The Future of Nebraska Engineering
Transportation and Infrastructure
Whether drivers travel the nation’s highways or speed 200 mph around a NASCAR racetrack, they benefit from transportation research conducted at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Christopher Tuan, associate professor of civil engineering at the Omaha campus, is developing conductive concrete that could make icy bridges less dangerous. The product is a mix of regular concrete and electrically conductive components, which allow the concrete to attain stable electrical conductivity. A thin layer of conductive concrete can generate enough heat to prevent ice from forming on a bridge deck when connected to a power source, Tuan said.
Maher Tadros, a professor in civil engineering, pioneered an ultra high-performance concrete that is comparable in strength to steel. The material can be used in bridges and buildings, as well as security facilities. “The toughness is created by using very tiny steel fibers—also used in steel-belted tires,” Tadros said. “This makes it very difficult for bombs or shells to penetrate.” Tadros also developed the NU I-Girder, a system that allows bridges to have longer spans and shallower structural depth, the inverted Tee bridge system for short-span bridges and NUDECK, a UNL-patented system for building bridge decks, which makes bridge construction faster and increases the bridge’s lifespan. Most recently, Tadros has developed the NUTie. Made of fiber-reinforced plastic, the NUTie can be used in construction to create stronger and more energy-efficient walls.
Civil engineering professor Laurence Rilett is working with the Nebraska Department of Roads to develop a state-of-the-art microsimulation model for Nebraska’s state highway system. The model is calibrated to current traffic and road conditions to assess traffic flow characteristics, driver behavior and traffic control operations. Rilett, director of the Mid-America Transportation System (MATC), is using a section of Interstate 80 between Lincoln and Omaha as a test area. In addition, Rilett and Dean Sicking, professor of civil engineering, are working to create the Nebraska Transportation Center, which would bring together all the transportation programs in the university system, including MATC, Midwest Roadside Safety Facility (MwRSF), and the National Bridge Research Organization (NaBRO), all civil engineering programs, the Nebraska Safety Center at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Rilett said he hopes the center becomes the premiere transportation systems engineering program in the Midwest, and one of the top programs in the country. “I believe our goal is very achievable,” Rilett said. “We have a dedicated group of faculty and many research opportunities with both government and private agencies.” And, he added, students will be the primary beneficiaries of the center’s efforts.
“The big advantage in doing this is that we’ll be able to raise the recognition level of transportation research at the University of Nebraska,” Sicking said. “People recognize individual names, but don’t always associate those names with the university. When we work together as a team and under the same flag, we become much stronger.”
Sicking, director of the MwRSF, along with other UNL researchers, was instrumental in developing the award-winning SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barrier, which is installed at racetracks throughout the country, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The barrier absorbs energy to reduce the crash’s impact, and then distributes energy over the wall without forcing the vehicle back into traffic. SAFER won Autosport’s Pioneering and Innovation Award in 2004.
At the Peter Kiewit Institute, the Intelligent Transportation Systems, Information and Infrastructure Laboratory, which is part of MATC, houses a fully functional traffic management center to observe several intersections in the area so researchers can better understand traffic patterns and traffic management. Elizabeth Jones, associate professor of civil engineering, developed a traveling laboratory “that allows researchers to do detailed traffic studies in a wide variety of locations and collect detailed traffic data, then analyze it on the fly,” Jones said.
Nebraska has been at the forefront of bridge technology and Atorod Azizinamini is one of the leaders. Azizinamini, the director of NaBRO, is committed to developing new technologies and one of the major research
areas is developing high-performance steel (HPS), an advanced material developed by the Navy and the steel industry in 1995. The first HPS bridge, located in Sidney, opened to traffic in 1997; a similar bridge opened in Grand Island in 2003. “For such a small state to develop
such a large number of innovative concepts and implement them in the field is simply amazing,” he said.