It’s hurricane season, and as the East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence dams and foundations far inland may face widespread erosion due to a strong storm surge that will rush from the coast and overflow rivers.

At Lafayette College, an interdisciplinary group of students is tending to a bacteria nursery as part of an innovative research project aimed at controlling the seepage of water through soil to control erosion.

For more than a year, students have been feeding bacteria growing in sand materials. Their goal is to grow biofilm, a sticky, sugary-like secretion from the microscopic organisms, in sand and to control growth so that the biofilm is distributed uniformly throughout the sand. If they are successful, the biofilm will fill the small spaces between sand particles, and they will be able to control the speed of water moving through the sand.

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant obtained by Mary Roth, head of Lafayette’s civil and environmental engineering department, and Laurie Caslake, assistant head of Lafayette’s biology department, this interdisciplinary research project could lead to a potentially cost-effective and environmentally safe way to prevent erosion around earthen dams and building foundations.

Contact: Mary Roth, (610) 330-5030,