Local Teen Has Big Ideas

WHEELING – Miriam Demassi maintains a busy schedule with classes, sports, clubs and volunteering – not to mention, she’s been working with engineers to test the applicability of a new building material for use in developing countries.

The Wheeling Park High School freshman recently took the grand prize in the senior division of West Liberty University’s 2014 Regional Science and Engineering Fair. As winner, she receives an all-expense-paid trip to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz., where she will compete for $1.4 million in scholarships and cash prizes.

Her project, titled “Lime-Fly Ash Papercrete: An Improved Material for Developing Nations,” tested Demassi’s formula for an environmentally-friendly, affordable version of papercrete. The building material is traditionally made with pulp paper and Portland cement, the latter of which is responsible for one-fifth of carbon dioxide emissions and is expensive to people in poorer countries.

“My version is a different take on papercrete,” she said. “I eliminated the Portland cement and replaced it with the pozzolanic reaction of hydrated lime and Class C fly ash.”

Demassi has a solid record with West Liberty’s science fair, as she won the junior division in her sixth-grade year. Winning for her research about decoding mirror writing – she tested whether left- or right-brained individuals can do so faster or more accurately – gave Demassi the inspiration to compete as a high school student. The idea for her most recent project sparked when she read an article about the increasing need for building materials in the world.

Demassi’s lime-fly ash and pulp paper formula cuts down on CO2 emissions and costs much less to make than standard papercrete. According to the young scientist, lime and fly ash are already used to make roadside banks.

“I was trying to see if that idea was applicable to building material,” she said.

After spending six months doing research and conducting fire, compressive strength and insulation value tests, as well as weight comparison and cost analyses for two formulas with different paper-to-lime-fly ash ratios, Demassi concluded her version was indeed a suitable replacement to both regular papercrete and adobe. It is specifically an appropriate building material for earthquake-prone regions. At one-fifth of the weight of adobe, lime-fly ash papercrete provides earthquake victims a better chance of withstanding the natural disaster.

Now, Demassi wants to build upon her foundation. She is already meeting with engineers to work on more application-based ideas for her lime-ash formula. Not knowing where exactly her project blueprints will lead her, she hopes to go past proof-of-concept, consider other lime-fly ash papercrete uses and create awareness of the material in developing countries.