Bahnick to receive TE Connectivity Excellence in Engineering Award

June 26, 2018

 Out of a total 1800 applicants, Civil and Environmental Engineering junior Raychel Bahnick was one of twenty students awarded the TE Connectivity Excellence in Engineering Scholarship. The scholarship is designed to grant full-time engineering students from underrepresented backgrounds $5,000 in financial relief. In order to qualify, applicants have to demonstrate a number of strengths, from administrative details like their GPA, to an essay enumerating their interests in engineering.

It was initially a challenge for Bahnick. Made aware of the award through her connection and participation in the Society of Women Engineers, she passed on her opportunity last year, overwhelmed by her responsibilities in academia. This year, however, Bahnick felt emboldened to take a chance, and secured the letters of recommendation and materials required for application.

“This year I was more on the ball," said Bahnick. "I think that stops a lot of people, because the applicant pool is through SWE and that’s big, so you don’t think you’ll get it.”

Environmental Stewardship

Hailing from Owensboro, Kentucky, Bahnick grew up in an engineering household, as her father was an engineer. Encouraged by his experience, she decided to pursue her degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering as a platform to serve as a steward to her environment. Making the world a little healthier and better off in her wake is a priority that she has long fostered.

“I remember Pope Francis when he came along, I was in middle school or younger, and he was really into environmental causes. He made the point that it was part of the Catholic way to take care of the Earth,” said Bahnick. “In high school I started an environmental club, and we planted a tree that we called Pope Francis.”

It grew from there. Since high school, Bahnick has participated in the Sierra Club, and Watershed Watch, an organization that monitors waterways for intrusive substances, elements that might contaminate the biodiversity of the surrounding area. That passion led her to the Army Corps of Engineers, where she continues to work part time as a day-internship, helping resolve water related problems in the area that require her burgeoning engineering expertise.

Looking towards the future

Her interest in environmentalism is what led to her decision to join the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and her subsequent professional and extracurricular pursuits. Bahnick is overwhelmed at her success, and humbled by her recognition.

“’I’ve applied for a lot of scholarships and never gotten one,” she said. “It felt rewarding to be acknowledged.”

Bahnick will receive the award at the SWE National Convention in Minneapolis in October 18 to 20. An SWE Future Leader, her trip is paid for as part of her service, which includes her work with community outreach.

Dr. Omid Ghasemi Fare Explores Geothermal Energy

May 22, 2018

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently granted Dr. Omid Ghasemi Fare, faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, an award for $8,200 for his research into geothermal heating, the first portion of a total $263, 473 sum, which runs for three more years. The project looks to utilize the existing geothermal energies, ambient heat trapped in the ground, to help keep bridges clear of ice by installing tubing that runs underneath the pavement, providing heating through shallow geothermal energy.

An Iranian native, Ghasemi Fare became interested in geothermal energies initially during his time at Sharif University in Tehran. With three active fault lines in Tehran, Iran, he began his research with an emphasis on geotechnical earthquake engineering. Through that process, he developed an understanding of the sandy soil behavior during the earthquake. After attending a conference on geothermal energy, Ghasemi Fare shifted his focus to geothermal energy piles in the United States in an effort to help best combat climate change.

For Ghasemi Fare, geothermal provides an opportunity for renewable, sustainable energy, one that works best in places that experience temperature extremes, like Iran or Kentucky.

“The areas that have the most climate variation are good, so Kentucky is good. Areas like Arizona or Florida, where it’s warmer regularly, harnessing geothermal energy might not be as efficient," said Ghasemi Fare. The system for geothermal, at the five meter mark, the temperature is constant, above that it’s variable. The first layer of the soil is varied, but 5 to 8 meters down, it’s a constant temperature. This works as a battery to charge and recharge.”

Working with the KY transportation cabinet to harvest energy from the ground below the slab, the goal is to embed tubing underneath existing roadways, existing asphalt layers, to prove the viability of the resource as a renewable source of power, that has the supplemental value of increasing public safety.

“In Europe, they’re beginning to use this type of energy. They’re working on using energy piles, using geothermal piles, they are really building it, not just testing it," he said. "In the U.S., we’re still testing it. There is not just one application in which we use it.”

Set in Stone: Dr. Mark McGinley receives award for concrete research, named Masonry Society Fellow

Mark McGinleyDr. W. Mark McGinley has an affinity for stone, not only through his teaching service as the Endowed Chair in Infrastructure Research and Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, but through his 26 years of service in the Masonry Society. Through his experience and commitment to the process of masonry, McGinley was recently named as a Fellow of the Masonry Society, one of only 38 in the organization to receive that distinction in its approximately 40 year history.

“To be relevant to teach students, you have to practice. Otherwise they know,” says McGinley, “If you can’t bring in practical knowledge, you just don’t hold their respect. You can teach the basics, you can teach the tools, but if you’re teaching senior design, you have to have practiced.”

Reflecting that dedication to his teaching and masonic studies, McGinley, in tandem with the Conn Center for Renewable Energy recently received a $1 million, 2-year public-private partnership selected for funding by the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. The purpose of the award is to study the process efficiency through the use of smart manufacturing techniques in cement manufacturing. The project is set to start this upcoming September.

A concrete plan

A component of concrete, which is one of the most largely used building materials in the world, the current process for creating cement is incredibly energy intensive. The process involves grinding elements including limestone and clay, and heating that using a rotary kiln. There, the materials need to be heated to approximately 1200 to 1400 degrees Celsius, but the kilns are typically primed for 1800 degrees in total, because of uncertainty as to the specific temperature of the materials while in the kiln.

“What we’re going to do is use smart manufacturing processes. If we can shave off 400 degrees, that represents a 20% reduction in cost for energy use,” says McGinley “We’re trying to reduce the amount of changes in the systems. How do you control it, how do you change the system, using these learning algorithms.”

He is joined by colleagues including Conn Center director Dr. Mahendra Sunkara, Dr. Thad Druffel, Dr. Mike McIntire, and Dr. Farag and his post-doc student. With the work split among the team, they are currently working at validating a numerical model, which they hope to port down in their second (and final year) of the project if possible.

McGinley and his colleagues hope to elevate the process in the United States to keep the country positioned as a global innovator on manufacturing. Ultimately, the process could be applied to a number of manufacturing systems that feature big centering dynamics like fire as part of the process. If so, the team may be able to solicit sponsorship to continue their work in efficiency.

“No one has done the research to see what there is to do,” says McGinley. “If this is successful we believe it can be ported down for the cement industry, which is the one of the largest industries in the world. This is the first step on that road.”


As part of the Masonry Society, McGinley has worked for decades to further the knowledge and employment of masonry techniques, both through his work as an educator, and his service to the society. In that time, he has served as a number of appointed positions, including his current role as the Secretary Treasurer. McGinley admits that he will likely serve a tenure as President in four years as well. But he admits his recent designation of fellow as a humbling experience.

“They have a fellow designation that I did not know I was being nominated for; you can’t self-nominate,” says McGinley. “It’s not a huge organization, but it’s reasonably prestigious.”

Dr. Richard Li Receives Grant For Automated Driving Research

May 22, 2018

Tucked quietly away in WS Speed Hall is the Center for Transportation Innovation directed by Assistant Professor Dr. Richard Li, a member of the Department Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) who focuses on Transportation Engineering. Li was recently awarded an EVPRI grant, as well as a KYTC grant for his work on “Assessing Kentucky Drivers Acceptance and Behaviors of Automated Driving.” He uses his center to conduct tests on the various mechanisms required for autonomous automated vehicles -self-driving cars- to respond under a host of conditions, a precursor to the inevitable deployment of AI piloted transportation.

“In fact, many auto manufacturers, shared mobility companies such as Uber, as well as tech companies such as Waymo, have already been testing their automated vehicles on public roads," Li said. "Most companies claim that they plan to release their autonomous vehicle models around 2020-2025.”

His current research is directed at evaluating the public acceptance of automated vehicles, model and evaluate driver’s behaviors at different levels of the automated driving via quantitative and qualitative analysis.

While there is a lot of competition from industry in terms of manufacturing safe and reliable vehicles, researchers in CEE are an essential component to helping to keep the roads safe by helping informing decision makers with logistical needs to support the influx of automated vehicles.

“The foundation Civil Engineering can lay for AV implementation is focused on the following aspects: policy support, infrastructure readiness, data support readiness, safety support, and mobility enhancement," said Li. "In my opinion, these five aspects are sequential.”

In order to satisfy those concerns, researchers need to remain a step ahead by collecting data on what to expect, from traffic flow, from roadway inventory data to real-time traffic and closures. Funded by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Li’s research will focus on the collection of data to help identify problems in advance to help provide qualitative and quantitative information to KYTC and the state government for making decisions on policies related to automated vehicles legislation, developing road map, and field testing.

“We will invite Kentucky drivers, and perform driving simulation experiment, collect data and evaluate driver’s behaviors and safety performance under automation levels 0, 2, 3, and 4," Li said. "At the same time, we will conduct a statewide public survey to assess the public acceptance of the automated vehicle technology, and understand the affordability, and desired automated vehicle transportation serviced by the Kentucky public.”

The project began on April 1st, 2018 and is expected to continue until June 30th, 2020, a continuation of his overall research initiatives in smart cars.

ASCE Team Places Second in Concrete Bat Competition

April 27, 2018

 The American Society of Civil Engineers took home second place this year at the annual Regional ASCE Ohio Valley Student Conference in Athens, Ohio. Held the weekend of April 12th-14th, the Speed team included Abby Miles and Jeremiah Partin, both juniors in department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The team participated in a number of the events this time, including the surveying and concrete bat competitions. The team took this year to regroup on the concrete canoe project, another popular competition at the ASCE meet, focusing instead on the concrete bat project, which ultimately yielded a second place victory, as well as plenty of practical field experience working with the material.

Practice Swing

The competition features around 430 students from 15 colleges, features rules for the competition which includes length and material density parameters, taking the practicality of the object along with the aesthetic design into equal consideration. The length of the bat is set between 27 and 35 inches, with a maximum half an inch amount of rebar, which requires an additional half an inch of concrete around it for safety reasons. The Speed Team went with a total of 33 inches to allow a little room for error, with a total weight of about 5.12 lbs.

According to Partin, “That comes out to most baseball players that come out to a pitchers, and that bat weighed about two bats.”

In addition to aesthetic and design requirement, the bat needed to work. Team members lined up to hit a softball off of a tee, garnering points based on how far the ball traveled. At bat was Miles, who managed to land within the top three in terms of distance achieve, hitting the ball around 156 feet, the equivalent of an outfield hit.

Earned Run Average

Both Miles and Partin, who have remained part of the ASCE Speed team for several years, look forward to their next opportunity. They see their second place victory as a start point, not the end, but maintain an optimistic attitude towards their experience as a chance to learn.

Partin explains, “With both that concrete canoe and this bat, our designs were solid. We didn’t win any of the races. With our concrete bat, we had a very light design, but we didn’t achieve any of our goals.”

Miles pulled equally from their work on the concrete canoe to build this year’s bat. She says, “We’ll go back next year. We had a really good concrete design (last year), but I think that could be improved on that.”