Extra-Terrestrial: Space Homes Will Be Built from Sulfur Concrete or Possibly Bamboo.

Last fall, senior civil engineering major Mitch Thiel delivered a presentation at the American Concrete Institute (ACI) convention in Dallas. He detailed his research on building habitats on Mars, specifically using locally sourced materials such as Martian soil and sulfur to construct a building that humans could feasibly inhabit on Mars.

Thiel’s primary research focus for the past two years was on incorporating the bamboo as reinforcement. The topic proved distinctive, even among the sea of graduate students from across the world who also presented on the convention stage.

“I was the only undergraduate student there, which I didn’t know until later on,” said Thiel. “When I had to present for my senior design project later, I thought, ‘Oh, I can handle that because I’ve already been scrutinized by industry professionals.’”

It was not the first time Thiel stood out among his peers. A late registrant to his first class with Bradley Assistant Professor Mahmood Soltani, Thiel quickly caught up and surpassed his classmates in grasping the concepts taught in the course.

His quick acumen and leadership drew Soltani’s attention and made him an ideal candidate to take on a leading research role for the Mars soil project backed by NASA's Illinois Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) that Soltani oversees at Bradley.

Thiel’s role in this research represents part of an ongoing effort across the world at developing practical solutions to humans living on Mars. To transport resources more vital to human survival, like water, structures will need to be built from locally sourced materials. 

Efforts at Bradley include determining the ideal mix design for creating the strongest concrete from sulfur and simulated Martian soil, and exploring methods of reinforcing that sulfur concrete using materials such as bamboo and steel fibers. Soltani said Thiel’s paper is currently under review by the ACI Structural Journal.

Through a blend of resolve and good time management skills, Thiel accomplished much more in his four years at Bradley beyond cosmic research. He mentored other engineering students and served as president of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

Thiel chose Bradley because of its nationally ranked civil engineering program and the state-of-art Business and Engineering Convergence Center that opened in his first year on campus.

But he also knew where he wanted his engineering degree to take him after graduation: disaster relief efforts. At a job fair during his first year on campus, Thiel spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy to gain a better idea of what each branch offered.

He opted for the Navy, which will afford him more opportunities to work on global relief efforts — and travel the world — as an active duty officer. At the May Commencement, not only was Thiel the student speaker, he also became a commissioned Naval officer. He leaves for training in Rhode Island this June.

“I really want to bring my talents to people that need my help the most, instead of just going into contracting,” Thiel said. 


— Thomas Bruch

Senior Mitch Thiel (l) and Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Mahmood Soltani (r) presented their joint research project at the 2022 ACI convention in Dallas.