UND, NDDOT partner on transportation research initiative
Partnership promises to help North Dakota develop, maintain modern transportation system
In a Feb. 27 ceremony, UND celebrated the formal dedication of a partnership with the North Dakota Department of Transportation that will provide research for the agency, while offering valuable educational opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students.
UND and NDDOT leaders gathered for the ceremony in Upson I, which now officially houses the Transportation Technology Research Institute. It is a place that will bring researchers, educators and students together for a multi-pronged initiative to develop and maintain a modern transportation system, while training a highly skilled workforce for North Dakota’s future.
UND President Andrew Armacost and senior UND leaders met with Ronald Henke, NDDOT director, and a detachment of NDDOT staff, to officially sign the partnership agreement and then christen the new research institute. Armacost thanked Henke for the opportunity to partner with the state.
“This facility and the work that will happen here at the University of North Dakota represents an important contribution by our faculty, staff members and students to the state of North Dakota as we examine the future bounds of transportation systems, here within the state and also across the nation,” Armacost said. “We are delighted that the state has made such a wonderful decision to invest in in this facility.”
Henke said the research institute is the culmination of about four years of talks between NDDOT and UND. He noted that his department has had a 20-year-relationship with North Dakota State University, and said he wants “that 20-year-relationship with UND.” Henke also spoke of educational and workforce development opportunities.
“This is a great thing for us, it’s a great for North Dakota,” Henke said. “We’re going to use the skills of these young students, and we’re going to hopefully get them interested in transportation, and maybe work for the Department of Transportation.”
Sattar Dorafshan, assistant professor of Civil Engineering, is the director of the TTRI. He thanked the roughly 30 state officials, UND administrators and professors, and graduate students for attending the ceremony. He noted that UND is one of only seven American universities with the ability to do 3D printing with concrete, and that he expects the institute to grow in the future, in its service to both students and the state.
“This is just a start,” Dorafshan said. “We are going to grow, and we are going to have more projects.”
The institute is divided into three different areas: structures, materials and unmanned aerial systems, the latter of which can be used to provided detailed bridge inspections without having to shut down lanes of traffic. UND will lead in the materials and UAS sections in coordination with NDDOT, while the state agency takes the lead in structures area, while selecting design projects for UND students.
The institute is investigating several different possibilities to maintain and improve the state’s transportation system, including the possibility of 3D printing culverts, mitigating wildlife crossing hazards through innovative structural and materials design and reducing the costs of major highway construction projects by developing reusable precast concrete to create highway crossovers.
Graduate students are already engaged in some of that research. Amalie Joergensen, a master’s student in Biology, is pursuing a study on wildlife/vehicle collisions. Alireza Hasani, a master’s student in Civil Engineering, is studying the feasibility of using 3D printing technology to create concrete pipes and culverts. Faezeh Jahavi, a Civil Engineering doctoral student, is working on using drones to gather needed data for NDDOT, data that otherwise is very difficult and time consuming to prepare.
After standing in a for a photo with those graduate students, Armacost congratulated them for participating in the nascent research institute, and said their work is significant for both the state and the University.
“If there’s one story about today, it’s the role our students play,” he said. “Our job is to make sure our students get the best experience that they possibly can, and to have you at the center of this photo that is now probably going to be published across the state, means a lot. You are the reason that we are here as a university.”