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FALL 2018








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A healthier grain of rice: researcher finds nanoparticles may be the key to reducing arsenic intake in rice Counting every drop: Gao works with NASA to share crucial water data across the globe

Mapping community resilience: network science research builds a better future for disaster response, recovery

Strengthening foundations: predictive modeling research gives insight into soil and chemical stabilizer foundation impacts

Exploring new roads: new developments in risk accessing autonomous vehicle research

Repairing our nation’s bridges: research provides new guidelines for assessing and repairing bridge infrastructure

After the storm: research automates damage assessment, enhances recovery after natural disasters

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Modeling how we move: Zhang develops predictive models to improve traffic flow Brown named STEM scholarship recipient Creating virtual solutions: student team combines virtual reality with project management practices Selfless service: student finds new perspectives in FEMA internship American Society of Civil Engineers Texas A&M student chapter hosts 2018 Texas-Mexico student symposium Building for the future: student research evaluates long-term urban water infrastructure resilience


Letter from the Department Head The demand for civil engineers is strong, as is the need to seek sustainable solutions for the future of society. The Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University remains committed to creating these solutions as we continue to educate our students and help them develop the skills necessary to be successful. The impact of the civil engineering discipline is felt in every corner of the globe, and our faculty and students are finding new ways to serve both domestically and internationally. That service has taken on a new light in the aftermath of the deadly hurricanes that have wreaked havoc on our national infrastructure. Our faculty have been committed to developing strategies for disaster planning, mitigation and community recovery, while our students have selflessly given their time and energy to help those in need. We are taking a multidisciplinary approach, from evaluating new materials and methods to improve and repair our aging infrastructure, to combating international environmental challenges such as water resource management. We are finding new ways to build more resilient communities, advance autonomous technologies and make strides in improving the health of our global community through the very food we eat. With the completion of the Center for Infrastructure Renewal last February, we are now even better equipped to address national infrastructure needs in partnership with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. This unique facility houses traditional testing of large structures and materials, as well as a new hub for multi-disciplinary research on corrosion, sensor developments, smart grid technology and more. Serving society is a core value of civil engineering, just as selfless service is a core value of Texas A&M and our students. We continue to address challenges and needs across the world with groundbreaking interdisciplinary research and innovative teaching, and motivate our students to serve, lead and tackle challenges in the field. Our department is not just committed to service, but to making a real, tangible difference for society. I welcome you to come see our impacts firsthand. Meet our faculty, visit with our students and tour our facilities in person to see how civil engineers at Texas A&M build our world.

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







ENROLLMENT (FALL 2018) • 438

186 Ph.D. 252 M.S. & M.E.

DEGREES AWARDED (2017-18) • 114

15 Ph.D. 16 M.S. 83 M.E.

TOP RESEARCH AREAS • Urban planning for the future • Resilient and sustainable infrastructure • Innovations in construction materials • Transportation dynamics • Autonomous vehicles • Smart grid • Alternative fuel sources • Climate change impact • Waste remediation • Contaminant mobility and environmental impacts




since program establishment in 2014


FACULTY 4 | Fall 2018 Research Magazine

27% females

in graduate program


A HEALTHIER GRAIN OF RICE: RESEARCHER FINDS NANOPARTICLES MAY BE THE KEY TO REDUCING ARSENIC INTAKE IN RICE Rice is a primary dietary component for half of the world’s population and is grown on every continent on Earth. In light of the important part rice plays in the human diet, this international crop also has a history of causing health issues from heightened levels of arsenic consumption. Researchers are conducting studies on arsenic intake in rice plants during their cultivation, which may decrease the number of health issues caused across the globe from this important staple crop. Leading this effort is Dr. Xingmao “Samuel” Ma, an associate professor in the department. Ma explains that the process of cultivating rice makes it much more open to absorbing arsenic. However, the amount of arsenic absorbed can depend on the region the rice is grown in, the chemicals present in the soil and a variety of other factors that occur on a nanomolecular scale. “Our goal is to understand the uptake process,” Ma said. “When you water plants, the water contains some of the arsenic and other chemical compounds, so we want to know how these compounds, the soil and all these factors, affect the level of the arsenic intake in the plant.”

“Rice has very special chemical transporters that allow the easy transport of arsenic into the rice crop,” Ma said. “But how easily that rice takes up the arsenic depends on the speciation of the arsenic, which is another factor that we are considering.” Arsenic speciation refers to the different chemical compositions of the arsenic, and what forms they can take, which can affect how the chemicals are absorbed into rice roots and then transported to the shoots and grains. Going forward, Ma and his research team are reaching out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the intent of expanding their work beyond the smaller hydroponic studies, which involve growing rice without soil, into studies within soil systems to better understand how zinc and other elements can

affect arsenic intake. While Ma’s research will require further exploration, the concept that this work could impact the health of millions for the better has remained a positive motivation over the course of the project, which is in its second year. “We as a species eat a lot of rice, which means we have a lot of people that suffer from arsenic contamination,” Ma said. “I think that highlights the importance of this study, and we think that if we can limit the arsenic uptake by 50 percent, the levels of exposure to people would be so much less harmful.”

FEATURED RESEARCHER Dr. Xingmao “Samuel” Ma Associate Professor 979.862.1772 xma@civil.tamu.edu

One chemical compound used in Ma’s research, zinc oxide nanoparticles, has been shown to inhibit the intake of arsenic in certain varieties of rice while also acting as a fertilizer. Treating rice paddies with this chemical could potentially limit arsenic intake, while still producing a high-yield crop.



COUNTING EVERY DROP: GAO WORKS WITH NASA TO SHARE CRUCIAL WATER DATA ACROSS THE GLOBE In the United States, large amounts of data are collected on water reservoirs all over the country. The sharing of this data, however, is not typically a global phenomenon. This lack of data sharing affects global water management practices, which impacts the usage of hydropower and advanced warning systems for flood and drought control across the world. The way in which these practices are implemented can make a world of difference for those that rely heavily on these energy sources, or whose homes may be in the path of a flood or droughtstricken area. Dr. Huilin Gao, an associate professor in the department, is working with NASA to validate the way this data is collected, developing an algorithm to analyze data collected from global water reservoirs. The algorithm was tested and validated over U.S. reservoirs with the intent of giving researchers the tools they need to conduct improved water and climate management. Nearly 46 percent of the world’s surface area is covered by transboundary river basins, meaning that the water itself is shared by multiple countries.

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While countries typically collect data on their own reservoirs, rarely is it shared across borders due to an intentional or unintentional lack of communication.

“What (NASA) doesn’t have are these reservoirs in their models, which is where my algorithm comes in, to provide better information to make better decisions.” In September 2018, NASA launched a satellite with laser altimeter technology allowing it to track water fluctuations all over the world by measuring reservoir altitudes. “This satellite can monitor these changes, which is very beneficial for data-sparse regions or areas in conflict,” said Gao. By combining reservoir altitude data with global meteorology data, Gao is able to calculate evaporation loss, which can be used to assist flood and drought monitoring in countries that share river basins.

“For larger river water management, you want to provide information to regions that don’t share info,” said Gao. “On a global perspective, we want to see how much water is stored in lakes and reservoirs as compared to fresh water.” Gao is looking into working with the U.S. Department of Energy, which has expressed interest in utilizing the data collected to track how evaporation loss affects hydropower reservoirs. Hydropower depends on reservoir water elevation, so tracking evaporation loss is crucial to understanding its effect on total power generation. Knowing this information will help the management of water for irrigation and municipal usage across the United States. While NASA will collect data from the satellite, Gao is working on improving the algorithm used to analyze the information. By utilizing the latest image processing capabilities, the improved picture quality will result in the production of more accurate reservoir data. For Gao, the biggest challenge with this project is the staggering amount of data that is collected and learning how to apply it to


measuring reservoir storage variations on a global scale. There are approximately 6,800 reservoirs around the world, and satellites typically only capture information on the largest. In addition, the image quality on current satellites is not perfect and can potentially obscure important visual information, which in turn can hinder researchers’ ability to interpret the data collected. NASA plans on launching a satellite with better image sensing in 2021, which should

improve the data collected and help Gao and her collaborators refine their algorithm. “We can (use this data) to let these countries know about impending issues,” Gao said. “NASA has a fleet of constellation satellites to measure global precipitation to drive the hydrological model to do drought and flood monitoring, but what they don’t have are these reservoirs in

their models, which is where my algorithm comes in to provide better information to make better decisions.”

FEATURED RESEARCHER Dr. Huilin Gao Associate Professor 979.845.2875 hgao@civil.tamu.edu ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/hgao



MAPPING COMMUNITY RESILIENCE: NETWORK SCIENCE RESEARCH BUILDS A BETTER FUTURE FOR DISASTER RESPONSE, RECOVERY When a natural disaster devastates an area, researchers often look for the underlying causes after the danger has passed by examining how specific environmental conditions may have led to an exceptionally strong hurricane, or how quickly a community was able to recover post-flood. While such approaches are effective, Dr. Ali Mostafavi, an assistant professor in the department, is conducting ongoing research to examine how different infrastructure networks impact urban resilience across different communities during natural disasters and how well they are integrated with one another. Such research can solidify disaster readiness and resilience for communities in the long term, reducing the damage communities sustain. “We’re basically looking at the intersection of humans, disaster and infrastructure,” Mostafavi said. “We want to see how we as a society interact with our infrastructure and how disasters cause disruptions in these interactions and how

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these interactions will lead to resilience behavior.”

“We want to see how we as a society interact with our infrastructure and how disasters cause disruptions in these interactions and how these interactions will lead to resilience behavior.” Mostafavi and his students examine these relationships by studying networks – connections between actors, such as city municipalities, and infrastructure readiness plans, including hazard mitigation plans, capital infrastructure networks and other community network assets. The goal is to see how well integrated actors and plans are, and how that integration affects how municipalities respond to and handle natural disasters and recovery. One case study Mostafavi provides is Hurricane Harvey,

in which some allege disaster response and recovery efforts suffered from coordination challenges. “With Harvey, some people alleged that there was a lack of coordination for disaster response and recovery,” Mostafavi said. “According to these critiques, a lot of the pains that developed were because they didn’t account for interactions between different pieces of infrastructure.” One such example Mostafavi gives is the release of water from hurricane levees shortly after the hurricane, which affected those in the Houston area. Issues with the levee release could have been identified earlier if actors were better integrated across plans and could have identified negative interactions between pieces of infrastructure. “We have methodologies we use in collaborating with the public to assess the level of integration across these response and recovery plans,” Mostafavi said. “By mapping communication


networks before Harvey, and mapping the fragmentation in the plans, we can see the connections and areas for improvement within that plan integration.” In the wake of Harvey, Mostafavi and his team are mapping these networks, observing how different agencies are coordinating with one another. The team wants to observe how the experience of Harvey will lead to more coordinated networks that would better support response and recovery efforts in the future. “The results we’ve seen are that these infrastructure actors are not fully integrated and that across these communication networks some operate in silos,” Mostafavi said.

“In the future, we want more coordinated networks, which will lead to more integrated plans and more resilient infrastructure.” Using applications of network science, the models that Mostafavi and his team are developing in response to the Harvey case study are aimed at seeing how municipalities can develop more robust communication networks across their agencies. The models will address the improvement of physical structures and the implementation of response plans for hazards. With this information, municipalities can

enact policy that will lead to a more robust and organized response network. “Our long-term goal is that in 10 years, with the interaction and understanding of these networks, we can make transformative research advances that allow real changes in the policy and procedures that are practiced by municipalities during and after these events,” Mostafavi said.

FEATURED RESEARCHER Dr. Ali Mostafavi Assistant Professor 979.845.4856 amostafavi@civil.tamu.edu www.urbanresilience-lab.com



STRENGTHENING FOUNDATIONS: PREDICTIVE MODELING RESEARCH GIVES INSIGHT INTO SOIL AND CHEMICAL STABILIZER FOUNDATION IMPACTS The structures that we work in, live in and travel on are all built on foundations. Issues with foundations are not uncommon in places such as Texas, where damage from shrinking and swelling clay soils can cause structural damage and instability.

wrong stabilizer-soil combination can lead to reactions that can

“The added cost of chemical stabilization is substantial, and so the selection of the proper stabilizer for a given soil mineral type is of paramount importance, especially when selecting the wrong stabilizer-soil combination can lead to reactions that can make the soil worse.”

Dr. Dallas Little, Snead Chair Professor and Regents Professor in the department, is using thermodynamic modeling techniques to reduce uncertainty and risk in pairing soils with chemical stabilizers, developing a model that will predict reactions that occur in soil and mineral aggregates where stabilizers are used. “Many different chemical treatments are available to stabilize soils for roads and building foundations to improve the strength and bearing capacity of these soils and reduce volumetric instability,” Little said. “The added cost of chemical stabilization is substantial, and so the selection of the proper stabilizer for a given soil mineral type is of paramount importance, especially when selecting the

make the soil worse.” While chemical stabilizers are often required to provide suitable subgrade soils for pavements and foundations, using them on large scale projects creates potential risks that can undermine structural stability or longevity. For example, a homebuilder

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may treat a foundation soil with a chemical intended to stabilize that soil to avoid foundation damage. However, according to Little, when extrapolating this to a large project, such as stabilizing the foundation soil of an interstate highway, the quantity of materials that needs to be treated to stabilize the soil, as well as the cost and risk of the project, increases exponentially. If a foundation soil has an adverse reaction from the stabilization chemicals, it can affect the life cycle of the project, and can be damaging to investors and taxpayers. Little’s methodology aims to address this issue, providing a prediction model that can help determine soil reactions when pairing one agent with a specific soil or mineral aggregate, helping contractors best determine the right fit for each project’s given soil composition. The project is being funded by private industry, including one source who is a large producer of limestone and lime.


The producer has a vested interest in determining how to avoid unfavorable reactions between limestone and various soils, including limestone and fly ash soil, which is commonly used as a replacement for portland cement, one of the most common types of cement made from limestone and clay. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to help identify key infrastructure sites to test the application of this technology,” Little said. “We are also working with a large national consulting firm to use this model to investigate the cause of a large metropolitan hospital foundation failure when the material used to build the foundation is being blamed for the failure due to a long-term chemical

reaction that has caused the foundation to shift and heave.” According to Little, thermodynamic modeling is based on physical chemistry, something that is not always a strong point among civil engineers and has been a challenge for the project.

portland cement reactions not considering soil minerals. In the latter model, we are working with the developers to add soil thermodynamic properties to their model based on cement chemistry to extend its use to soil and aggregate treatment.”

Little has worked with subject matter experts at Texas A&M in the fields of soil chemistry, soil science, materials science and chemistry to develop these models. “We intend to continue to develop this work,” Little said. “We are working with three sophisticated models, one developed in Europe specifically for

FEATURED RESEARCHER Dr. Dallas Little Snead Chair Professor and Regents Professor 979.845.9847 d-little@tamu.edu ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/dlittle



EXPLORING NEW ROADS: NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN RISK ACCESSING AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE RESEARCH Humans take calculated risks, a trait that allows us to measure, weigh decisions and respond to changing situations, such as driving.

This data will allow researchers to develop algorithms to help autonomous vehicles predict risk factors on the road and respond to challenging situations.

While many advancements have been made towards the development of autonomous vehicles, creating vehicles that can respond, anticipate and adapt to changing situations on the road is still an obstacle. Faculty from the department, in partnership with the Texas Transportation Institute, are tackling this challenge by working on a fully autonomous vehicle that is able to detect and curb potential driving risks with human drivers on the road. Dr. Ivan Damnjanovic, J.L. “Corky” Frank/Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the department, and Dr. Alireza Talebpour, an assistant professor in the department, are collecting data to develop early warning indicators for autonomous vehicles.

“People take risks and that is what is missing in autonomous cars. The cars are programmed to follow the rules, but don’t know how to measure the risk in driving and how to react.” According to Talebpour, there are decades of traffic flow theory that are being overlooked in the design of autonomous cars, and using archived and fresh data can help provide the vehicle with the kind of “common sense” knowledge humans use while driving. “The design of autonomous cars is mostly reactive to specific scenarios,” Damnjanovic said. “But we want to incorporate a

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prediction element so that the car can anticipate problems instead of having to code in something after an incident has occurred.” A self-operating vehicle must be able to detect objects, such as humans, trees and bicycles, track their trajectory in movement, and predict the safest maneuver. As humans have the intuition to make swift decisions and adapt to changing scenarios while driving, autonomous vehicles lack such intuition because they operate on a strict interpretation of the rules of the road that does not accommodate human error. To solve this problem, algorithms that enable the car to detect its environment and discover issues as they arise on the road are key. Because of the limitless number of possible scenarios that a driver can face, researchers cannot code a vehicle to be able to respond to each one in a specific manner, so the vehicle has to be able to determine the safest option for itself and others in order to have optimal functionality.


“There’s a balance, right? People take risks and that is what is missing in autonomous cars,” Talebpour said. “The cars are programmed to follow the rules, but don’t know how to measure the risk in driving and how to react.” According to Damnjanovic and Talebpour, the most substantial challenges that they face are technological challenges in terms of equipment and communication within the vehicle’s sensor technology. The challenge in autonomous cars has shifted from mechanics to technological controls in recent years. Programming the vehicle to recognize sensors within the environment is the new objective for researchers.

want to put into it, so if you can spend twice as much time in designing and testing, that is the key challenge,” said Talebpour.

Highway Traffic Safety Administration to address and mitigate the risks and public safety concerns.

Damnjanovic and Talebpour acknowledge that because this research is emerging and contingent, it will likely still take decades before autonomous vehicle integration within society is a reality.

“I think we’re going to see more people being comfortable driving with assisted systems,” said Talebpour. “They’ll be more comfortable or more trusting of these systems because they will see that this vehicle has an understanding of what’s going to happen and is going to take action to save my life before (the car) even sees the issues.”

While self-driving cars have intrigued and sparked research development internationally, there are still public concerns about autonomous vehicles making their way onto roads. The researchers have been working with the National

While technology is advancing, according to the researchers, there is still a lack of technological equipment needed for the complete development of a “common-sense” learning input for the vehicles, and that persistence and perseverance is the process for overcoming these challenges. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the time and effort you


Dr. Ivan Damnjanovic

Assistant Professor 979.845.0875 atalebpour@tamu.edu smartct.engr.tamu.edu

Associate Professor J.L. “Corky” Frank/Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC Faculty Fellow 979.862.6166 idamnjanovic@civil.tamu.edu



REPAIRING OUR NATION’S BRIDGES: RESEARCH PROVIDES NEW GUIDELINES FOR ASSESSING AND REPAIRING BRIDGE INFRASTRUCTURE America’s infrastructure is aging, so much so that analysts suspect that more than 65,000 bridges across the country are in need of repair. Those who inspect and repair these bridges have to examine them for defects and determine the best path forward, a process that can be both time consuming and costly to taxpayers. Dr. Stefan Hurlebaus, professor and division head of the department’s construction, geotechnical and structural engineering division, with Dr. Mary Beth Hueste, professor and associate department head for undergraduate programs in the department, have developed inspection guidelines for inspectors to more efficiently assess bridges so that they have critical information to determine the best solution for their repair. The guidelines apply to a variety of scenarios regarding

the assessment of bridge posttensioning systems and bridge cable-stayed systems. Post-tension (PT) systems refer to prestressing systems composed of tendons that are tensioned after the concrete element is hardened to provide strength and enhanced performance of bridges and other infrastructure, while cable-stayed systems refer to the main tension elements of cable-stayed bridges, such as the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Florida. “Let’s say you have an inventory of 100 bridges to inspect and you want to make a quick assessment of what’s going on,” Hurlebaus said. “You are mandated by cost, so you can’t focus on accuracy and we want cost effective solutions for this particular scenario. Inspectors use these guidelines to decide what method may be best for their budget or needs.”

To develop these guidelines, the research team looked at a multitude of non-destructive evaluation (NDE) methods, with the goal of determining which methods would be best for assessing the condition of bridges using PT and stay cable systems. Understanding that there are a variety of situations, including inspecting an individual bridge or a large bridge inventory, Hurlebaus and Hueste set out to provide guidelines that would allow owners and inspectors to pick the best method for assessment and repair given the available resources. The researchers tested 13 NDE techniques with five criteria, including how accurately the method detected the problem, how precise, or how replicable and reliably the method performed, the method’s technological ease of use, how it met inspection requirements, and


Dr. Stefan Hurlebaus

Professor Associate Department Head, Undergraduate Programs 979.845.1940 mhueste@tamu.edu ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/mhueste

Professor Division Head, Construction, Geotechnical and Structural Engineering Division 979.845.9570 shurlebaus@civil.tamu.edu ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/shurlebaus

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the cost of using the method. The researchers then created a decision and analysis method for inspection crews to select the best inspection technology for their needs. “We came up with flow charts where if they have some concern about a tendon defect, they

can use the chart to answer their questions and know what method is best,” Hurlebaus said. “We also developed detailed procedures for each NDE method so they use best practices when using the guidelines.” The team’s next step will be to develop new non-destructive

testing technologies for bridge systems. “The scope of this project was more or less to determine what is the best method with the current technology for a given scenario,” Hurlebaus said. “Now we want to develop new technology to do the assessments in a better fashion.”

THE CENTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE RENEWAL (CIR) Focusing on research, innovation and workforce development, the Center for Infrastructure Renewal aims to be the national leader in the development of transformative infrastructure solutions. New solutions are needed to replace today’s aging infrastructure that is in need of repair or has outlived its intended capacities. In 2015, the Texas Legislature recognized the need for new solutions and appropriated funds to create the CIR as a joint center between the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). CIR labs are innovating new materials, technologies and processes to create solutions that last longer, have lower costs and can be built in less time. The 138,000-square-foot facility houses new state-of-the-art facilities, including the following highimpact research laboratories: »» Advanced Characterization of Infrastructure Materials Lab »» Advanced Infrastructure Materials and Manufacturing Lab »» Asphalt Innovation Lab »» Connected Vehicles Lab »» Concrete Innovation Lab

»» »» »» »» »» »» »»

Expanded High Bay and Mid Bay Laboratories Intelligent Infrastructure Assessment Lab National Corrosion & Materials Reliability Lab Sensors Laboratory Smart Grids Control Center Soil/Unbound Materials Innovation Lab Structural & Materials Testing Lab

For more information, visit cir.tamu.edu or contact Dr. Zachary Grasley, director, zgrasley@tamu.edu



AFTER THE STORM: RESEARCH AUTOMATES DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, ENHANCES RECOVERY AFTER NATURAL DISASTERS In the aftermath of a natural disaster, helping people get back on their feet as quickly as possible is a high priority. However, the road to recovery can be long.

damage assessors to move more quickly in determining what efforts need to be prioritized for optimal post-disaster functionality and recovery.

In the wake of natural disasters, such as hurricanes Harvey and Maria, areas of Puerto Rico and Texas are both still recovering.

Initial findings of their work are published in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities in a paper titled “Performance Assessment of Building Infrastructure Impacted by the 2017 Hurricane Harvey in the Port Aransas Region.”

However, what if there was a way to move recovery efforts along more quickly for residents in these communities and be better prepared for such events in the future? Drs. Maria Koliou and Stephanie Paal, assistant professors in the department, are conducting new research to learn how communities both recover from natural disasters and withstand them. Koliou and Paal are working on developing ways to automate the process of damage assessment that occurs after natural disasters, allowing

“With this research, we’re interested in how the community recovers,” Koliou said. “We’re evaluating structural damage and community-level recovery that will allow us to develop a holistic framework for quantifying and enhancing community resilience following natural disasters.” During the damage assessment process, an engineer will go to an area and evaluate the state of

each individual structure, looking at what components may have been damaged. Then, based on the type of components and the extent of the damage, the engineer will give it a subjective rating: slightly damaged, moderately damaged or severely damaged, commonly associated with tagging (green, yellow or red). This rating plays a role in determining how much access a resident can have to the building, ascertaining what materials and timetables are needed for repairs and what financial support will be drawn from different government entities. “The reason we want to automate this process is because right now it’s highly subjective,” Paal said. “In the first part of the process we’re evaluating the damage and looking at what should be


Dr. Stephanie Paal

Assistant Professor 979.845.4469 maria.koliou@tamu.edu sites.google.com/view/mariakoliou

Assistant Professor 979.845.4394 spaal@civil.tamu.edu

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prioritized for recovery, so it’s important that this is as objective and accurate a process as possible.” The goal is to use machine learning, in combination with unmanned aerial systems such as drone technology, to identify key information a structural engineer would use to measure the extent of structural damage and provide a rating. According to Paal, using machine learning can provide assessment solutions that are more quantifiably meaningful to an engineer. This will provide engineers with better tools to measure the extent of the damage and piece data together, which in addition to past data and experiences, will help them develop the best path forward for recovery. The first step in making an automated damage assessment process a reality is the development of the machine learning algorithm. Koliou, Paal and their students visited the coastal community of Port Aransas, Texas, in September 2017 and again in March 2018 to conduct damage assessments utilizing engineering surveys with video and drone technology.

“One of our project goals is to develop an interface through the drone that (informs) emergency response personnel what the current state of a structure is and tells you whether it is safe to go in or not.” holistic framework for measuring the community’s level of recovery from a disaster. “The whole idea is to make these processes quick and provide safe and reliable information in real time,” Paal said. “One of our project goals is to develop an interface through the drone that (informs) emergency response personnel what the current state of a structure is and tells you whether it is safe to go in or not.” Looking to the future, Koliou and Paal are planning on performing

regular field studies every few months for the next three years to monitor recovery efforts, studying not only the built infrastructure recovery, but at how the people in the community are recovering. Their goal will be to further evaluate indicators within the communities and see what factors can expedite or slow a community’s recovery process. They are also expanding their study to other coastal areas. Using Port Aransas as a case study, they plan to develop a methodology that can be extended to quantify recovery in coastal communities and propose solutions for enhancing recovery progress. “Different systems within a community are connected,” Koliou said. “We’re trying to identify the different linkages between societal, economic and engineering aspects to identify how these attributes work together to affect the people of these communities and their lives, and how to get them back to a better quality of life following natural disasters.”

The collected data is being used to quantify the damage and recovery of the affected infrastructure as well as develop machine learning algorithms to automate damage inspections based on visual, realworld data. The end goal is to provide an interface that makes damage assessment quicker and more efficient, as well as develop a



MODELING HOW WE MOVE: ZHANG DEVELOPS PREDICTIVE MODELS TO IMPROVE TRAFFIC FLOW For those that commute to work in big cities, getting to work quickly and efficiently can be an everyday challenge. The Consumer News and Business Channel reported in 2016 that the average commuter spent about a week each year sitting in traffic jams, a statistic that continues to grow with the increasing amount of drivers on the road.

“The efficiency lies in solving congestion problems, which are commonplace in major cities,” Zhang said. “We have these devices to disseminate travel information so that we can provide predictions for real time.” A truck corridor is an area that has a large amount of traffic such as a corridor that goes to a shipping port where trucks come through with loaded freight.

One way in which the amount of time drivers spend in traffic can be reduced is the development of new predictive models on traffic flow. Dr. Yunlong Zhang, a professor in the department, is developing predictive models for traffic flow in truck corridors.

Current traffic flow models are built on predictions using data collected on a variety of vehicles. Using devices that can disseminate vehicle travel information, this data shows researchers how a number of factors can impact traffic flow.

Such models provide researchers with insight into how traffic flow is affected by different vehicles and how a variety of factors impact traffic efficiency.

One example that Zhang gives is signal timing, or the way in which stoplights change colors to manage the flow of traffic. The goal is to allow vehicles to move quickly through traffic without having to stop.

FEATURED RESEARCHER Dr. Yunlong Zhang Professor 979.845.9902 yzhang@civil.tamu.edu ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/yzhang

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However, these signal timings are built on predictions, such as what mix of vehicles is expected to be traveling on the road in that area, or how fast or slow a vehicle is expected to

travel, in conjunction with other factors. In the case of truck corridors, if an area of road is flush with trucks, it will throw the signal timing off because the predictions that govern the signal timing are based on the assumption that a group of vehicles will be traveling at a certain speed. Trucks tend to drive slower, and other drivers tend to drive slower around these trucks, so in areas where truck traffic is high, new predictive models are needed to allow more efficient travel. “When you have trucks in the mix it makes it more complicated,” Zhang said. “We thought we had a good signal timing plan but it doesn’t consider the impact of those trucks. They are not going at the same speed as passenger cars and people want to have a higher separation from those trucks, so when they go through the stop and go conditions, it’s going to change their speed time.” Gathering data and developing predictive models for traffic flows begins with what Zhang calls microscopic modeling, which is modeling an individual vehicle’s trajectory speed and how it responds to traffic. By doing this, researchers can develop a speed profile for a type of vehicle and model its intended signal performance. Researchers then take an aggregate of these vehicle profiles

ZACHRY DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL ENGINEERING | engineering.tamu.edu/civil to make the most accurate flow for an area of traffic. While working on these models, Zhang has confirmed two of his predictions about traffic performance indicators. “Every second counts,” Zhang said. “A couple of seconds off might mean you discharge one more vehicle from one lane. People might say (it’s not a) big deal, but if you are right on capacity and are one vehicle short, then it compounds where several cycles later you see it build, and it accumulates into congestion.”

“I want to see how they are moving in that kind of environment with different kinds of vehicles and how that following behavior might change when you have mixed traffic components.” Also, according to Zhang, not every vehicle is equal. Each vehicle differs substantially in

terms of its performance on traffic flow or its effect on the signal system. In the future, Zhang hopes to expand this area of research by looking into more theoretical modeling on truck behavior. “I want to continue to explore how the vehicles follow each other,” Zhang said. “I want to see how they are moving in that kind of environment with different kinds of vehicles and how that following behavior might change when you have mixed traffic components including trucks.”

BROWN NAMED STEM SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT Anita Brown, a doctoral student in the department, received a scholarship as part of the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) program. The SMART program funds the remainder of a recipient’s education in exchange for service in research roles to Department of Defense (DoD) entities following graduation. The goal of the scholarship program is to help produce the next generation of DoD science and technology leaders. “I’ll be working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Harbors, Entrances, and Structures branch of the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory,” said Brown on the nature of her work after the completion of her doctoral program.

“They do a lot of work with hydraulic structures and navigation channels and other kinds of things that my civil engineering background can help me to investigate.”

Brown is currently in the process of evaluating literature and models in relation to debris flow, looking to see how existing models might be improved, or future models developed.

Brown is acquainted with the Army’s engineer corps, having worked with them last summer on some finite element modeling research. It was there that Brown was told about the SMART program and encouraged to apply.

“This kind of research is important because there is a lot of attention around understanding how debris accumulates in certain sections of the oceans and how it interacts with structures that may be near waterways.”

As a civil engineering student, Brown is conducting research with Dr. John Niedzwecki, Cain ’13 Chair and Regent’s Professor in the department.

Brown’s goal with her research is to take the models that have been developed for specific scenarios and create a methodology that can extend to applications beyond what current models are used for.

“We’re looking at modeling debris flow during disasters such as floods and hurricanes,” Brown said. “When a storm comes and there is debris floating in a waterway, we’re looking at tracking the motion of that debris to see how it accumulates around a structure or waterway.”

“I’m excited to get the opportunity to fund the rest of my degree and also work in this capacity afterwards,” Brown said.




For engineering project management teams, time is money. With this in mind, civil engineering master’s student Morgan Boudier and four other engineering students developed a novel solution: save teams time and money with the use of specialized augmented reality software that can tell them if a project is on track. The students developed this software during the November 2017 Aggies Invent challenge. Sponsored by Dell, students were challenged to develop the next generation in augmented reality or virtual reality software, wearable devices and other platforms. “Before the event, I already had an interest in the area of virtual reality,” Boudier said. “I think it is a good way to cut cost in the industry, so what we had done is develop a software on Unix that will let a project manager track costs and losses due to project delays on construction management projects.” The software Boudier and his colleagues developed in 48 hours was specifically designed to assess walls. The software enabled a user, through a virtual reality headset, to survey a wall in front of them.

Then, looking at the wall, the user can directly compare the architectural model developed for the structure on the headset to the wall in front of them to see if it is completed yet, if there are complications, and what cost there would be due to the lost time. “With the headset, the engineer can directly see what is going on onsite, and this visual can be sent (directly) to the project manager,” Boudier said. “The idea was that you lose a lot of time with meetings and reporting, so the headset can be used to speed up this reporting by allowing you to be on site. Also, with the headset you can video stream with an expert and ask them questions in the field instead of having to gather people together for a meeting, so you’re saving both time and money.” The software that the team developed was designed to be applied to walls but has the potential for other future applications. The team consisted of Boudier, two mechanical engineering students, a computer science engineering student and a student from the Mays Business School. “It was a pretty diverse group, which was a good thing to see,”

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Boudier said. “I think working with these people from different backgrounds gave me some selfconfidence about working as a part of a team and helped me see that I could contribute good ideas for the betterment of the group.” A French native, Boudier said part of what drew him to pursue his master’s education at Texas A&M University was the handson engineering experiences like Aggies Invent that focus on real world challenges. The Aggies Invent experience, Invent for the Planet, was a worldwide event that challenged students to tackle global issues such as human rights and resource conservation through product innovation. Reflecting on his time as a participant, Boudier said the experience was well worth it and encourages others to be a part of future competitions. “I think the winners of the Aggies Invent are always the people with the best ideas,” Boudier said. “I think it shows that those with the best ideas succeed, and that you have to spend some time letting it develop in your mind, it doesn’t just happen. If I could do this again I would, it’s a great experience.”



After finals, the first thing many students think about is a relaxing break at the end of a long semester. However, 30 Aggie engineering students took that time as an opportunity to give back through a 15-day volunteer internship with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Among those students was civil engineering junior Anh Duong, who participated in the internship by assessing damages to public infrastructure sites impacted by Hurricane Harvey. “When we went to a site in Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey, I was able to shadow a site investigator at a community park that had been under about five feet of water during the flooding,” Duong said. “It was a very unique experience.” Before going out on a 10-day field exercise as part of the internship, Duong and the other engineering students attended a 40-hour certification course put on by FEMA at Texas A&M University’s main campus. They learned site inspection practices and culminated in a two-day exercise at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Disaster City® training facility in College Station.

“During the last two days, they would run us through scenarios where we would look at damaged sites, take pictures and record everything,” Duong said. “We had a week of training before we went to Houston, and I felt like the actual practice was much more beneficial to our learning experience rather than just sitting in a classroom.” Duong was paired with another student and they were assigned to a site inspector who guided them in assessing damages within the park. He was also able to interact with other FEMA engineers and drew some connections to his civil engineering education. “Getting to see different people come in during the process was cool,” Duong said. “We were able to see mitigation practices applied at the site and learn how they might reduce the damage with future structures they build there. I learned a lot; it was a really good experience.” According to Duong, the experience ultimately framed his career in a new perspective and made him think about various career paths. “Now that I have this experience, I know that it is always

something I can pursue,” he said. “I know that if I ever wanted to do something technical with FEMA, I could do the mitigation work, and working this internship has allowed me to see opportunities in areas I wouldn’t have been aware of.” Duong was also able to make connections during the internship, both with fellow Aggies and industry professionals, such as the site inspector he was teamed with. Providing the students with this FEMA public assistance program is the result of a unique partnership created as a part of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas (GCRT), which Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is the GCRT commissioner by appointment from Gov. Greg Abbott. For students like Duong, the experience has proved valuable and a true example of the Texas A&M “selfless service” core value. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this, because I got so much out of it during the short time I spent,” Duong said. “I had never planned on making these connections, but it taught me that you never know what an opportunity will bring.”



AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS TEXAS A&M STUDENT CHAPTER HOSTS 2018 TEXAS-MEXICO STUDENT SYMPOSIUM Concrete canoes, bowling balls and Frisbees. While this mix of objects sounds odd, these items are the namesakes of engineering competitions for civil engineering students who attended the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2018 ASCE Texas-Mexico Student Symposium. Held from April 11-14, the symposium, hosted by the ASCE student chapter at Texas A&M University, invited students from 21 universities in both Mexico and Texas to participate in competitions, professional networking opportunities and learning activities. The ASCE holds 19 student symposiums a year across the United States that act as qualifying rounds for the national concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions, but an additional component of this year’s symposium was having speakers and professionals give presentations on engineering soft skills. The theme for the conference was “SERVE: Engineers Serving the Public,” and included seminars on sustainability

skills to support students in their transition as learners to professionals in industry. James Gayle, the student chapter’s committee head for the symposium, is proud to be able to further the reach and impact of the symposium by allowing schools to come together and learn. “Now that we’ve transitioned this into more of a symposium it allows all these students from different places to get to network with professionals,” Gayle said. “We also hosted a career center and brought ten companies to talk about potential internships and full – time jobs to more than 400 students.” Students got to test their mettle in a steel bridge competition, where students from each school are required to design, fabricate and construct a steel bridge and test it under various loads. Each university also fielded a concrete canoe team who had their constructed canoes on display but were not able to race them on Saturday due to inclement weather. Another component of the symposium included a student

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paper competition, which allowed students to discuss and share research, and a social event so the students could relax during the symposium. “The symposium is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work for everyone involved,” Gayle said. “The social and the fun competitions we hold, like the concrete bowling and concrete Frisbee stuff, are the only times that everyone gets to relax.” The responsibility of hosting the symposium was decided two years ago, when the members placed a bid to host the symposium and won. While planning the event, the current officers of the chapter knew they wanted it to be more than just a series of competitions, which is something they felt they were able to achieve. “The student team that put this together worked really hard to make this an engaging and full event,” Gayle said. “We wanted it to be something where people were able to compete, but also have fun and learn and truly make it an event for the students.”


BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE: STUDENT RESEARCH EVALUATES LONG-TERM URBAN WATER INFRASTRUCTURE RESILIENCE Water is a resource that is in constant demand, but also has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to urban communities. These communities need resilient infrastructure systems to effectively manage water resources and plan for droughts, floods and community needs. Under the guidance of his faculty advisor assistant professor Dr. Ali Mostafavi, civil engineering doctoral student Kambiz Rasoulkhani has dedicated himself to studying the long-term resilience of water infrastructure systems in urban communities. He evaluated these communities using simulations based on current day data, creating projections on how resilient a community’s infrastructure might be over a period of 50 to 100 years in the future. The goal of his work is to predict the effects of natural disasters on a city’s long-term infrastructure sustainability, work for which he was recognized at the 2018 American Society of Civil Engineers’ Construction Research Congress. “I’m interested in applying technical and infrastructure solutions that can enhance

the urban water infrastructure resilience on both the demand and supply side of water utilities,” said Rasoulkhani. “On the demand side, I attempted to identify pathways leading toward [increased] adoption of conservation technologies for water users like you and I, and on the supply side I examined the effectiveness of physical infrastructure solutions for the water utilities professionals who are making decisions on how the water infrastructure system is managed.” In his research, Rasoulkhani used a simulation research approach, applying multi-agent based modeling to predict the long-term effects of the mechanisms underlying a water distribution infrastructure’s behavior. He has developed simulation models to capture long-term performance metrics based on data collected in cities across the country, such as Fort Collins, Colorado. “I’m not looking at just a single pipeline,” Rasoulkhani said. “I’m looking at the whole system in this, which is what is called a complex system approach. In looking at the data from Fort

Collins, we can capture the dynamics of singular and dual water distribution systems and compare them over an extended 50-year horizon through simulation to understand all the dynamics and life cycle costs.” Rasoulkhani believes these models can be used by the city decision makers to implement strategies that can improve or enhance the resilience of urban infrastructure systems and help short- and long-term recovery from disasters like droughts and floods. Moving forward, the next step in his research is to validate the findings of his study. He looks to expand his study to include coastal water infrastructure resilience by evaluating areas like Miami, Florida, that are more exposed to extreme weather events. “My ultimate goal in all of this is to help in the creation of sustainable cities,” Rasoulkhani said. “For our future, we have to make sure that we will have access to more water, we have to make sure we have infrastructure that is resilient in order to be sustainable and thrive, and this is part of that answer.”




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Zachry Department of Civil Engineering Fall 2018 Research Magazine  

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The Fall 2018 research magazine

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