Do termites hold building secrets? School of Mines researchers want to know

By  | 

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- Some think termites are a homeowner's worst nightmare. But some of them might be a a home builder's dream.

That's what a group of researchers at the School of Mines is trying to find out.

The school was recently awarded a $475,000 federal grant to study how termites in Africa construct 15-foot-tall mounds using only the soil around them. Somehow the insects transform the dirt into at least two different and unique building compounds that might someday be of use to humans.

Researchers said they were excited to explore the possibilities.

"This material, not only is it strong but it allows the air to go out, keep the rain out, allows ventilation and there's no windows or doors," said Assistant Prefessor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Bret Lingwall. "So, it's a porous material that's strong, that's locally sourced, made with a minimum of energy and no one knows how they do it."

The grant from the National Science Foundation will allow the team of professors, undergraduates and graduate students to conduct a three year study and include multiple return trips to Africa to gather samples of the termites' work.