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MSU Advances Research on Roads – and What Travels on Them

There are nearly 3.95 million miles of public roads in the United States, valued at more than $1.75 trillion. Research at Michigan State University continues to discover better ways to preserve these roadways and provide more efficient passage for vehicles traveling on them.

MSU was designated as a U.S. Department of Transportation Tier 1 University Transportation Center last year and is leading a national consortium aimed at developing new strategies for extending pavement life. Karim Chatti, professor of civil and environmental engineering, leads the project, named the University Transportation Center for Highway Pavement Preservation.

Chatti said the center’s work focuses on:

  • Materials: Improved materials to extend the lives of highway systems.
  • Monitoring: Innovative sensing technologies, including wireless sensor networks and nondestructive evaluation, for identifying the onset of distress and damage.
  • Performance and management: Improved data management tools for scheduling optimal highway pavement preservation actions and strategies for better highway asset management.

“There are significant gaps in the understanding of pavement preservation,” Chatti said. “It will require a comprehensive and broadly supported program of research, development, and technology transfer to fill those gaps.” MSU is collaborating with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the University of Texas, Austin; the University of Minnesota; North Carolina A&T State University; and the University of Hawaii. “With the establishment in 2003 of MSU’s National Center for Pavement Preservation as the national clearinghouse for pavement preservation to practitioners throughout the U.S., it was only a matter of time before a research center on the subject would be established,” Chatti added.

MSU’s new federal transportation center is one solution to preserving pavement, but if the auto industry is going to meet the country’s new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by 2025, more strategies on reducing the weight of vehicles are also needed.

One promising approach is the research in composite materials being conducted by Markus Downey, a third-year doctoral student in chemical engineering at MSU. Downey was recently recognized by the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) with a scholarship and an opportunity to present his ideas on advancing fiber-reinforced polymer composites at SPE’s conference and exhibition in the fall of 2015.

Downey works at the MSU Composite Materials and Structures Center (CMSC), a 20,000-square-foot facility with eight laboratories that have the latest instrumentation for the study of composite manufacturing, performance, and durability.

His research focus is on toughening fiber-reinforced polymer composites and polymer nano composites for high-performance applications. He has published several papers in conference proceedings and has given presentations at technical conferences in the U.S. and China. He also is a U.S. patent holder.

“Through targeted improvements of both the coating on the reinforcing fibers and the surrounding polymer matrix, the energy required to propagate cracks in each of these areas should be increased to yield a substantially toughened composite,” he said. “This, in turn, can help reduce the amount of material needed for a given application, leading to weight and cost savings.”

Patricia Mroczek, Communications Manager, College of Engineering

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