and hydraulic fracturing.
How is geotechnical engineering helping to mitigate natural and man-made hazards relating to energy extraction, conversion, and storage?
Geotechnical engineering is at the interface between environmental sciences and engineering design issues. Research in geotechnical engineering includes the modeling of micro-processes that originate deformation, crack propagation, fluid flow and heat transfer in the earth crust, the design of structures that can sustain thermo-hydro-chemo-mechanical loads, the prediction of environmental hazards and the integration of natural and human constraints into mitigation plans and network dynamics models. Our investigation methods include image processing and analysis, micro- and macroscopic experimental testing, theoretical modeling of coupled thermo-hydro-chemo-mechanical processes, numerical simulation of repetitive and coupled events at the micro to kilometer scale, risk analysis, design of standards, field observations, mapping, acoustic wave propagation tests and inverse analysis, programming of return-mapping algorithms – to cite only a few!
What kind of hobbies or special activities do you enjoy outside of work?
I always start my day by watching the French news. I enjoy jogging on the Belt Line and listen to pop rock music while at the gym. I love spending quality time with my friends and chatting about culture and society, promising to change the world with a few cups of coffee – our French national sports. I like going to the cinema and watch independent films, I enjoy reading philosophy books, science magazines and novels about scientific discoveries or inspiring characters. I like participating in public reading at Charis Bookstore. Once in a while, I enjoy dancing at parties (even though I am really not good at it).
If you were not a teacher/researcher, what would you be doing?
I would be a film maker. I would study historical, societal and scientific topics, ethics and aesthetics. I would learn how to shoot with a variety of cameras and work with professionals to assemble my films. I would research people’s mindsets and relationships to others and cultivate dreams though messages of tolerance. At least, I would try.