Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (Engineering)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Ali Ghahremaninezhad

Second Committee Member

Antonio Nanni

Third Committee Member

Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos

Fourth Committee Member

Prannoy Suraneni

Fifth Committee Member

Qingda Yang

Sixth Committee Member

Ryan L. Karkkainen

Seventh Committee Member

Edward A. Dauer


Autogenous shrinkage induced cracking is a major concern in high performance concretes (HPC), which are produced with low water to cement ratios. Internal curing to maintain high relative humidity in HPC with the use of an internal water reservoir has proven effective in mitigating autogenous shrinkage in HPC. Superabsorbent polymers (SAP) or hydrogels have received increasing attention as an internal curing agent in recent years. A key advantage of SAP is its versatility in size distribution and absorption/desorption characteristics, which allow it to be adapted to specific mix designs. Understanding the behavior of superabsorbent hydrogels in cementitious materials is critical for accurate design of internal curing. The primary goal of this study is to fundamentally understand the interaction between superabsorbent hydrogels and cementitious materials. In the first step, the effect of chemical and mechanical conditions on the absorption of hydrogels is investigated. In the second step, the desorption of hydrogels in contact with porous cementitious materials is examined to aid in understanding the mechanisms of water release from superabsorbent hydrogels (SAP) into cementitious materials. The dependence of hydrogel desorption on the microstructure of cementitious materials and relative humidity is studied. It is shown that the capillary forces developed at the interface between the hydrogel and cementitious materials increased the desorption of the hydrogels. The size of hydrogels is shown to influence desorption, beyond the known size dependence of bulk diffusion, through debonding from the cementitious matrix, thereby decreasing the effect of the Laplace pressure on desorption. In the third step, the desorption of hydrogels synthesized with varied chemical compositions in cementitious materials are investigated. The absorption, chemical structure and mechanical response of hydrogels swollen in a cement mixture are studied. The effect of the capillary forces on the desorption of hydrogels is investigated in relation to the chemical composition of the hydrogels. In the second set of experiments of this part, the behavior of the hydrogels in a hydrating cement paste is monitored by tracking the size and morphology evolution of hydrogels interacting with the cement paste matrix. It is shown that the changes on the surface characteristics of hydrogels as a result of interactions with the pore solution and cement particles can affect the desorption rate of hydrogels in contact with a porous cementitious material. Scanning electron microscopic (SEM) examination demonstrates two different desorption modes with distinct morphologies of hydrogels depending on the chemical composition of hydrogels. The effect of the interfacial bonding between the hydrogels and the cementitious matrix and its relation to the desorption is illustrated. The desorption of hydrogels with different chemical compositions in blended cement mixture containing different supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) such as slag, fly ash, silica fume and two types of glass powders, are examined. The absorption/desorption kinetics of hydrogels in different hydrating blended cement mixtures are monitored by freeze drying the samples at different times. The surface characteristics of different hydrogels after interaction with pore solution, cement particles and SCMs particles are examined and their relation to interfacial bonding is illustrated. It is shown that different SCMs can cause distinct changes on interfacial bonding. The understanding of hydrogel behavior in cementitious materials helps with accurate mixture design for internal curing. The kinetics of desorption is crucial for the purpose of internal curing. The understanding of release mechanisms and the change in the hydrogel morphology is important for the self-healing and self-sealing applications. Two major contributions of this research are (1) to show the effect of capillary forces developed at the interface between cementitious matrix and hydrogel which can increase the rate of desorption dramatically and (2) to illustrate the chemo-physical interaction between cement pore solution and hydrating particles with hydrogels which can affect the interfacial bonding between hydrogel and cement. These two main contributions will be useful to understand the absorption and desorption behavior of hydrogel in cementitious materials. Two main strengths of experimental procedures of this research are (1) use of in-house synthesis of hydrogels that permits establishing a link between the chemical composition of hydrogels and their behavior in cementitious materials and (2) use of freeze drying for the first time to monitor the behavior of hydrogels interacting with a hydrating cementitious matrix.


Hydrogel; Capillary forces; Cementitious matrix; Debonding and bonding; Desorption