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Letter From the Department Head




Center for Infrastructure Renewal Update


Innovation in Water Infrastructure at RELLIS


The Department Welcomes Three New Faculty


Department Overview






Research Team Develops Novel Program to Make More Cost Effective Runways


Paving the Way for Innovative Bridge Systems


Real World Data Questions Long Held Travel Behavior Theories


There’s an App (Coming Soon) for That: Researchers Seek to Promote Citizens to Citizen Scientists


Rewriting Folklore: Wave Origins Study Seeks to Provide Early Warning System


Yucatan Initiative Project


Thinking Outside the System: Decreasing Usage Through Alternative Energy


All-Natural Fuel: Research Aims to Produce Biodiesel


Nano Bites: Engineered Nanoparticles in Your Food


Impacts Made in Nondestructive Testing Field


Insights Aid Ports Seeking Transportation Reinvestment Zone Financing


Women’s Leadership Program Provides Perspective and Insight


Reservoir Evaporation Modeling Research Results in Fellowship




25 by 25 Initiative


Zachry Engineering Education Complex Update


Texas A&M Engineering Communications 2017


LETTER FROM THE DEPARTMENT HEAD HOWDY! As we continue to prepare our civil engineers for the future, we teach them that they have the responsibility and privilege of designing, building and maintaining the infrastructure that impacts the everyday lives of so many people. In the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University, we are teaching our students that above all, they build our world. This idea has taken on a heightened importance in the devastating aftermath of three hurricanes, and reminds us of the important demands of creating new structures that are even more resilient, smart, and can be built efficiently and economically. One of the ways we are meeting these demands is through the Center for Infrastructure Renewal (CIR), which will be completed and ready to conduct research in January 2018. The CIR will provide a revolutionary hub for multidisciplinary research on infrastructure. We are proud that our faculty and students will be working within the CIR, conducting research on a wide range of infrastructure challenges such as advanced manufacturing practices for structures and improving their performance. Our department is known for continual innovation in civil engineering, and we are excited to continue to move forward with three new faculty members in structural engineering who joined our ranks this fall. As we strive to continually innovate in building and bettering our world, we are conducting research that affects the lives of everyday people in untold ways. Research advances in autonomous vehicles, construction, and terrestrial and aerial transportation are just a few ways in which our department is continuing to innovate and impact our world. We are helping plan better cities, researching cleaner energy, shedding light on extreme weather events, and changing for the better how people live and work, from our largest cities to our hometown communities. Our researchers understand that our world is interconnected, and are working with and preparing our students to tackle global challenges in new and exciting ways.


Autenrieth, Ph.D. Department Head A.P. and Florence Wiley Professor III

Beyond our research, we remain dedicated to the most important responsibility of our department: educating future civil engineers. We continue to mentor undergraduate and graduate students in research, positioning faculty to help students advance their skills and knowledge, and preparing our students today to become the leaders of their field tomorrow. We strive to instill in our students and faculty a culture of innovation, technological adaption and international multidisciplinary collaborations that meet not only the needs of society, but embrace the challenges of the future.



CENTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE RENEWAL UPDATE New solutions are needed to replace aging infrastructure and to seek resilient, cost-effective alternatives that meet the future needs of an ever changing society. In 2015, the Texas Legislature recognized the need for innovation and appropriated funds to create the Center for Infrastructure Renewal (CIR) as a joint center between the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). The CIR will look to the future fostering a multi-disciplinary, collaborative environment to promote developing needed advances to create a durable built-environment that adapts to future demands. The CIR will create an integrated research, innovation and education environment at the new RELLIS campus, located in Bryan/College Station. It will bring together knowledge from multiple TEES and TTI divisions and centers into the infrastructure domain to greatly accelerate deployment of new technologies and concepts. “The RELLIS campus represents an amazing new chapter in the history of The Texas A&M University System,” said John Barton, associate vice chancellor and executive director of the RELLIS campus and CIR. “This new research, innovation and education campus will be

the place where we will create solutions to the challenges we face in the 21st century. It is quite fitting that the Center for Infrastructure Renewal is the first new facility being constructed at RELLIS. As our country continues to rebuild its aging infrastructure, the CIR’s state-of-the-art laboratories and world-class research teams will lead the nation in finding ways to build systems that last longer, cost less and can be built in less time.” Focusing on research, innovation and workforce development, the CIR will be the national leader in the development of transformative infrastructure solutions. Its 13 labs will innovate new materials, technologies and processes to create solutions that last longer, have lower costs and can be built in less time. CIR research will be focused on nine critical infrastructure sectors: chemical; communications; critical manufacturing; smart energy; information technology; nuclear reactors, materials and waste; transportation systems; water and wastewater systems; and healthcare and public health.

oversight of all TxDOT operations and the management and operation of the state’s transportation system. In 2014, he was recognized as a distinguished graduate of the civil engineering department, and in 2015, he was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Governor Rick Perry Leadership in Transportation Award. “I have always been very proud and honored that I followed in my father’s footsteps by being an Aggie,” said Barton. “I always dreamed of someday returning to my beloved alma mater to help others have the same wonderful experiences that I enjoyed here. I just never thought it would ever actually be possible. I am thrilled, excited and tremendously grateful for the opportunity to lead the development of the RELLIS campus and to lead the Center for Infrastructure Renewal. For me this is a dream come true.”

Barton graduated with honors in civil engineering from Texas A&M in 1986 and has spent his career with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). There, he provided executive control and




INNOVATION IN WATER INFRASTRUCTURE AT RELLIS The Texas A&M University System is creating a new paradigm for the future of applied research, technology development and education at the Texas A&M RELLIS Education and Research Campus. Dr. Kelly Brumbelow, associate professor and assistant department head for undergraduate programs, has been integral in the design and planning of the water resources aspects of the new campus. The RELLIS campus will include a unique 2,000-acre living laboratory for smart communities that will include research in sustainability related to the design of water resources, electric energy, transportation, information technology and building function. Rather than filling it permanently with current technologies, RELLIS will be designed to evolve through ongoing testing on adaptation for decades to come. “Infrastructure and buildings typically are built in a way that is economical to build them and have them function, but doesn’t allow you to do experiments on how they function once they’re built,” said Brumbelow. “We’ve decided that that is really a way to build a memorial to the best ideas of that year alone and then you’re locked into them. But when people figure out better things, you don’t have the capacity to bring those in.” The goal is to build the campus in a way that allows ongoing comparative testing of different design approaches to determine best practices for efficiency, environmental impact, cost and sustainability. Brumbelow has been working with an interdisciplinary team to establish the best way to build this living laboratory that allows comparative evaluations, doesn’t restrict future adaptability to new technologies, and facilitates integration across these areas.

The new campus will also feature ample space where treatment centers could be built to allow researchers to change treatment systems easily for comparative evaluations.

Other plans include the ability to monitor the points of water use in the building, allowing exact measurement of specific water uses with traditional meters and new smart meters. For example, researchers will be able to monitor the exact amount of water used in a specific restroom’s sinks, the water fountain or the kitchen sink in the break room. This information will improve the understanding of usage and waste discharge from the buildings.

Another significant feature will be the water distribution system. Research on water distribution systems is made difficult because they are usually buried underground. The RELLIS campus will have built-in controlled entry ports to allow researchers easy, safe and clean access to the system that won’t interfere with the actual functioning of the system.

“What we’re hoping to do is create a building that will have separate piping for different kinds of water uses,” said Brumbelow. Instead of using potable water to flush toilets, recycled water could be used, while sinks and water fountains would have separate piping system for the potable water. Small on-site water treatment facilities could be installed to treat relatively clean waste water from sinks and water fountains and reuse it to flush toilets or use for landscaping needs.

“The idea is to take a working system and making it open to researchers so that we can try things in a way that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” said Brumbelow.

Although the RELLIS campus will not initially be built with all these capabilities, construction will allow for future implementation of such systems.

“RELLIS will position the Texas A&M System as a place where technology for the built environment is happening,” said Brumbelow. “The rest of the world needs to come here to see it happening.”

Brumbelow and his team hope to create an ecosystem at RELLIS where industry participation will give companies a competitive advantage, and nonparticipation will mean missing out.












THE DEPARTMENT WELCOMES THREE NEW FACULTY The department welcomed three tenure-track faculty members this year. Drs. Maria Koliou, Petros Sideris and Matthew Yarnold joined as assistant professors.

Koliou joins the department from a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology funded Center of Excellence for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning at Colorado State University. She received her bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Patras, Greece, and her master’s and Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo - SUNY. Her research interests span the fields of structural dynamics, earthquake engineering, and multi-hazard performance-based design for system functionality and community resilience. Her research focuses on developing novel sustainable structural designs and systems against natural and man-made hazards, and formulating fundamental mathematical frameworks to assess system functionality and community resilience. She is a member of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Provisions Update Committee IT-9, as well as American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) technical committees. She also serves as the cochair of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s Younger Member Committee.

Prior to joining the department, Sideris was an assistant professor at the University of Colorado – Boulder, where he also served as director of the Structures and Materials Testing Laboratory. He received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in civil engineering from the University at Buffalo - SUNY, and his bachelor’s from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. His research focuses on mitigating the effects of natural hazards on the built environment through the development of resilient and sustainable infrastructure systems, integrating advanced materials and response mechanisms. His research further attempts to broaden conventional structural design to incorporate the novel concepts of accelerated construction, rapid post-event retrofit and hazard energy harvesting. His endeavors combine fundamental mechanics, structural modeling and simulation techniques, and experimental explorations. He is a member of various technical committees with the Transportation Research Board and the ASCE. He has received numerous awards for his research, teaching and service, including the 2014 ASCE Outstanding Reviewer Award and the 2017 ASCE ExCEEd Teaching Fellowship.

Yarnold joins the department after having been an assistant professor at Tennessee Technological University. He began his career at Lehigh University, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Following graduation, he accepted a position as a bridge engineer for Ammann & Whitney, during which time he contributed to more than 15 bridge design and rehabilitation projects, along with obtaining his professional engineering license. He then returned to academia and received his Ph.D. from Drexel University. Yarnold has been a principal investigator for two projects funded by the National Science Foundation, as well as a project for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He serves on several national committees through the ASCE and Transportation Research Board. His research aims to further the understanding of structural systems through numerical modeling, large-scale laboratory testing and field experimentation/monitoring.







ENROLLMENT (FALL 2017) • 415 TOP RESEARCH AREAS • Urban planning for the future Ph.D.



M.S. and M.E.

• Resilient and sustainable infrastructure • Innovations in construction materials • Transportation dynamics • Autonomous vehicles • Smart grid • Alternative fuel sources • Climate change impact • Waste remediation

DEGREES AWARDED (2016-17) • 113

• Contaminant mobility and environmental impacts



35 12


• 27.2% females (graduate program) • 74 outstanding faculty • 32 civil engineering graduate teaching


fellows since program establishment in 2014



RESEARCH TEAM DEVELOPS NOVEL PROGRAM TO MAKE MORE COST EFFECTIVE RUNWAYS An aircraft’s impact on the runway is likely the last thing to cross anyone’s mind when boarding a flight. The constant taking off and landing of aircraft throughout the day places stress on runway pavement, which needs to be in good condition to ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers. Thanks to a predictive model developed by a collaborative research team led by the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M, understanding how to build, improve and maintain these runways is now easier than ever.


“We are applying a very sophisticated model called Pavement Analysis using Nonlinear Damage Approach, or PANDA,” said Dr. Dallas Little, the project’s principal investigator and a professor of civil engineering. “We are using this model to predict damage that is being measured and recorded under the repeated loading of heavy aircraft such as the 1.4 million-pound Airbus 380 and other next-generation heavy aircraft.” PANDA is the product of almost seven years of development by the research team under a contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The team includes collaborators Dr. Mashoud Darabi at the University of Kansas, Dr. Eyad Masad of Texas A&M University at Qatar, Dr. Amit Bhasin at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Rashid Abu Al-Rub and Dr. Maryam Sakafier at Virginia Tech, as well as more than a dozen student researchers. The idea behind PANDA is straightforward but not simple: create a computational model that takes into account variables such as time under pressure, temperature dependency of the asphalt, different types of stress


Dr. Dallas Little Snead Chair Professor Regents Professor 979.845.9847

and other environmental factors that impact the usage of runways by aircraft, including diffusion of moisture and oxygen into the asphalt layer. This model would give the user an accurate prediction of the damage the pavement would take over repeated usage and allow designers of airfield and major highway pavement to create or maintain a product that would react optimally to a variety of conditions. The team is using PANDA, in conjunction with test data, to develop a platform that can become a user-friendly software package for industry and commercial usage. “This package will provide the level of reliability required by design and contract agencies, as well as the driving public, reduction in pavement downtime and safety that the infrastructure of today and tomorrow requires,” Little said. PANDA is not the first model of its kind, but is unique in that it has the ability to specifically account for mechanical damage caused by airplane traffic and model this data in conjunction with environmental effects and damages such as moisture, oxidation processes, temperature and other factors. As the team has developed PANDA, what has been made clearer is the effect of all the differing variables that have impacted the pavement in ways that are not necessarily intuitive. For example, the coupling of moisture diffusion with mechanical damage may

substantially alter the life prediction of the pavement, as well as change the location of damage. Location of damage is of great importance in today’s move toward the design of perpetual pavements that do not require replacement from the subgrade up, but only periodic replacement of the upper surface. So the goal is to make sure localization of damage does not occur in the lower part of the asphalt layer. “As we continue to develop the PANDA model and use it to evaluate more and more cases of complex loading coupled with environmental effects, we more clearly understand the synergy of all of these effects,” Little said. While the project will still need additional computational development and testing time, the end goal is to

produce a modeling system that can be used without other pre- or postprocessing software by the FAA for design and analysis known as PANDAAirports that acts as a stand-alone system for aviation installations. “We hope that this will be of such great utility for the FAA that they can use it for both commercial and general aviation pavement design and analysis,” Little said. * The scientific research and fundamental variable models for this project were developed in partnership with the Asphalt Research Consortium over a seven-year period for the FHWA. PANDA is being developed under a grant from the FAA.



PAVING THE WAY FOR INNOVATIVE BRIDGE SYSTEMS The state of Texas has more bridges than any other state in the nation, with over 50,000 total. Maintaining structurally sound, shorter- and longer-span bridges was the driving force in two collaborative projects recently completed by Dr. Mary Beth Hueste and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Hueste, a Zachry Department of Civil Engineering professor at Texas A&M and Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) research engineer, is dedicated to furthering the understanding of the use of new materials and designs for bridge structures, with a focus on prestressed concrete bridge systems. Prestressed members are put into a state of compression using highstrength steel tendons before external loads are applied. “The use of precast, prestressed concrete bridge girders in Texas and other parts of the U.S. has proven to provide economical bridge systems that have a number of benefits,” Hueste said. “Producing the girders at the precast plant leads to enhanced quality because there is more control of the materials and the manufacturing process at the plant during fabrication. Featured Researcher

Dr. Mary Beth Hueste Professor 979.845.1940


By investigating new bridge systems that utilize precast girders, TxDOT and other bridge owners have additional options for bridge designs that can be selected when the site conditions or other factors make precast concrete the optimal alternative.” Continuous prestressed concrete girder bridges The first project centered on continuous prestressed concrete girder bridges. Most Texas bridge structures are constructed with precast concrete girders with a cast-in-place concrete bridge deck. The bridge girders are fabricated at a precast plant where they are prestressed to avoid cracking of the concrete and to achieve longer span lengths compared to conventional reinforced concrete bridges. However, the precast girder units are limited to 160 feet due to weight and length restrictions on transporting them from the plant to the bridge site. This project’s primary focus was to develop innovative and economical alternatives for longer-span bridges, with main spans up to 300 feet. Hueste was the research supervisor on this project. She worked alongside Dr. John Mander, Zachry professor in design and construction integration and TTI research engineer, and Reza Baie, Anagha Parkar, Akshay Parchure, Jennifer Prouty and Tristan Sarremejane, civil engineering graduate students employed by TTI. Hueste and her team of researchers found that with in-span spliced girder technology and continuous prestressing installed at the bridge site, the span length of precast concrete girder bridges can be nearly doubled. In-span splicing involves connecting the precast girder sections at optimal locations within the span such that the overall span length between bridge supports is greater than the length of the individual girder segments.


Hueste and her team constructed a full-scale spliced girder specimen in the laboratory where they conducted extensive testing to confirm that the splice connections performed satisfactorily. “Full-scale testing allowed us to verify that the splice-connection detail between precast girder segments is structurally sound under the design service loads,” Hueste said. “In addition, we applied even larger loadings to ensure that the connection details will provide sufficient strength up to ultimate load conditions.” The research study led to a comprehensive set of recommendations for the design of continuous spliced precast girders, along with detailing guidelines for inspan spliced connections. Spread prestressed concrete slab beam bridges The central focus of this second project was to investigate a new bridge system for short-span bridges with spans up to about 50 feet. Conventional slab beam bridges have precast concrete slab beams placed immediately adjacent to one another with a cast-in-place topping slab.

While this bridge system is commonly used for short-span bridges due to its shallow profile, it is more expensive than typical prestressed I-beam bridges. This project examined the use of slab beams that are spread apart with less expensive precast concrete panels between beams and a cast-inplace concrete deck. The goal was to investigate the design, constructability and performance of this new bridge system, and to provide guidance for future designs. Hueste was the research supervisor on this project. She worked alongside Mander; Dr. Gary Fry, adjunct associate professor; and Tevfik Terzioglu, Dongqi Jiang and Joel Petersen-Gauthier, civil engineering graduate research assistants employed by TTI. In addition, a number of undergraduate students assisted during various stages of the project. In order to better understand the spread slab beam bridge system, the team built a full-scale prototype with widely spaced beams at the Texas A&M RELLIS Campus. There they were able to assess constructability and in-service performance. Additionally, they tested a second spread slab beam bridge

with closely spaced beams recently constructed on U.S. Highway 69 in Denison, Texas. Both bridges were instrumented, and field testing was conducted using heavily loaded vehicles to evaluate load distribution behavior. The measured data from field testing, along with comprehensive modeling and analysis, were used to develop design expressions to determine the distribution of load for this bridge system. The researchers found that the spread slab beam bridge system provides another viable design option for short-span bridges that may be more cost-effective than traditional slab beam bridges. “Our research with TxDOT has helped to further the potential for precast, prestressed concrete bridge systems,” Hueste said. “Both projects used full-scale testing to evaluate the performance of new short- and longer-span bridge systems. These investigations are crucial for providing guidance to bridge engineers to ensure that these new bridge types will perform as expected.”



REAL WORLD DATA QUESTIONS LONG HELD TRAVEL BEHAVIOR THEORIES Time is money and traffic earns nothing but road rage, lost productivity and an increased gas bill. Dr. Mark Burris, the Herbert D. Kelleher Professor at Texas A&M, seeks to save travelers time, money and frustration with his travel behavior research. The more accurately researchers can predict future travel, the better they can plan and build the necessary infrastructure quickly and affordably. In doing so, Burris and his team at Texas A&M strive to reduce travelers’ time and frustration in traffic while also saving tax dollars. “My focus is to improve our understanding of how cost impacts someone’s travel,” said Burris. “How it impacts the route they take, the mode they use, the time of day they choose and more.” Traditionally, much of this information was based on surveys completed by travelers about past trips and potential future travel. More recently, the

technological advances that monitor new travel choices like “high occupancy toll lanes” and “managed lanes” provide real data that reveals more detailed information about travel behavior. This kind of information is very useful in understanding how travelers regard their travel times, and how much they would be willing to pay to reduce those travel times. The Harris County Toll Road Authority, Texas Department of Transportation, and Houston TranStar supplied data from the Katy Freeway in Houston that Burris and his team used for this research. The Katy Freeway includes four managed lanes, two in each direction, in the middle of the Freeway. During most of the day, carpools and buses can use these lanes for free, while single occupant vehicles have to pay a toll. The toll varies based on the time of the day and the correlating traffic congestion peaks. This freeway is one of only a few worldwide that had the ability to identify travelers in both

the managed lanes and the regular lanes. Note the data were anonymized so it was impossible to know who used the roadway, just that a specific vehicle had used the roadway. When analyzing the data collected from the Katy Freeway, Burris and his team found surprising results. About 11 percent of travelers were paying to use the managed lanes at times when the regular freeway lanes were traveling at the same speed or faster than the managed lanes – a behavior that no models ever predicted. Also based on these data, little evidence was found supporting the notion that travelers would be willing to pay for more reliable travel times in the managed lanes. Farinoush Sharifi, a master’s student in transportation engineering, is studying this anomaly in her master’s thesis. “To make it clear, many people believe that paying a toll to use a lane will bring them shorter travel time,” said Sharifi. “However, by looking into the Katy Managed Lanes study we have found that there are times users pay to travel on the toll lane but go slower than the toll-free lanes.” Sharifi and Burris are working to understand the reasons for these uneconomical travel decisions using pattern recognition methods. Burris also found that the vast majority (84 percent) of freeway travelers with transponders only used the regular lanes, a small percentage of people (3 percent) only used the managed lanes and 13 percent utilized both. Thus, most travelers are not choosing between these lanes every day (as models assume), but rather have chosen the lanes they will travel well in advance and do not alter that choice regardless of travel conditions.

Photo credit: Texas Department of Transportation 12

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | After collecting and analyzing this data, Burris and his team have begun exploring travel behavior in new and innovative ways. Partnering with a psychologist and a behavioral economist, Burris is now working to find ways to model travel behavior decisions in laboratory studies.

the traveler choose the best route – or reroute when an incident occurs. In theory, this should reduce travel times and emissions. However, if too many vehicles reroute at once it could have negative overall impacts

on travel. Their research will examine these potential impacts and strategies that combine data from connected vehicles and travel behavior to maximize potential benefits of connected vehicles.

“This real-world data has led to some very surprising findings that put my research at the forefront of this field,” said Burris. “This improves our understanding of how travelers’ value different travel options and should dramatically change how we model travel behavior. Combined, this allows transportation agencies to better predict and prepare for future travel demand.” These advances in understanding traveler behavior come at the same time great advances in automobile technology are occurring. Automated and connected vehicles will also greatly impact travel behavior. Burris has teamed with Texas A&M University Hagler Institute for Advanced Study fellow Dr. Kumares Sinha and doctoral student Arezoo Samimi to examine some of these potential impacts. They are developing a traffic simulation model of El Paso to determine the travel time and emissions impacts of having connected vehicles in the traffic stream. These vehicles will have information on travel times to their destination and can help Featured Researcher

Dr. Mark Burris Herbert D. Kelleher Professor 979.845.9875




Imagine the ability to instantaneously report neighborhood hazards simply by accessing an app, making it possible for everyone in your neighborhood to be a scientist with no formal education or training required. While this might sound far-fetched, it’s being tested right now in Texas neighborhoods thanks to the work of Dr. Nasir Gharaibeh, associate professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M. The focus of Gharaibeh’s research project touches on the root concern for a civil engineer, people. More specifically, his research explores how people within the general population can act as citizen scientists, helping to provide accurate data in real time to local and state municipalities about their roads, drainage systems and other neighborhood assets that relate to stormwater infrastructure, particularly those that help prevent neighborhood localized flooding.


Gharaibeh’s reasoning is simple: large assets such as bridges, roadways and dams have sensors to monitor their condition and alert the need for repair, so why shouldn’t small assets in local communities be the same? “Major infrastructure assets are monitored by sensors and inspected on a regular basis,” Gharaibeh said. “What is neglected is the infrastructure in local communities at the neighborhood level, things that you see at your house and neighborhood that fall into disrepair and aren’t repaired proactively.” The goal is for community members to act as what Gharaibeh calls citizen scientists, serving as “human sensors” to report issues and information to municipal services effortlessly about stormwater drainage assets in their community. As they go about their day, residents would use an app on their smartphone to record issues they see in their communities, record specific data about the issue and send that data via the app to municipal services. This

allows those maintaining roadways and other public infrastructure to have the information to act proactively. Gharaibeh is still in the process of developing the app and validating the accuracy of the data that is being provided. Currently, high school students are acting as the citizen scientists, inspecting drainage systems around their schools and other residential areas. In the summer when school is out of session, Gharaibeh and his team use stateof-the-art detection equipment called Light Detection and Ranging Equipment (LiDAR) to evaluate the same segments of road as the high school students. This will allow Gharaibeh to cross-reference the data from the prototype app that the students have used with the data being taken by LiDAR, to bring the app up to roughly the same level of accuracy and effectiveness. “The point is to negate the need for LiDAR,” Gharaibeh said. “Small towns

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | and local municipalities that cannot afford that piece of equipment can then rely on the citizens themselves.” Gharaibeh is currently investigating areas in Houston that have a long history of excessive flooding. According to Gharaibeh, these floods may not be big enough to make the news, but still heavily impact these communities by making homes and neighborhoods breeding grounds for disease-ridden mosquitoes, causing extensive property damage and diminishing the market value of homes. Gharaibeh hopes his research can help residents across the country by empowering them through the app, giving them a channel to communicate to state and local municipalities that the roadways and drainage areas need to be fixed before accumulated damage leads to heavy flooding.

Project collaborators include: Drs. Philip Berke and Shannon Van Zandt, Texas A&M College of Architecture, Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning; Dr. Jennifer Horney, Texas A&M School of Public

Health, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics; and Dr. Michelle Meyer, Louisiana State University, Department of Sociology.

“These floods affect the value of these properties, but also the lives of the residents within them,” Gharaibeh said. “We’re going to be able to help the municipalities save money through proactive measures in repairing these roadways, but we’re also going to better the lives of these people.” Funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation. The project is an interdisciplinary effort with Texas A&M’s Institute for Sustainable Communities and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. Featured Researcher

Dr. Nasir Gharaibeh Associate Professor Division Head, Transportation & Materials Engineering Holder of the Zachry Career Development Professorship I in Civil Engineering 979.845.3362




Triggered by volcanic eruptions, landslides, earthquakes and even impacts by asteroids or comets, a tsunami represents a vast volume of seawater in motion - the source of its destructive power. A tsunami can strike violently and with little warning, and once a warning is issued there may be little time to prepare other than getting


to a safe location. Dr. James Kaihatu and his team at Texas A&M are looking into how these waves behave and form, which can help save lives with more accurate early warning systems. Kaihatu, associate professor and assistant department head for research, and his team have been using numerical models and

experimentation to explore the interaction of tsunami waves with offshore conical islands. In parts of the world that are vulnerable to tsunamis, local folklore commonly dictates that the mainland beach area directly behind an offshore island is a relatively safe place to be in the event of a tsunami. Field surveys

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | in affected areas have shown that this is far from an adequate generalization. In fact, it is possible that the level of inundation in such locations can actually be amplified compared to other coastal locations. Kaihatu and his team performed experiments at the Tsunami Wave Basin at Oregon State University using different island sizes, different distances of the island from the beach and whether the island was flat or cone shaped. Using the equipment there, the research team was able to generate tsunami waves whose lengths measured multiple times the diameter of the islands being tested. Their goal is to arrive at the mathematical relationship that relates beach inundation to island size and distance from the beach.

John Goertz, a Ph.D. student in the department with a concentration in coastal engineering, assists Kaihatu in this research. Goertz designed the island sizing standards for the experiments and created test cases that were run for different island conditions. “We could use the relationship to come up with a rough planning tool for civil defense officials to plan evacuations or to determine where the greatest hazard is likely to be so that resources could be arranged,” said Kaihatu. The results are based on an idealized representation of nature, but could still give an order-of-magnitude estimate of inundation behind an island. Then, the models can be refined to generate an estimate for a specific area. “As we learn more as researchers, it becomes easier to apply this knowledge on a broader scale,” said

Featured Researcher

Dr. James Kaihatu Associate Professor Assistant Department Head for Research 979.862.3511 jkaihatu Goertz. “This will lead to advancement in not only tsunami awareness and preparation, but also general nearshore wave interactions and other large-scale events like hurricanes.”

A laboratory-generated tsunami wave about to overrun a sheet metal “island.” The bridge crossing the wave tank is instrumented with wave gauges for measuring the water surface elevation. The metal frame to the right supports acoustic Doppler velocimeters (ADVs) for measuring water velocities.



YUCATAN INITIATIVE PROJECT The Yucatan Initiative project is making a difference in many ways. Launched in 2013 by Dr. Zenon Medina-Cetina, associate professor in the civil engineering department at Texas A&M, the project uniquely bridges Texas A&M and the research consortium System of Research, Innovation, Technological Development of the State of Yucatan (SIIDETEY). The project aims to address regional problems, promote academic collaboration and stimulate their corresponding state economies. The three pillars of this collaboration - research, academics and service - provide a basis for the types of collaborations and operations within the Yucatan Initiative. In research collaborations alone, the Yucatan Initiative stretches over 11 areas of research within the three colleges, the Texas A&M College of Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Geosciences, and the number of research areas continues to grow. In the past four years, SIIDETEY contributed in excess of $1 million to establish research collaborations that translated into more than 17 international and multidisciplinary seed research projects, many of which have generated successful grant submissions both in the United States and Mexico.

A Yucatan aquifer showing its geologic karstic formation. The aquifer’s complexity to measure and model the ‘aquifers system’ represents a major challenge for engineering and scientific discovery in light of its threats related to climate variability and land use and land cover.


Three academic programs have been initiated with an investment of over $2.5 million from SIIDETEY, industry and other Mexican sponsoring organizations. These programs, the Engineering Learning Community Introduction to Research (ELCIR); Cámara Nacional de la Industria de Electrónica, de Telecomunicaciones y Tecnología de la Información (CANIETI) summer research program; and Foundations of Engineering, have enriched Texas A&M and Mexican students by providing opportunities

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | to travel to both partnering regions, engage in research and participate in cultural exchanges. More than 154 students have participated in the past three years. Programs such as ELCIR and Foundations of Engineering allow Texas A&M students to gain first-hand experience in research and problem solving by visiting Mexican industry and research centers, and engaging in miniresearch projects at SIIDETEY’s research institutions. Through the CANIETI program, Mexican students from Yucatan and surrounding states have an intensive two-month experience working in Texas A&M research labs and completing workshops to prepare them for graduate programs in the U.S. Texas A&M’s enrollment of Mexican students has increased by 48 percent in the past three years by enrolling 25 fully sponsored master’s and doctoral students across the College of Engineering by the Mexican Science Foundation (CONACYT). The Yucatan Initiative also organizes and supports service programs. The Engineering Projects in Community Services (EPICS) program connects undergraduate students with local farming communities to design and develop backyard irrigation systems needed to improve family driven produce production. The CANIETI executives program took place over the summer of 2016 when six executives from Grupo Pelnum and Grup Servicii Petroliere spent five weeks at Texas A&M planning prospective collaborations, visiting regional industries and participating in intensive English courses for the purposes of improving relations between the two regions, as well as strengthening ties between their companies and the university. More recently, a contract was established with the Instituto Tecnológico del Petróleo y la Energía (ITPE) based in Yucatan, to develop risk-based energy collaborations between the universities and agencies of The Texas

A&M University System and Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the governmentowned Mexican Oil & Gas Company. The Yucatan Initiative continues to push for further growth and broaden its collaborations within the three Texas A&M pillars. In research, a geosciences phase will launch in fall 2017 with the Gulf of Mexico as the central theme. The goal is to view the Gulf as a physical system which atmospheric, oceanographic, geologic and biodiversity variations can affect social, economic and environmental sectors around and beyond its regional domain (e.g., fisheries, oil and gas, tourism, air traffic, maritime operations, homeland security, epidemics, etc.). The collaboration between the colleges of geosciences, agriculture and life sciences, and engineering will be extended to the College of Liberal Arts to initiate a joint summer core curriculum in the summer of 2018. This academic effort will consist of four campus-wide study abroad programs coordinated by the College of Engineering’s Global Programs Office. The next service contribution of the Yucatan Initiative project will be the

Featured Researcher

Dr. Zenon Medina-Cetina Associate Professor 979.845.6567

coordination of the “Amigos de Uxmal,” a nonprofit that will be created to support the restoration of archeological sites within the Puuc Region, located at the heart of the Mayan civilization. For further and current information about the Yucatan Initiative Project and its various activities, visit:

ELCIR class of 2017 in Merida, capital of the State of Yucatan. Drs. Zenon Medina-Cetina and John Walewski served as leading instructors.



THINKING OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM: DECREASING USAGE THROUGH ALTERNATIVE ENERGY can be up to 70 percent more efficient than traditional technology. How effective the process is at cooling buildings in warm climates, however, is something that’s still in the early stages of research. Briaud believes that even though geothermal cooling will not be as efficient as geothermal heating, it could still have an impact on energy consumption, particularly during peak consumption hours. In Texas, the peak demand for energy on the hottest day of the year is about 20 percent higher than on the coldest day, and 30 percent higher than the peak in autumn or spring. It takes a lot of energy to keep Texans cool in the summer, so even a moderate increase in the efficiency of air conditioning systems could have energy ramifications.

Dr. Jean-Louis Briaud has been exploring geothermal energy as a way to decrease energy costs by using an alternative to conventional methods. While systems like geothermal foundations are likely still decades away from being broadly adopted, they have the potential to substantially lower energy costs for buildings. Briaud, professor and holder of the Spencer J. Buchanan Chair in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M, says that a significant amount of the energy used in air conditioning is used in the heat transfer process. A geothermal foundation system allows for an alternative to conventional air conditioning. Instead of using outside air to cool the heated coils, with very little temperature difference, the geothermal unit uses water sent through underground pipes which has returned to the system at a much lower temperature than the heated coils. As


a result, the system is more efficient because a significant amount of energy is saved in the heat transfer process. “The soil in Texas, you go down three feet and beyond that you have a pretty constant temperature of about 70 degrees,” he said. “So if you want to cool something in the summer, it would be easier to cool it against the temperature of the soil at 70 degrees than against the temperature of the air at 100 degrees.” The most cost effective way to build this type of system is to incorporate the underground part of the system, the flexible pipes that carry the cool water, into the foundation piles of a building when it’s being constructed. In Europe, these geothermal foundations are fairly common, but they’re used for heating buildings since it’s easier to heat water returning from underground than to fight against the cold outside air. On the heating side, it

“We think this could potentially be 30 percent more efficient,” Briaud said. “Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is.” His team, comprised of Drs. Marcelo Sanchez and Ghassan Akrouch, and Reza Keshavarz from the civil engineering department, and Dr. Charles Culp from the architecture department, has started research on a few fronts. A small scale test bed was built into the new Liberal Arts and Arts & Humanities Building on the Texas A&M campus where civil engineering doctoral student Mohammadreza Keshavarz has been trying to solve some of the basic questions about the potential for this technology. The biggest question may be whether or not the system would eventually heat up the soil too much to be effective. “That’s one of the questions. Does it cycle over a year or are you heating up the soil year after year and eventually you can’t use it?” Keshavarz said. “There are some examples of places overusing


Dr. Jean-Louis Briaud Distinguished Professor Spencer J. Buchanan Chair Professor Regents Fellow Director, National Geotechnical Experimentation Site 979.845.3795 this technology. They didn’t design the system to the correct capacity of the building, and after a couple of months it became useless.” Keshavarz has also been working on something that nobody has yet been able to do, model an entire geothermal foundation system. To do that, he not only needs data on the system itself, but the soil in the region. Briaud and his team have developed a large cone penetrometer for exactly that reason. A penetrometer is a rod that is pushed into the soil. The friction causes the rod to heat up, then when it is stops being pushed, the heat dissipates into the surrounding soil. They record that temperature decay to calculate the thermal properties of the soil. With that information integrated into the model that Keshavarz is building, Briaud hopes that soon they will be able to accurately show the benefits of a geothermal cooling system in large buildings.

geothermal foundations when designing buildings. Right now, even though Briaud is confident in his belief that it would take less than 10 years to recoup the upfront costs of including the geothermal system in the building foundation and start seeing savings, there just isn’t enough data to prove it. But not having data hasn’t stopped some companies from trying it. According to Briaud, it’s an exciting time in this field because technology has made these systems possible and once

they have the data to get more people on board it could mean huge savings in energy consumption. “Some people are already going for it, but we need to instrument the foundations of those buildings,” he said. “We need the proofs of the science to get people behind this. Industry goesgoes-goes and sometimes people don’t know if it’s really working. But this is something we can do right now that could have a big impact.”

“We just don’t have the knowledge to understand what would happen with a superstructure,” he said. “There is hardly any experimental documentation, especially on the cooling side. Putting geothermal coils as part of the foundation is a relatively new idea.” With the evidence, perhaps more builders will be interested in including



ALL-NATURAL FUEL: RESEARCH AIMS TO PRODUCE BIODIESEL Gasoline, diesel, coal, bacteria. One of these things is not like the others, at least not yet. Dr. Kung-Hui “Bella” Chu, an associate professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M, is working to make renewable fuels like biodiesel from natural lipids, also known as triacylglycerols (TAGs), produced by bacteria. Through her research, Chu aspires to enable a cost-effective, industrial


production of bioenergy, particularly biodiesel, from biomass, a renewable resource. Biodiesel is a clean biofuel that can be produced from animal fats or oils, plant oils and microbial natural lipids. Unfortunately, the production of this biofuel still faces many challenges. The issues arise with finding a sustainable supply of feedstocks–the materials used to manufacture the biodiesel–and the high extraction costs of the oils or lipids from these feedstocks.

Chu and her team at Texas A&M are seeking to address both of these challenges simultaneously in their research. Their work is the first study to demonstrate a new way to produce triacylglycerols from growing TAG-accumulating bacteria with renewable resources, plant biomass, then releasing the triacylglycerols from the TAG-bearing bacteria using bacteriophage-based technology.

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | Baixin Wang and Myung “Bo” Hwangbo, doctoral students in the civil engineering department, are helping Chu design and conduct experiments focused on bacteriophage-based methods of releasing TAGs. “This is such a promising project for potentially reducing the cost of biodiesel production that I chose it for my Ph.D. dissertation,” said Wang. Extracting TAGs from the feedstocks, which are usually plant seeds or algae, is a costly process, and another major challenge in biodiesel production. Instead of using these costly and inefficient feedstocks, Chu is growing particular strains of bacteria on waste plant materials called lignocellulosic biomass, like corn stover (the stalks, leaves and cobs that remain in the fields after a harvest), sorghum (a crop dedicated to bioenergy production) and yard grass clippings. Then, bacteriophage-based technology is applied to release the TAGs from the bacteria. Through her research, Chu has discovered that some oleaginous (extra oily) bacteria that previously had not been known to live in the environment of this plant biomass can in fact be produced from these natural resources for biodiesel production. Using bacteria to produce TAGs has led to a new way in extracting them as well. Chu’s research has produced a new bacteriophage-based method to release TAGs from these bacteria. Bacteriophages are viruses that are natural enemies to bacteria and can invade and kill the host cells (i.e., bacteria). Chu and her team have discovered that bacteriophages can be used to break the cell wall of TAGproducing bacteria and release the internal TAG granules in the cells. “This out-of-the-box approach is promising,” said Chu. “It would enable economical biofuel production by reducing production costs of biodiesel, and thus moving one step forward toward the reality of future industrial production of renewable bioenergy.”

Oleaginous bacterium accumulates high levels of triacylglycerols (TAGs), natural lipids, when cultured with lignocellulosic biomass (such as plant materials). TAGs can be used to manufacture lipidbased fuels such as biodiesel and biojet fuel.

The fundamental knowledge obtained from Chu’s research is essential for the future development of pilot and full-scale production and extraction of bacterial lipids as starting materials for manufacturing lipid-based biofuels. The lipids produced and extracted from this technology can be used to produce biodiesels or even jet fuels. “Harnessing a viable option to produce bioenergy is vital to the sustainable development of our society,” said Chu.

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Dr. Kung-Hui Chu Associate Professor 979.845.1403



NANO BITES: ENGINEERED NANOPARTICLES IN YOUR FOOD Nanoparticles that have been engineered as additives in fertilizers to help deliver nutrients, keep food fresh for longer and act as thickening and coloring agents in processed foods, have found their way into food for years. In addition to their direct applications to food products, an uncharacterized pathway for nanoparticles to enter into the human food chain is through their accumulation in the edible tissues of food crops. The big question is, how much engineered nanoparticles will enter into plant tissues through plant roots and what are the health impacts? For the past five years, Dr. Xingmao “Samuel” Ma, associate professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M, has investigated whether engineered nanoparticles accumulate in agricultural crops and pose food safety risks to humans through dietary consumption of these crops. These nanoparticles may enter into plant root tissues through wounds, or along plant cell walls and then are


transported to leaves and fruits. While he has investigated the mechanisms for engineered nanoparticles to accumulate in plant tissues, he is also interested in developing nanotechnology-enabled agro-products, such as nanofertilizers which display low food safety risks, and developing nanotechnologies to enhance water use efficiency in food production. Before Ma began studying these processes, knowledge about the potential effects and accumulation of engineered nanoparticles by plants was virtually nonexistent. Additionally, an understanding of the benefits of the application of engineered nanoparticles in agriculture was also lacking. His research has produced new insights into the mechanisms for engineered nanoparticles to penetrate into plant root tissues. The knowledge learned from Ma’s research also provides an opportunity to develop innovative approaches to use nanoparticles in agriculture beneficially, while minimizing their accumulation in food crops.

While it had long been suspected that nanoparticles could be taken up by plant roots, the mechanisms of plant uptake of these nanoparticles were unknown. It was also unknown that whether these nanoparticles will change into some other chemicals through complex chemical reactions. Ma has demonstrated that engineered nanoparticles are accumulated in the plant tissue and transformed. He is now focusing on explaining the mechanisms by which engineered nanoparticles are able to penetrate into plant shoots, including the edible parts. While investigating this process, Ma and his team are simultaneously attempting to develop nanotechnology-based solutions for sustainable agriculture and environmental protection. This includes developing nanofertilizers that can enhance a plant’s tolerance to abiotic stresses like drought and salt stress, and developing nanotechnology enhanced membrane technologies for water reuse in agriculture.

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | “With the pressures of climate change and increasing shortage of highquality fresh water for agriculture, it is important to find solutions that enhance plant adaptability to these changes,” said Ma. “Nanotechnology seems to be promising for this purpose.” The team found that some metallic oxide nanoparticles enhance plant physiological parameters under the conditions of salt stress and heavy metal stress. This could provide a potential solution for enhancing food production. Through their research, Ma and his team have significantly enhanced the understanding of the benefits and limitations of engineered nanoparticles in the environment. They uncovered valuable information about the uptake mechanism of engineered nanoparticles by plants. Also, the team clarified the way that biotic and abiotic factors in the environment can affect the interactions of plants with nanoparticles. These new findings help to clarify the previously inconsistent and conflicting research results.

additive in gasoline to ehnhance the gas combustion efficiency, and soybean in her research. “Currently, not a lot is known about the long-term effects these particles can have on the environment or even human health,” said Stowers. “Working on research that can help identify some of these basic interactions nanoparticles can have within the natural environment is key in making future decisions concerning this technology.” Another significant contribution from this research group is the finding of the long-term, generational impacts of some engineered nanoparticles to plants. For the first time, Ma showed

that cerium oxide nanoparticles affect plant seed quality. The team found that plants grown from previously exposed seeds respond different to cerium oxide nanoparticles than plants grown from seed never exposed to cerium oxide nanoparticles before. This is a novel and groundbreaking discovery. “Our study has significant implications for future sustainable development of nanotechnology, future sustainable growth of agriculture, food safety and human health,” said Ma. “My research contributes to the sustainable development and applications of nanotechnology by providing key information on the implications and applications of nanotechnology.”

Cheyenne Stowers, a master’s student in the civil engineering department, is a part of Ma’s research team. She specifically investigates the roles of local microorganisms in plant root region play in plant uptake of engineered nanoparticles. The microorganisms in plant root system are important to the microecosystem in plant roots. She used cerium oxide nanoparticles, an

Featured Researcher

Dr. Xingmao Ma Associate Professor 979.862.1772



IMPACTS MADE IN NONDESTRUCTIVE TESTING FIELD Buskmiller and Hurlebaus conducted several preliminary tests on a handheld ultrasonic tomographic device to help define the capabilities and limitations of transducer arrays containing 24 ultrasonic elements. Additionally, the tests demonstrated the transducers’ ability to detect various structural flaws at different depths. “Imagine you have a wall that is several inches thick with a single, half-inch diameter hole in it,” Buskmiller said. “You can see some things through the hole, but more holes would allow you to see more. In the same way, multiple transducers grouped in an array are used together to broaden the scope of what can be seen at once.”

Dr. Stefan Hurlebaus, professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M and mentor to many, recently worked alongside three graduate students on impactful research projects within the nondestructive testing area of study. These students come from various academic backgrounds to accomplish unique endeavors within the field. Utilizing ultrasonic transducer arrays Justin Buskmiller is a civil engineering graduate student specializing in ultrasonic tomography, which is the imaging of the internal structure of objects such as bridges and other concrete structures. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M and began studying nondestructive testing instruments and their uses for structural materials in 2015. Buskmiller works with Hurlebaus to examine the use of ultrasonic


transducer arrays for reinforced concrete. This is a relatively new subject in the nondestructive testing field. While other researchers have recently brought ultrasonic transducers to concrete, Buskmiller hopes to bring increased speed and efficiency to this relatively new method. An ultrasonic transducer is made of special piezoelectric material that changes shape when an electrical current is applied to it. This generates a specific sound wave if it is pressed up against a hard surface. “This wave travels through the material, with portions eventually echoing back and deforming the transducer again,” Buskmiller said. “This redeformation creates a specific electrical signal that can be combined with similar signals to create a picture of what is beneath the surface. This allows you to test what is under the surface of the material when you only have access to one side of it.”

With their preliminary tests complete, they began designing a prototype device to improve nondestructive testing. This device will be able to dramatically improve accuracy, ease of testing, affordability and more for nondestructive testing of bridge girders and other reinforced concrete structures. In the future, Buskmiller plans to pursue a career in structural engineering in the Washington, D.C. area. Automating nondestructive testing Jaqueline Byndas recently graduated with her master’s degree in civil engineering. Her research focused on the automation of nondestructive testing for efficient and effective detection of defects in concrete structures. Byndas worked alongside Hurlebaus and Buskmiller to develop existing technology into a fast-paced automated system that can detect a variety of defects. In order to accomplish this, the team needed to design the mechanical system and increase current processing speed for the current technology. Byndas’ portion of the project was to determine the viability of the current ultrasonic pulse echo technology.

TEXAS A&M CIVIL ENGINEERING | “The construction industry is dependent on time and cost,” Byndas said. “By reducing scanning times and determining defects faster, repairs can be done more quickly and efficiently, which could potentially save millions.” Prior to earning her master’s at Texas A&M, she received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University. She now works as a diagnostics engineer for Walter P Moore in Dallas, where she works on a variety of structural projects and often uses a form of nondestructive testing for forensics applications. Assessing grout conditions Virginia Foster recently graduated from the department with her master’s degree in civil engineering. Her research focused on three methods of nondestructive testing to assess the grout condition of

internal post-tensioned tendons. These include ultrasonic tomography, ground penetrating radar and infrared thermography. Post-tensioned bridges have been widely used since the 1950s and are favored by many contractors and engineers because they are economical and easy to construct. However, the structural integrity of the post-tensioned tendons is critical to the performance of these systems. Any corrosion of the steel strands is detrimental to the structural integrity of the girder. “To protect these strands, the ducts are filled with a cementitious grout,” Foster said. “However, voids can form by entrapped air pockets, grout bleeding, improper grouting or all three. These voids leave the steel unprotected and susceptible to corrosion, particularly from the ingress of chlorides. The internal condition of the tendons must

be monitored in order to maintain public safety.” In order to test the effectiveness of the three methods, Foster worked alongside Hurlebaus’ research group to construct a 75-foot-long U-shaped bridge girder with a complex defect design. This included grout voids and water-filled cavities of varying sizes, as well as several grout conditions including soft grout, un-hydrated grout and gassed grout. Foster received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Texas Woman’s University and her master’s in statistics from Southern Methodist University. Since completing her master’s at Texas A&M, she works as a structural engineer-in-training at Aguirre & Fields, an engineering firm specializing in the design and inspection of transportation infrastructure.



INSIGHTS AID PORTS SEEKING TRANSPORTATION REINVESTMENT ZONE FINANCING In order to encourage local infrastructure development, the Texas Legislature implemented a new financing mechanism in 2007, the transportation reinvestment zone (TRZ). While TRZs have proven very successful over the last decade for highway development, port projects were not originally included until just recently. In 2013, the legislation recognized the positive impact expanding ports can have on the broader local landscape. Once the legal framework was in place, port authorities and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) saw the need for guidelines that ports could use to set a TRZ. Under TxDOT’s direction a collaborative research team, including the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), developed webinar materials, case studies and evaluation tools, which are now available for any port to use. Deog Bae, a Ph.D. student in Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M, played a key role in the research team. Bae helped generate a methodology that yields a reasonable expectation for what a port project can produce

in expected tax increment revenues over the life of the TRZ; and that, in turn, helps a port authority scope the local TRZ. “In this project, our team identifies how much the new delivery can impact the local economy in terms of geography and monetary value,” said Bae. “Our team understands and identifies the legal process to establish this funding mechanism. We used the ports in Beaumont and Brownsville to refine our model and now it’s applicable to any port, anywhere, seeking funding through a TRZ.” Texas has often led the nation in advancing transportation, and it was the first state to implement TRZs. Now, once again, TxDOT is setting the standard for ports nationwide to take advantage of this innovative financing tool. “Infrastructure delivery is costly and demanding but the government cannot meet the need,” said Bae. “This mechanism can provide another level of funding sources to the local governments. Specifically, maintaining and constructing port infrastructure is vital to local and national economies. This delivery system can impact the whole society. Texas is the first state to adopt this system, but if it is expanded over the nation, the nation and region as well will have more options to improve their gross domestic product.”

WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP PROGRAM PROVIDES PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHT Rinu Abraham, a former graduate student, was chosen to participate in the 12 First Fridays Leadership Pilot Program after applying to the Kiewit’s annual Women’s Construction Leadership Seminar in 2016. She earned her master’s degree in construction engineering and management from Texas A&M in May 2017, and now works at Webber, LLC as a field engineer in the heavy civil division.

as achieving confidence, managing conflict, handling failure, time-management, gaining respect and work-life balance.”

The purpose of the program is to engage Kiewit’s female leaders across diverse disciplines, markets and geographies to engage other young women pursuing careers in the construction and engineering industry to support their career development and increase awareness to its diverse job functions and markets.

Abraham graduated with her undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M before joining the workforce for a couple of years. She then decided that a master’s degree would enhance her abilities and qualifications to be a construction or project manager in the future. She hopes to become a construction manager in heavy civil construction.

“The presenters give me a better insight into the roles and responsibilities they play in the construction industry,” said Abraham. “They give their thoughts on different topics such

“The department supported me immensely in pursuing my master’s degree,” she said. “I had an amazing experience as a student in the civil engineering department.”


The effect has been profound. Abraham and the other participants are able to gain real-world experience through the eyes of these female leaders in their industry. “As an aspiring civil engineer, it was invaluable information to learn from other women engineers who are presently in the construction industry and have successfully tackled these issues in different ways,” Abraham said.


RESERVOIR EVAPORATION MODELING RESEARCH RESULTS IN FELLOWSHIP Gang Zhao, a doctoral student in water resources engineering, was recently awarded the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF). The purpose of the NESSF is to ensure the continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines needed to achieve NASA’s scientific and strategic goals. The awards are made in the form of training grants. Zhao received the award for his research in quantifying reservoir evaporation using remote sensing and modeling technology. Quantifying evaporation from reservoirs will be beneficial for modern water resources management to a large extent. For example, Texas suffers from drought frequently. During a drought, reservoir evaporation has been a traditionally overlooked event and only complicated drought response further. By accurately quantifying the evaporation, water can be managed more efficiently. “I am very interested in programming and mathematics,” said Zhao. “My research means a great deal to me, and it provides me with the opportunity to do both. It helps me shape my capability for critical thinking and logical inference. This capability will help me

not only in my future scientific career but also in everyday life. As a Ph.D. student, I know my current research is only the beginning as I work to build a solid foundation for future research.” When Zhao applied for his master’s degree within the department, it was after a great deal of research in search of a faculty mentor. He currently works with Dr. Huilin

Gao, an assistant professor in civil engineering. After meeting Gao, he was left with the impression that she was very knowledgeable and had a solid scientific goal along with the strategy to achieve it. “I felt if I stayed on during my Ph.D., she could help me a great deal and that’s what she did over the past several years,” Zhao said. “The main reason for continuing my education was Dr. Gao. When finishing my master’s degree with her, I felt there are still a lot of things I can learn from her and there are also a lot of things I can contribute to her scientific goal and society as well. “She is a great advisor and researcher. We have quality professors and fellow students in our department. It’s like one big family. Everyone definitely aims to help you be successful on every aspect.” After graduating from Texas A&M University, Zhao will seek a postdoctoral position and later a teaching position within a university.


ENGINEERING EDUCATION COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING’S 25 BY 25 INITIATIVE In 2013, Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering embarked on a transformational program called 25 by 25. As a response to the national call for more engineering graduates, and with our engineering advisory board’s strong support of the program, 25 by 25 is designed to increase access for qualified students to pursue engineering education at Texas A&M and increase our total enrollment to 25,000 students by 2025. The 25 by 25 initiative is not just about increasing numbers; we are focusing on enhancing the quality of our students’ educational experience and the excellence of Texas A&M’s engineering program. The 25 by 25 initiative is positively recognized by our academic peers and overwhelmingly supported by our former students and industry. In fact, we have raised more than $250 million in gifts in support of 25 by 25.

Q. How does the College of Engineering plan to grow? A. The majority of future student growth from 25 by 25 will occur through the retention of our incoming students, growth at our branch campus locations and statewide engineering academies, and through the expansion of our online graduate programs. Q. How is the college enhancing education? A. We are improving the educational experience for our students through active learning, smaller class sizes, unique learning experiences and improved first-year engineering classes. We are expanding our learning facilities, including the 525,000 sq. ft. Zachry Engineering Education Complex. We are also growing our faculty. Our college has 578 top faculty scholars and professors of practice. Q. Are you lowering your admission standards? A. No. In fact, the admission standards to the College of Engineering have been enhanced. For students admitted for fall 2017, the average SAT math score is 709, which is significantly higher than the average math score of 683 in fall 2016. And once students are admitted into Texas A&M, they now undergo a holistic review process to be admitted into the college.

For the latest information about the initiative, please see To get involved and support our program, contact Andy Acker at or 979.458.4493.


A modern, high-tech learning environment for undergraduate engineering education The largest academic building on campus with 525,000 sq. ft. Active learning classrooms Extensive makerspace Interdisciplinary learning labs Informal meeting and study areas Student career center Tutoring and advising center Technology support services Green roof/terrace






Fall 2017 Graduate Research Magazine  
Fall 2017 Graduate Research Magazine  

2017 research magazine showcasing the graduate program and ongoing research in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M Unive...