Design and Calibration of a RF Capacitance Probe for Non-Destructive Evaluation of Civil Structures


TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Portland cement concrete (PCC) structures deteriorate with age and need to be maintained or replaced. Early detection of deterioration in PCC (e.g., alkali-silica reaction, freeze/thaw damage, or chloride presence) can lead to significant reductions in maintenance costs. However, it is often too late to perform low-cost preventative maintenance by the time deterioration becomes evident.

Non-destructive evaluation (NDE) methods are potentially among the most useful techniques developed for assessing constructed facilities. They are noninvasive and can be performed rapidly. Portland cement concrete can be nondestructively evaluated by electrically characterizing its complex dielectric constant. The real part of the dielectric constant depicts the velocity of electromagnetic waves in PCC. The imaginary part describes the conductivity of PCC and the attenuation of electromagnetic waves, and hence the losses within the PCC media.

Dielectric properties of PCC have been investigated in a laboratory setting using a parallel plate capacitor operating in the frequency range of 0.1MHz to about 40MHz. This capacitor set-up consists of two horizontal-parallel plates with an adjustable separation for insertion of a dielectric specimen (PCC). While useful in research, this approach is not practical for field implementation

In this research, a capacitance probe has been developed for field application. The probe consists of two planar conducting plates and is made of flexible materials for placement on exposed surfaces of the specimens to be tested.

The calibration method of both capacitive systems has been extensively studied to minimize systematic errors in the measurement process. These two measurement systems will be discussed and compared to one another on the basis of sensitivity and measurement repeatability.



Non-Destructive Evaluation, RF Measurements, Material Characterization, Capacitance Probe, Portland Cement Concrete