In the Field
Civil engineering students team up for field research
In summer 2020, a team of graduate and undergraduate students assisted in the construction of two testing strips at the Purdue Center for Aging Infrastructure (CAI) Steel Bridge Research, Inspection, Training and Engineering (S-BRITE) Center. The project, aimed at developing guidelines for control of the properties of aggregate drainage layers used in pavement structures, is funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).
“This was a major operation with significant large equipment brought to the site,” said Marika Santagata, professor of civil engineering, who led the research team. “We relied on INDOT and on specialty contractors to replicate the construction methods employed in practice, including those for cement stabilization of the subgrade and for placement and compaction of the aggregate.”
Following construction, the strips were utilized as test beds for an extensive experimental program to measure the compaction and permeability properties of the aggregate layers. The team was in the field almost daily between August and November under the strict guidelines resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Philippe Bourdeau, professor emeritus of civil engineering, and Peter Becker, a soil foundation engineer at INDOT’s Division of Research and Development, served as co-principal investigators, with two geotech graduate students, Kike Garzon Sabogal and Amy Getchell, taking responsibility for field operations and data analysis.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for students, with exposure to the challenges associated with conducting testing on a large scale under the constraints of operating within a schedule defined by contractors and weather,” Santagata said. “Away from the lab, things get complicated and our ingenuity was continuously tested. We had to setup temporary experimental stations out of the backs of our cars and use small mobile carts to move around the strip. Despite this, after weeks of working from home, being together as a team and making progress on the project was exactly what we all needed.”
Undergraduate researcher Matthew Halverson, who assisted in performing in-situ density tests under the guidance of Vince Drnevich, professor emeritus, said his experience out in the field greatly expanded his understanding and appreciation for civil engineering.
“What I’ve been able to take away from my experience I’m confident I’ll be able to put to good use toward my career,” Halverson said. “It was a great project to be a part of.”
Fellow undergraduate researcher Alexander Landyshev said that he was both surprised and appreciative that he was treated like a member of the team and not just a student on the project.
“Looking back on it, I feel really fortunate to have been part of the team,” Landyshev said. “I was given a lot of responsibility and autonomy to perform our tests. It really offered me a greater perspective of what civil engineering researchers do.”
Santagata said that including undergraduate researchers is one of the reasons why the University is known for producing graduates who are able to hit the ground running when they become professionals.
“Research like this greatly expands students’ experience and gives them a real sense of what is in store for them as professionals,” she said. “These research opportunities also propel their understanding and grasp of civil engineering in the classroom.”
As for what is next for the project, Santagata plans to conduct additional testing at INDOT construction sites this coming summer. In the meantime, her team will be focusing on data analysis and comparison of field results with laboratory test data.