Department of

Civil and Environmental Engineering


Researchers obtain patent for new process that converts waste heat into hydrogen

October 29, 2015
By Jennifer Matthews

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —Researchers from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State have discovered an effective method to convert waste heat into hydrogen gas without the use of fossil fuels. 

They were awarded a U.S. patent on Aug. 18 for their efforts.

“Existing methods are already very effective at making hydrogen gas,” said Bruce Logan, Evan Pugh Professor of Environmental Engineering. “The problem is that these methods consume fossil fuels in order to generate enough energy to create the hydrogen gas.”

In response to this dilemma, Logan, along with former graduate student Roland Cusick, assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and postdoctoral researcher Younggy Kim, assistant professor at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, discovered a new method for making hydrogen gas that does not require the use of fossil fuels. In this method, the researchers are able to effectively produce hydrogen gas using energy stored in ammonium bicarbonate (a heat regenerable salt) and solar heat or waste heat (like that available at power plants).  

“Since the new system runs on waste heat, it is effectively carbon neutral and fossil fuel neutral,” Logan said.

The patent, U.S. patent number 9,112,217, “Reverse electrodialysis supported microbial fuel cells and microbial electrolysis cells,” describes the process.

Ammonium bicarbonate and water are separated into high and low salt concentration streams using distillation, much like the process for distilling alcohol. Those streams are then fed into a reverse electrodialysis stack, which consists of a series of alternating charge (cation and anion) ion exchange membranes. This process creates an electrochemical reaction that splits water and forms oxygen at one electrode and produces hydrogen gas at the other electrode. 

That hydrogen can then be used on site, for example to make ammonia, or it can be compressed and containerized for a variety of other purposes.

Previous similar systems have been designed to create electrical power from high and low salt concentration solutions, such as freshwater and seawater solutions. However, this is the first device created specifically for hydrogen gas production.

“Many countries are limiting carbon emissions, and thus new carbon neutral methods are needed to produce transportable fuels,” Logan said. “This process can help with both of those goals.”

The new method can be used on a large scale but is not yet economical due to the cost of the membranes. The researchers hope to find more economical solutions to this problem.

“The next step is the development of very inexpensive membranes that can be produced in large amounts, similar to that done today for reverse osmosis membranes used for drinking water,” Logan said. “The production of such low cost membranes could help stimulate a new industry in sustainable hydrogen gas production.”

Pietrucha named president of transportation group's research, education division

October 28, 2015
By Jennifer Matthews

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —Martin Pietrucha, professor of civil engineering and director of the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State, was recently elected president of the research and education division of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

His appointment began Sept. 28 at the ARTBA national convention in Philadelphia.

“So many other outstanding academics in the transportation field have held this position,” Pietrucha said. “I am elated to be counted among them.”

ARTBA is the oldest and most respected national transportation construction-related association in the U.S. and has been recognized as an industry leader in growing and protecting the transportation construction market.

The research and education division helps this effort by shaping national research policy and supporting ARTBA’s advocacy and educational efforts on behalf of increased federal funding for transportation research, education and training. They also raise awareness and educate industry stakeholders, such as contractors, transportation officials and design professionals about the importance of research, education and training efforts by member institutions.

As president of the division, Pietrucha will provide strategic direction for division activities and act as a member of the overall ARTBA Executive Committee.

Pietrucha has been involved in ARTBA activities for more than 15 years. He is also a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and was president of the Council of University Transportation Centers, an organization of university-based transportation research, education and outreach units. He has also served as chair for the Transportation Research Board’s Traffic Control Devices Committee, ASCE’s Traffic and Highway Safety Committee and ITE’s Education Council.

Pietrucha, who joined the Penn State faculty in 1990, received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, his master's degree in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and his doctorate degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland.

Pietrucha to step down as director of Larson Transportation Institute

October 27, 2015
By Stefanie Tomlinson

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After seven years of dedicated service, Martin Pietrucha has expressed his intention to step down as director of theThomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute (LTI) at Penn State.

During Pietrucha's tenure, the LTI has grown in several directions and become one of the leading such institutes for transportation research, education and service in the United States.

According to Amr Elnshai, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering, "Martin has done an outstanding job to balance and advance the multiple directions of the Larson Institute, while maintaining an active role in his home department of civil engineering. We are indebted to his service over these many years."

A national search will be conducted to identify a new director for LTI. Patrick Fox, head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State, will chair the search committee. Pietrucha has agreed to remain in his position until a new director is appointed.

"The Larson Institute has been a huge part of my professional life since the first day I set foot on the Penn State campus. I am happy to have played a small role in its continuing success and growth, which is largely due to the continuing efforts of our outstanding faculty, exceptional students and dedicated staff," said Pietrucha.

Pietrucha joined Penn State in 1990 as an assistant professor of civil engineering.

He currently serves as president of the research and education division of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, a federation whose primary goal is to aggressively grow and protect transportation infrastructure investment to meet the public and business demand for safe and efficient travel. Prior to that, he served as the president of the Council of University Transportation Centers, a consortium of university-based transportation research units.

Founded in 1968, the Larson Institute brings together top faculty, world-class facilities, and enterprising students from across the University in partnership with public and private stakeholders to address critical transportation-related challenges.

Passing the test: Penn State is test crashing vehicles to help protect U.S. embassies around the world

October 20, 2015
By Jennifer Struble

The truck driver blasts the horn. He's ready to go.

Huddled under a canopy nearby to escape the smoldering midday sun, a team of observers ready their equipment -- straightening camera straps and clicking away on computer keyboards. What they've come to see will only take about a minute, but it's the culmination of months (and sometimes years) of work. They want to be ready.

The driver slowly advances the small, cobalt flatbed truck down the straight track stretched out in front of him. A cable bound in pulleys and attached to the truck's hitch extends behind the bed and parallels the truck back down the track, where it's affixed to the front of another small truck (this one white and with the phrase "Fighting Terrorism Together" affixed to the side).

The cobalt truck pulls the white truck forward, steadily increasing speed until the white truck reaches 30 mph. The observers begin clicking their cameras, capturing digital images and video only moments before the white truck slams head first into the granite barrier, coming to rest in a cloud of dust and debris.

The collision isn't unexpected. In fact, it's a meticulously planned and executed series of events led by Penn State Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute faculty and staff, who are using technology to help design safety barriers that protect U.S. embassies overseas.

Charged with safeguarding U.S. assets domestically and abroad, the U.S. Department of State awarded the Larson Institute a multi-million dollar award in 2010 to conceptualize, research, simulate, build and test safety barriers like those seen in front of monuments, memorials and the White House. Crash tests conducted at the Larson Institute's test track facility -- a 1-mile, oval roadway surrounded by farmland and located roughly 6 miles north of University Park campus -- are one of the later steps in the process.

Zoltan Rado, senior research associate at the Larson Institute in the College of Engineering, has been leading the team of faculty and staff working on the project for the past five years and was involved in the barrier design process from the beginning.

"When staff in the State Department go abroad to build a new embassy, they are facing local codes and requirements that define what they can do with the safety barriers for the building -- how far outside the property they can go, how deep they can dig and parameters around what the barriers can look like," said Rado. "After they know what restrictions they have, they contact us and we start conceptualizing different possibilities as a team. It actually starts off very rudimentary, with just a pencil and some paper."

After weeding out the unattractive designs, Larson Institute and State Department staff collaborate on a final plan -- one that's both feasible to build and fulfills the State Department's restrictions for each particular building.

"Once we have the final design, we create engineering drawings, which are used for construction and manufacturing," said Rado. "The parameters of these drawings are entered into special simulation software, which allows us to reproduce the crash electronically before building anything with physical materials."

This high-quality simulation software, called LS-DYNA, allows Rado and his staff to emulate and manipulate the conditions of every single property within the proposed barrier design -- from the size and weight of the barrier to the type of soil it will be partially buried in.

"LS-DYNA divides every structure we are testing into tiny elements, and then they have tiny elements and so on," said Rado. "There are hundreds of thousands of elements in this engineering drawing once it's entered into the software, and each one can affect the outcome of a simulated crash. We need to make sure we're very precise when using LS-DYNA, or it could completely throw off our expected success when we move to a physical test."

Tong Qiu, associate professor of civil engineering, said the team will collaborate with the State Department to move ahead with a crash test if the simulation results indicate the proposed barrier will pass test criteria defined by ASTM International.

"ASTM International has three criteria for passing a test -- P1, P2 and P3, with P1 being the most strict," said Qiu. "To pass the P1 criteria, which is what we try to do, the vehicle cannot penetrate more than 1 meter beyond the barrier when it crashes into the barrier going either 30 mph or 50 mph, depending on the type of barrier that's being tested."

Barriers, like the crash vehicles at the Larson Institute's test track, can come in all shapes and sizes. Qiu, Rado and the rest of the team focus on two types of barrier designs: landscape and streetscape.

"Landscape barriers are what most people think of when they think of safety barriers -- thick slabs of concrete lined up together in front of what needs protection," said Rado. "Some countries require a barrier that blends into the scenery better, so they want streetscape barriers. These barriers look nondescript, like a bench or street light, but they can withstand the force of a heavy vehicle."

Back at the test track, staff, graduate students and a State Department representative evaluate the landscape barrier to see how it held up to the impact of the white truck. The flowers the team placed around the barrier, just as they would be at a State Department site, lay scattered on their sides, still in their plastic pots, having been run over during the test.

Circling the barrier, which is partially imbedded in mulch-topped soil, the researchers take note of how close to a white chalk line -- the ASTM test indicator -- the truck pushed the barrier. This particular barrier seems to have passed the P1 rating criteria. Once approved for use, it will join the rest of the Larson Institute's barriers in a catalog the State Department provides for existing and future U.S. embassies.

"We've designed several barrier systems with the State Department," said Qiu. "They give us a lot of freedom to explore ideas, and we've given them a lot of things they can use to protect people around the world. The collaboration between the State Department and Penn State has been fantastic, and we're excited that our work is helping so many others."

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Inaugural Humanitarian Materials Awards Announced at Materials Day

October 19, 2015
By Walt Mills

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The winners of the first annual MRI Humanitarian Materials Initiative awards, sponsored by Covestro LLC (formerly Bayer MaterialScience LLC) and the Materials Research Institute (MRI), were announced at Materials Day 2015 on the University Park campus.

The MRI Humanitarian Materials Initiative seeks to support ongoing research that is aimed at providing long-term and sustainable solutions to problems in under resourced regions of the world. By bringing world-class materials science and engineering expertise to bear on such issues as materials for clean water and sanitation in remote areas; materials for small-scale, clean electricity generation and storage; low-cost durable and functional shelters; and point-of-care medical technologies, the Penn State Materials Research Institute hopes to attract visionary faculty and students with an interest in transitioning materials technologies to contribute to these real-world issues.

Thirteen faculty-led teams submitted proposals and three winners were chosen.

• “Moringa-coated sand filters as a sustainable solution to clean water” is a project led by Stephanie Velegol, instructor in civil and environmental engineering, Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Michael Erdman, director of Engineering Leadership Development in the College of Engineering, and Bashir Yusuf of Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria. This ongoing project hopes to improve on the water purifying capability of the seed of the Moringa tree, which grows in equatorial regions around the globe, and can be used as a natural antimicrobial to help clean dirty water. The inventors will use the $15,000 prize to fund four students, undergraduate and graduate, to do research toward improving the Moringa-coated sand filter and for travel to Nigeria to test the training of local residents in the technology. It is estimated that one billion people around the world lack access to clean water.

• “Thermal stabilization of vaccines for the developing world” proposed by Melik Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics, and including two undergraduate students, would seek to prove the ability to stabilize and preserve biologically active agents used in vaccines, focusing on heat-stable rotavirus vaccine. Rotavirus is a cause of severe diarrhea responsible for the deaths of 600, 000 infants and young children each year in developing countries. Based on a novel material, they proposed to obtain superior thermal and mechanical properties in hot and wet environments. The award will provide for viral stabilization research and field testing.

• “Guatemala roofing panels made from recycled PET,” by Jason Williams, head of the Medical Plastics Center of Excellence, and Jonathan Meckley, chair of Plastics Engineering Technology at Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering. This project would use shredded plastic water and soda bottles to make inexpensive roofing to replace worn out corrugated metal roofing in remote villages in Guatemala. The goal is to create and test a molding process that can be used by the villagers to create their own plastic roofing panels on site. They will design and test an oven capable of using common biomass available nearby, and create procedures for sintering the plastic that will minimize the risk of undersintered panels.

All of the awards are meant to support undergraduate or graduate researchers and potentially lead to further federal or philanthropic funding.

MRI Director Clive Randall said, “Our initial call for proposals attracted a strong field of candidates, with many more worthy projects than we could fund at this time. We thank Covestro for their generous support. In the future we want to continue and expand on the program. If other corporate sponsors wish to learn more about the MRI Humanitarian Materials Initiative, please contact me or our Industry Relations Manager Dave Fecko.”

About Covestro LLC:
Covestro LLC is one of the leading producers of high-performance polymers in North America and is part of the global Covestro business. Covestro manufactures high-tech polymer materials and develops innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and sports and leisure industries. The Covestro group has 30 production sites around the globe and employed approximately 14,200 people at the end of 2014. Covestro is a Bayer Group company.

Study: Elevated organic compounds in Pennsylvania drinking water from hydraulic fracturing surface operations, not gas wells

October 12, 2015

By William Weir
Yale News

In the largest study of its kind, a Yale-led investigation found no evidence that trace contamination of organic compounds in drinking water wells near the Marcellus Shale in northeastern Pennsylvania came from deep hydraulic fracturing shale horizons, underground storage tanks, well casing failures, or surface waste containment ponds.

The presence of organic compounds in groundwater aquifers overlying the Marcellus Shale is likely the result of surface releases from hydraulic fracturing operations and not migration from gas wells or deep shale layers, according to researchers in the lab of Desiree L. Plata, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale. The results of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Brian Drollette, a Ph.D. student in Plata’s lab, is the lead author.

Due to its vast reserves of natural gas, the Marcellus Shale has become an active site for hydraulic fracturing. During a period of rapid natural gas well expansion, the researchers regularly visited the northeastern region of Pennsylvania, covering about 7,400 square kilometers, over three years and obtained 64 samples from the drinking water wells of residential properties.

Using a suite of chemical analyses, the researchers found that a subset of the groundwater samples contained low levels of organic compounds in areas close to natural gas wells. The analyses also indicated that these compounds most likely entered the groundwater supply from gas extraction operations above the ground surface — and not subsurface migration.

“These tests showed that there is some separation, both in space and time, of the materials that they’re injecting into the deep horizons and the groundwater sources,” Plata said.

A compound-specific analysis also revealed the presence of a hydraulic fracturing fluid additive in the affected water samples. Chemicals found in the water did not exceed any state or federal limits, and many were detected only because the researchers were using sophisticated and very sensitive instruments. None of the contaminants were derived from the shale itself.

“The dominant chemicals that we found are industrial-sourced materials and don’t have any known natural sources,” Plata said.

Due to limited data, it’s difficult to compare the rate of these spills to other types of fuel spills, the researchers said. “In general, there is a risk in any industrial activity associated with accidental failures, and we can’t compare this industry to any other fuel extraction or transport process without knowing the relative volumes of spilled and transported materials,” Plata said.

The researchers said the results are encouraging, since surface violations are known entities and the drinking water sources that have been affected by the surface spills can be targeted for monitoring and treatment.

In both geographic area and quantity of samples, the study is the largest to look at the distribution of organic chemicals related to hydraulic fracturing operations. Plata noted, however, that the study results shouldn’t be used to draw conclusions about the effects of hydraulic fracturing in other regions.

“Subsurface geology is wildly different across the United States,” she said. “While there are shale deposits across the country, the geology above those shale deposits is highly variable, so in some places you might have much different communication between the deep formation fluids and the shallow ground water.”

The study’s other co-authors are Kathrin Hoelzer and Martin Elsner, Helmholtz Zentrum München; Nathaniel R. Warner, Pennsylvania State University; Osman Karatum, Megan P. O’Connor, and Avner Vengosh, Duke University; Thomas H. Darrah, Ohio State University; Robert K. Nelson and Christopher M. Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Loretta A. Fernandez, Northeastern University; and Robert B. Jackson, Stanford University.

Hankin Lecture to focus on movement toward sustainable housing recovery

October 9, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dan Fulton, retired president and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Company, will deliver the 2015 Hankin Lecture at 4 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

The event is free and open to the public. An informal reception will follow.

His lecture, titled “'Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me': Waiting for the Breakout of Household Formation That’s Needed to Drive a Sustainable Housing Recovery,” will take its lead from the title of Richard Fariña’s 1966 book by the same name. The presentation will summarize the data behind this unprecedented housing downturn and what signals the steady movement toward recovery.

Fulton spent 38 years at Weyerhaeuser, one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world, where he held a number of roles throughout the organization, primarily in the areas of real estate finance, land development and homebuilding.

During his tenure as CEO at Weyerhaeuser, Fulton was a member of the Business Roundtable (BRT), where he served as the chair of the BRT Housing Subcommittee, and he is past chair of the Washington Roundtable, where he continues as a member of the Executive Committee. He also served on the boards of a number of industry associations, including the National Alliance of Forest Owners, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, the Sustainable Forest Initiative, and the American Forest and Paper Association.

Fulton is a director of Saltchuk Resources, a privately owned Seattle company primarily engaged in transportation and distribution, and is a director of TRI Pointe Homes, which became a Top 10 homebuilder in 2014 through its merger with the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company. He is also the past chair of the Policy Advisory Board of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, where he continues to serve as an Executive Fellow.

Fulton, a Pennsylvania native, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Miami University (Ohio) in 1970 and a master of business administration degree in finance from the University of Washington in 1976, and he completed the Stanford University Executive Program in 2001.

Established in 2006 in honor of the late Bernard Hankin, the Hankin Distinguished Lecture Series brings world-class speakers to Penn State to address students and faculty with thought-provoking topics and education.

Civil engineering student chapter wins national community service award

October 8, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently won the ASCE 2015 Richard J. Scranton Outstanding Community Service Award for their efforts with Bridges to Prosperity.

Bridges to Prosperity partners with other organizations and professionals to provide access to health care, education and markets by teaching communities how to build footbridges over impassable rivers.

Penn State’s Bridges to Prosperity student chapter, which was founded in 2013, has spent the last two years traveling to rural communities in Panama to educate residents and assist in the construction of pedestrian footbridges.

Their most recent trip in June was to the remote village of Tucuecito, Panama.

“Bridges to Prosperity teaches students how to work in teams and with people of different cultures,” said Thomas Skibinski, civil engineering lecturer.  “It is a great experience for the students, the citizens of the Panamanian community, and the faculty and staff who travel with the students.” 

The Richard J. Scranton Outstanding Community Service Award recognizes the student chapter that demonstrates the most outstanding record of service for the previous calendar year.

Laman and Brannon recognized for research in interactive learning

September 16, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Jeffrey Laman, professor of civil engineering at Penn State, and Mary Lynn Brannon, former instructional support specialist for the Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State, recently received the American Society for Engineering Education 2015 Stephen J. Ressler Best Paper Award for their paper titled “Integration of Prerequisite Resource Materials in a Structural Design of Foundations Course Using Pencast.”

The team received the award for their research using the Livescribe smartpen to create pencasts in an effort to improve the student learning experience in design and capstone courses.

Livescribe smartpens are battery operated “computer” pens that allow users to create an electronic file of handwritten notes for viewing on a smartphone or tablet while also recording audio that synchronizes with the written notes as they progress.

Laman realized that creating pencasts using the smartpens might be the answer to the reoccurring issue of students not remembering key information from previous lectures or courses. Utilizing the pens to create resource materials and making them readily available to students allows them to review that material without using up valuable class time.

“We can’t reteach the information,” Laman said. “So we wanted to provide easily accessible resource materials. The pencast allows me to develop mini lectures that are less than 10 minutes long, and students can watch my handwriting on the screen, just like a classroom example.”

In a normal recorded lecture, seeing the professor speak can be a distraction to students, keeping them from focusing on the material at hand. With pencast, the pages are laid out before them and they can see the whole presentation.

“The nice thing about pencast is it’s ghosted,” Laman said. “As I write, it shows up in green pen, but the whole lecture is visible in light gray, so they can see what’s coming.”

This ghosting capability allows students to skip around at their discretion.

In order to test the effects of incorporating the pencasts in senior design course instruction, Laman developed eight 10-minute “talking PDFs” using the tool and used those lectures in his Structural Design of Foundations course. He then observed whether or not the students displayed improvements in their overall quiz scores.

Laman said there were some improvements in test scores, and it definitely lessened the need to allocate class time to review materials.

Brannon then developed a questionnaire to see if students liked the new, more interactive teaching method.

“The students’ reactions have been extremely positive,” Laman said. “They really like these things.”

Laman said the project is ongoing, and he plans to triple the current eight-video library.

The award was presented at the June 2015 ASEE Annual Conference held in Seattle, Washington.

The Stephen J. Ressler Best Paper Award is given for the best paper on a topic in civil engineering education. Eligible papers include, but are not limited to, those published in the ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings.

“None of us are in it for these awards,” Laman said. “But it is a nice validation that Penn State is doing things right and making some good progress in trying to do a better job with undergraduate education.”

Only above-water microbes play a role in cave development

September 3, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Only the microbes located above the water's surface contribute to the development of hydrogen-sulfide-rich caves, suggests an international team of researchers. Since 2004, researchers have been studying the Frasassi cave system, an actively developing limestone cave system located 1500 feet underground in central Italy.

Limestone caves can form when solid limestone dissolves after coming in contact with certain types of acids. The resulting void is the cave system.

"We knew from previous research that microbes do play a role in cave development," said Jennifer Macalady, associate professor of geosciences, Penn State and co-author of a paper published today (Sept. 2) in Chemical Geology. "What we were trying to assess was the extent of that contribution, which would help us understand how caves all over the world, as well as on other worlds, form."

In hydrogen-sulfide-rich caves, microbes "eat" the hydrogen sulfide through a process known as aerobic respiration, Macalady said. The byproduct of this process is the creation of sulfuric acid, which has the potential to dissolve limestone and contribute to cave growth.

"The main goal of our study was to investigate what happened to hydrogen sulfide in the cave, because when the microbes use hydrogen sulfide for energy, this, along with oxygen, leads to the production of sulfuric acid," said Macalady.

The researchers measured oxygen levels and the amount of chemicals degassing -- changing from liquid to gas state -- throughout several parts of the cave system. The Frasassi system has cave pathways that formed 10,000 to 100,000 years ago as well as currently actively forming cave pathways, allowing the researchers to compare their measurements and identify the factors contributing to active development.

"What we found is that in certain conditions, the hydrogen sulfide in the water escapes as a gas into the air above the water instead of being 'eaten' by microbes below the water surface," said Macalady. "As a result, the underwater microbes only partially burned hydrogen sulfide. Instead of creating a byproduct of sulfuric acid, they created pure sulfur as a byproduct, which is not corrosive to limestone."

In contrast, the microbes above the water's surface completely "ate" the hydrogen sulfide. This process results in the creation of sulfuric acid, which dissolves limestone and contributes to cave growth.

Macalady says that the results would apply to all limestone caves that are rich in hydrogen sulfide, which includes more well-known caves such as Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico and Kap-Kutan Cave in Turkmenistan.

Co-authors on the findings include Daniel Jones, former Penn State graduate student now at the University of Minnesota; Lubos Polerecky, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and Utrecht University; Sandro Galdenzi; and Brian Dempsey, Penn State Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The National Science Foundation, NASA Astrobiology Institute and the Max-Planck Society funded this work.

Bruce Logan to receive 2016 American Chemical Society award

August 31, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Bruce Logan, Kappe and Evan Pugh Professor of Environmental Engineering, has recently been named the 2016 recipient of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology.

“I was very pleased to find out I received this award,” Logan said. “It is unique because of its focus on creativity and not just accomplishments.”

The award, sponsored by the ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry and the ACS Publications journal Environmental Science & Technology and Environmental Science & Technology Letters, was established to encourage creativity in research and technology or methods of analysis to provide a scientific basis for informed environmental control decision-making processes, or to provide practical technologies that will reduce health risk factors.

Logan was selected for his invention and development of devices that use microorganisms to convert waste material into useful products such as electrical power and hydrogen gas.

He will receive the $5,000 award and a certificate at the Society’s 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego, California on March 15, 2016.

The ACS National Awards program is designed to encourage the advancement of chemistry in all its branches, to support research in chemical science and industry, and to promote the careers of chemists.

September 2, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has added four new faculty members, including a new department head.

Patrick J. Fox has been named the John A. and Harriette K. Shaw Professor and Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering within Penn State’s College of Engineering.

Effective Aug. 1, Fox will replace Peggy Johnson, who is stepping down after nine years in the position. Johnson will remain in the department as a faculty member.

“Pat has achieved a great deal in his academic career and has a nationally and internationally prominent research program as well as leadership positions in the profession,” said Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering Amr Elnashai. 

Fox will oversee and provide leadership for the department, which offers a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, as well as master’s and doctorate programs in civil engineering and environmental engineering.

"I am delighted to join Penn State, one of our leading public universities, as department head of civil and environmental engineering,” Fox said. “I look forward to working with the faculty and staff to advance the reputation of the department and deliver a top quality education to its students.”

He is currently a professor of geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering in the Department of Structural Engineering at the University of California-San Diego.

Prior to joining UC San Diego, Fox held tenured academic appointments at multiple universities including Purdue University, Ohio State University and the University of California-Los Angeles.

He has won awards for research, teaching and service and has published over 200 technical papers.  His research awards include the Arthur Casagrande Professional Development Award and the Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He has also received the Chandra S. Desai Medal from the International Association for Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics, the IGS Award from the International Geosynthetics Society and best paper awards from several professional journals. 

An ASCE fellow, Fox currently serves on the Board of Governors for the ASCE Geo-Institute and recently stepped down as editor-in-chief of the ASCE Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering.

He is also a member of various other professional and scholarly societies.

“Pat's energy and drive, and vision for excellence in education, research and service, will be critical for the next phase of development for the college," Elnashai said.

Fox received his doctorate in civil and environmental engineering with an emphasis in geotechnical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ilgin Guler has joined the department as an assistant professor in civil engineering. She received bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and industrial engineering from Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2007 and a master’s degree and doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008 and 2012, respectively.

Prior to joining Penn State, Guler worked as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Transport Planning and Systems at ETH Zurich.

She has more than seven years of research, teaching and industry experience and has worked on consulting projects for the Greater Amman Municipality in Jordan and Mongolia where she worked to improve their road transportation systems.

She has taught three different classes, advised more than 10 master’s theses and projects, and has been the primary author of multiple research proposals funded by institutions such as the Swiss National Science Foundation and Swiss Association of Road Transportation Experts.

In 2012, Guler won the Dwight D. Eisenhower Graduate Fellowship.

Guler’s research interests include multimodal urban transportation, public transportation, infrastructure management and statistical modeling.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, she will be teaching Infrastructure Systems Management and Public Transportation Systems at the graduate level.

Kostas Papakonstantinou has joined the department as an assistant professor in civil engineering. He received a diploma and master’s degree in civil engineering from the National Technical University of Athens and another master’s degree and doctorate in civil engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

Prior to joining Penn State, Papakonstantinou worked as an associate research scientist at Columbia University, a postdoctoral scholar and graduate research assistant at the University of California, Irvine, and a structural engineer for a small firm in Athens.

In 2014, Papakonstantinou won the Outstanding Reviewer award from the ASCE-ASME Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in Engineering Systems, Part A: Civil Engineering.

His research interests include stochastic mechanics, risk assessment and management, inverse methods and optimization, structural health monitoring, and earthquake engineering and structural dynamics.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, Papakonstantinou will be teaching Stochastic Structural Mechanics and Structural Analysis.

Nathaniel Warner has joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as an assistant professor in environmental engineering. He received his bachelor’s degree in geology from Hamilton College, his master’s degree in hydrogeology from Miami University, and his doctorate in earth and ocean sciences from Duke University.

Prior to joining Penn State, Warner worked as an environmental consultant with Environmental Resources Management in Annapolis, Md., for six years and as a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College for two years.

In 2013, Warner won Best Article in Science, Environmental Science and Technology Editorial Board.

Warner’s research interests include environmental quality associated with oil and gas development, salinization of fresh water resources, water quality, and processes controlling radium movement through the environment. 

As an assistant professor at Penn State, he will be teaching Introduction to Environmental Engineering and possibly a new course called Into the Water Energy Nexus.

Warner will also be working with the Penn State Institute for Natural Gas Research (INGaR).

August 25, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After nine years as department head of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State, Peggy Johnson has officially stepped down.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I set out to accomplish and the department is in really good shape,” Johnson said. “Now it's time to move in a different direction.”

Johnson will be taking a sabbatical through the fall semester and will rejoin the faculty as a professor in January when she will begin teaching fluid mechanics and open channel flow at the undergraduate level and river engineering and reliability at the graduate level.

She also plans to continue her research by building on the 13 channel stability indicators she developed for the Federal Highway Administration manual in 2012.

“I look at channel stability and find indicators that identify a problem that may threaten bridge safety,” Johnson said. “Now I want to take a somewhat different approach and look at ways to protect the bridge if the indicators are present.”

Additionally, she will be researching how communities respond to bridge disasters, the impacts of accreditation on academic programs, and will be more active in the American Society of Civil Engineers by chairing two committees.

Perhaps most of all, she is looking forward to spending more time with her family and doing her favorite hobbies—hiking, biking and backpacking.

But while Johnson is eager to start the next chapter of her career, she said she will certainly miss her role as department head.

“You have such a large influence on the climate of the department and the direction of the department,” she said. “You have the ability to make a lot of significant changes. That’s what I love about this job.”

Johnson said her favorite parts about serving as department head were seeing the faculty’s growth and development through the years and watching her students graduate.

“The highlight for me every single year is seeing those students moving on, so excited about their new lives,” she said. “I just love shaking all those hands and all the hugs. I’ve never gotten tired of that.”

She also loved working with the alumni.

“We have an amazing group of alumni,” she said. “They are so successful in their careers, and yet they also care so much about the department and have been fabulous resources in so many ways.”

But Johnson said there were some trying times in her role as well.

“Sometimes there is real conflict,” she said. “Some of the personnel issues are the hardest. You want people to have the right conditions to blossom and grow, whether they're students, faculty or staff, and those conditions can't always be met, for a host of reasons, and it’s your job to resolve it. Those situations are tough.”

Thankfully, she said, Penn State provided her with a great deal of resources to help her solve those conflicts.

In the end, Johnson said the rewards far outweighed the difficult times and she will miss the day-to-day social connections she had with the faculty, staff and students.

“There is a lot of interaction with people inside and outside of the department,” Johnson said. “I’ll really miss that.”

Replacing Johnson as department head is Patrick J. Fox, who previously taught geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering in the Department of Structural Engineering at the University of California, San Diego.


August 24, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering added three new faculty members this semester.

Brian Naberezny has joined the department as an instructor of land surveying. He received a bachelor’s degree in surveying from Penn State and a master’s degree in spatial information science and engineering from the University of Maine.

Prior to coming to Penn State, University Park, Naberezny worked as an instructor in surveying engineering at Penn State, Wilkes-Barre for six years, as a consultant to surveying and mapping professionals, and as a geospatial analyst and operations manager for a National Energy Technology Laboratory funded study.

In 2014, Naberezny won both the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors (PSLS) President Award and the PSLS Distinguished Service Award.

As an instructor at Penn State, Naberezny will be teaching CE 209 Fundamentals of Surveying and CE 310 Surveying and will be developing a course in geospatial information engineering.

Kostas Papakonstantinou has joined the department as an assistant professor in civil engineering. He received a diploma and master’s degree in civil engineering from the National Technical University of Athens and another master’s degree and doctorate in civil engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

Prior to joining Penn State, Papakonstantinou worked as an associate research scientist at Columbia University, a postdoctoral scholar and graduate research assistant at the University of California, Irvine, and a structural engineer for a small firm in Athens.

In 2014, Papakonstantinou won the Outstanding Reviewer award from the ASCE-ASME Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in Engineering Systems, Part A: Civil Engineering.

His research interests include stochastic mechanics, risk assessment and management, inverse methods and optimization, structural health monitoring, and earthquake engineering and structural dynamics.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, Papakonstantinou will be teaching CE 597 Stochastic Structural Mechanics and CE541 Structural Analysis.

Nathaniel Warner has joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as an assistant professor in environmental engineering. He received his bachelor’s degree in geology from Hamilton College, his master’s degree in hydrogeology from Miami University, and his doctorate in earth and ocean sciences from Duke University.

Prior to joining Penn State, Warner worked as an environmental consultant with Environmental Resources Management in Annapolis, Md., for six years and as a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College for two years.

In 2013, Warner won Best Article in Science, Environmental Science and Technology Editorial Board.

Warner’s research interests include environmental quality associated with oil and gas development, salinization of fresh water resources, water quality, and processes controlling radium movement through the environment. 

As an assistant professor at Penn State, he will be teaching CE 370 Introduction to Environmental Engineering and possibly a new course called Into the Water Energy Nexus.

Warner will also be working with the Penn State Institute for Natural Gas Research (INGaR).


August 5, 2015

Penn State engineering professors cultivate creativity worldwide

Although creativity is most often associated with the arts, being creative is really about thinking differently and taking action in innovative ways, something that can provide an edge in almost any field. Four faculty members from Penn State felt creativity was so essential, in fact, that they joined forces to develop an entire course around the concept. 

The faculty members wanted to create something that could have a far-reaching impact, so they developed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and worked with Coursera to offer it free to students around the world.

The concept for the eight-week MOOC titled, “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” (CIC), began in 2013. Jack Matson, professor emeritus of environmental engineering, recruited Darrell Velegol, distinguished professor of chemical engineering, and Kathryn Jablokow, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design, to help him design and teach the MOOC.

“I didn’t really know what a MOOC was, but it sounded like a lot of work,” said Velegol, who initially turned Matson down but soon changed his mind when he realized this was the opportunity he had been looking for.

Jablokow had a similar reaction: “I jumped in without really knowing what I was getting myself into, but it felt like an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.” 

The College of Engineering was also very supportive of the MOOC, as was Penn State’s Office of Outreach and Online Education. Velegol said both former Penn State President Rodney Erickson and Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering Amr Elnashai made videos to support the course.

As the newly assembled threesome began to develop the content for the course, they realized they needed a team to help them and the guidance of others whose expertise would build on their own. One of the most influential was Susan Russell, associate professor of theater and recent Penn State Laureate. Russell taught the instructors how to effectively engage their audience using video modules.

“She was emphatic that our job was not simply to convey content -- our real job was to instigate and provoke,” Velegol said. “Simplify, clarify and focus -- those were her three words.”

Although the team had previously used active learning techniques, they learned through Russell to replace almost all lecture with inviting dialogue. As a result, they created scripts and performed the content like a television show.

“Even the ‘spontaneous moments’ needed to be scripted,” Velegol said.

Jablokow said they started with 40-minute scripts, which Russell influenced them to cut again and again.

“It was an incredibly challenging exercise in boiling down each message into something very concise – a new skill that I now use in my resident classroom,” Jablokow explained.

In the end, it took the team more than a thousand hours each to finish the content, which included six lesson modules. Each of the lessons was comprised of short videos, reading materials, exercises and discussion forums.

“That is at least five times the number of hours that I would ordinarily put into a class,” Velegol said.

Fortunately, their long hours paid off. The wildly popular eight-week course, launched in 2013 by Coursera, enrolled more than 130,000 students from 190 different countries, making it among Coursera’s 10 most attended courses ever.

The following year, Elizabeth Kisenwether, assistant professor of engineering design and director of the Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, was added to the lineup and the course was truncated to six weeks. For the first time, the course was also offered in Chinese as well as English.

“China had the largest student group from any country,” Matson said. “They exceeded the United States.”

He said the Chinese version of the course attracted a different demographic than the English course had.

“For the first course, the average age was 37. Many of the students had college degrees and were taking it to improve their own creativity,” Matson said. “For the Chinese course, the average age was 21. These students were taking it to improve their skills for the job market.”

Creativity in engineering

The course creators strongly believe that creativity is something we are all born with, and, like any other subject, creativity can also be taught. But beyond some creativity nurturing that happens in elementary school, it’s very rarely taught, even to engineers.

“One of the myths this course addresses is that you’re either creative or you’re not and that we, as engineers, are not,” said Velegol.

Conversely, successful engineers are people who think creatively both inside and outside the box to develop solutions to everyday problems. They come up with ideas that often change the way we think about the world – sometimes incrementally and sometimes radically. In addition, engineers are often entrepreneurs, and innovation is the basis of entrepreneurship, so being able to think and act creatively is incredibly important.

“Creativity comes in many different shapes and sizes,” said Jablokow, “and we teach students to recognize and appreciate that creative diversity in this MOOC.”

Matson, Velegol, Kisenwether and Jablokow have a long history with creativity. Each of them has been incorporating creativity into their engineering courses for more than 15 years. They understand the huge competitive edge that students gain from learning about creativity.

Matson, the initiator for the MOOC project, came to recognize creative potential after sustaining a life threatening lightning strike three decades ago. He used creativity to recover from his injury and made it his mission to bring creativity into the classroom.

“How can I get metaphorical lightning strikes to our students?” Matson asked. It took many failures for him to get his students to see the benefit of focusing on more than just solving an equation and getting a good grade.  

“If you’re not using your creative potential, it’s a waste,” Matson said. “I’m an environmental engineer, so when you think of waste, you think of many different things, but to me, a waste of creative potential is the biggest waste of all.”

All of the instructors share in Matson’s passion for developing and using creative potential. The team admits to using many of the creativity concepts taught in the course as part of their day-to-day instruction at Penn State.

The next phase

For the upcoming 2015 CIC offering, the instructors partnered with Armend Tahirsylaj, a recent doctoral graduate in education policy at Penn State, and John Bellanti, a psychologist and life coach in State College, to improve the course even more.

Although the pair has been involved with the course since the beginning, they will now be featured in their own module concerning psychological changes and creativity. This new module focuses on “the freedom to learn freely” by following the belief that individuals must focus on what is unique about their own lives rather than what they have in common with others.

Another new feature will be on demand learning.

The previous courses had a particular start and stop time, said Velegol. “We will now engage in what is called ‘on demand’ learning, which means students can stop whenever they want and start whenever they want asynchronously.”

This on demand feature allows much more flexibility for its users; however, it also requires more effort on the instructors’ part.

“It’s an even deeper automation of the course, so it requires a lot more logistics and a lot more from us as faculty,” said Velegol. “Exercises have to be very clearly defined, the grading rubric has to be very clearly defined—there’s a lot of specificity.”

Although engineers created the course, the MOOC is open to anyone, and the concepts apply to any field of study. Students in the MOOC learn concepts such as intelligent fast failure, which encourages students to learn by running many small experiments. Most will fail, but each failure will result in some new piece of knowledge. Another concept, mastering the luck, promotes the notion that great ideas can happen serendipitously – especially when students learn to see and pay attention to these chance happenings wherever they are. A third concept, bold acts of defiance, asks students to defy a cultural norm in order to understand the associated anxiety of introducing a new idea that may be rejected by others.

The implications of CIC are as varied as they are far reaching. The course has inspired a countless number of individuals from across the globe to achieve success in creative pursuits. Some have harnessed their newfound abilities to enhance their personal lives and careers, while others have gone on to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors including business and philanthropic ventures.

“I was interested in the study of creativity long before I subscribed to CIC,” stated Andreea Pavel, a former CIC student from Tulcea, Romania. Shortly after joining the course, I reached out to Jack Matson, who helped me understand my creative mind. I was enamored with discovering the psychology behind creativity and how people can develop their full potential.”

Today, Pavel continues to study creativity and works to help others improve their daily lives by fulfilling their creative potential.

A host of other success stories similar to Pavel’s exist on the CIC blog Play at Creation. The blog documents a number of individual creative journeys that have been born from the CIC course. They include perspectives on everything from personal transformations to efforts to re-green the Nilgiri Hills in India.

Effects of the course have also transcended beyond the individual level. 

In 2014, Matson and Velegol were invited to speak at the EPIC Congress in France to support the “Reinvent Europe” movement. The duo discussed invigorating new business interests and incorporating new ideas into the political arena.

“There have been so many amazing outputs from the course,” Velegol said. “The books people have sent, the businesses that have been started. We hear things from all over the world like ‘because of your course we have achieved our goals.’”

The new format of CIC is available now and open to everyone. Those interested in registering for the on demand course may do so at


July 27, 2015

Two civil engineering juniors selected for Pennsylvania-based scholarship

Mark Bachman and Ethan Miller, both juniors in civil engineering at Penn State, were recently awarded the 2015 Eric J. Gennuso and LeRoy D. (Bud) Loy Jr. Scholarship from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania (ACEC/PA).

“To be chosen as one of the recipients is a huge honor,” Miller said. “I am incredibly appreciative of ACEC/PA and other similar organizations in the engineering community that are so willing and generous in investing in the next generation of engineers.”

Miller said the added support keeps him motivated in his classes and focused on developing himself for his future career.

Bachman is equally grateful for the award.

“I was excited when I found out about receiving the scholarship,” he said. “This will certainly help pay for my tuition and college education.”

The $5,000 awards were presented to Bachman and Miller during a ceremony June 30 at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Materials Testing Lab in Harrisburg.

The Eric J. Gennuso and LeRoy D. (Bud) Loy Jr. Scholarship was created in 2014 for college sophomores and juniors majoring in either an engineering discipline or environmental science and recognizes at least two students annually for their outstanding achievements while attending college, both academically and in their extracurricular activities.

ACEC/PA member firms offer engineering expertise in a wide range of disciplines. They are devoted to the business profession of engineering and are dedicated to serving the needs of their communities both in their work and in enhancing the educational experience of future engineers.

More information about the 2015 ACEC/PA Eric J. Gennuso and LeRoy D. (Bud) Loy Jr. Scholarship Program can be found on the ACEC/PA website.

July 14, 2015

Student-built bridge provides access to education, health care in rural Panama

Members of the Penn State student chapter of Bridges to Prosperity have returned home after constructing a pedestrian footbridge near the remote village of Tucuecito, Panama.

“Overall, the trip went really well,” said project manager Jacob Rausch, senior in civil engineering. “We really connected with the community, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all learned a lot and grew as individuals.”

The 10 students spent four weeks in Tucuecito, a poverty-stricken village roughly four hours southwest of Panama City, assembling the framework for the new bridge, which is 30 meters long and one meter wide.

“It’s an “Indiana Jones” kind of bridge except with steel and concrete and with wooden decking across it,” said Rausch.

But the success of the bridge depended on far more than the students’ technical expertise, said chapter president Steve Mezzacappa, senior in architectural engineering. Building strong relationships with members of the local community was also key to the project’s success.

“We don't just go down and build a bridge for these community members,” he said. “It's all about working together and empowering one another.”

Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the team did not complete the bridge as intended.

Rausch said when they arrived, they found out there were complications with the funding for materials.

To make up for this setback, the Bridges to Prosperity in-country manager, Jake Moriarty, worked diligently with the municipality to secure the rest of the materials, but they didn’t arrive until the final week of the month-long project, so there wasn’t enough time to finish the bridge before they left.

“We were able to complete all of the tiers and towers,” Rausch said. “We also positioned the cables and poured one anchor.”

The students made good progress in the time they had and trained community members to finish the last details after their departure.

The bridge, which was recently completed by the locals, will now provide much needed access to education and health care. Previously, the village only had steady access during the dry season when the Tucue River at the village’s edge was low enough to cross.

“Before we came, there was no bridge in Tucuecito,” Rausch said. “The road just went down in the river, so when it flooded, vehicles couldn’t cross. In order to access health care and schooling beyond sixth grade year-round, they needed a bridge to get to a larger city.”

Even though the students weren’t able to finish the project themselves, they didn’t let the materials stunt their educational experience. They chose instead to focus on learning from the locals.

“Every night, we would hang out with the community,” said Rausch.

The students would play sports like softball and soccer with the villagers.

“Steve and I even played in a softball tournament,” Rausch said. “Since not much work could be done on the bridge, playing sports with the community really helped us connect.”

The students hope additional planning for next year’s trip will allow them to finish the bridge before returning home.

This project was co-sponsored by Turner Construction and the FIGG Engineering Group.

The national Bridges to Prosperity organization was founded in 2001, after founder Ken Frantz saw a photo in National Geographic magazine that moved him to form the organization. The image showed men dangling precariously, using ropes to pull each other across a wide, high and broken bridge span over a portion of the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia.

Bridges to Prosperity envisions a world where poverty caused by rural isolation no longer exists. Their programs provide access to health care, education and markets by teaching communities how to build footbridges over impassable rivers, in partnership with organizations and professionals.

July 9, 2015

Bruce Logan, Kappe and Evan Pugh Professor of Environmental Engineering, reached a career milestone recently by hitting 100 on the Google Scholar h-index.

The h-index indicates how many papers a researcher has published that have been cited that many times and provides a way for authors to gauge the visibility and influence of their articles in scholarly publications. Most researchers never reach 100. In fact, notable scientist Albert Einstein has only narrowly beaten out Logan with an h-index of 103 -- but Logan still has time to surpass the famous maven.

Logan has published over 420 journal articles and several books and book chapters during his career. Most of his research involves microbial fuel cells, bioenergy production and water and wastewater treatment.

He joins only one other Penn State faculty member who has ever reached this status, Masatoshi Nei, Emeritus Evan Pugh Professor of Biology, and according to Logan’s calculations, only two other environmental engineers in the world have done so -- Menachem Elimelech, the Roberto C. Goizueta Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Yale University, and Mark van Loosdrecht, professor of environmental biotechnology at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“You never set out to reach a goal like this,” said Logan “but it is always nice to know that people read your papers!”

July 7, 2015

Respected civil engineering professor Andrew Scanlon retires

After a rewarding 28 years at Penn State, Andrew Scanlon, professor of civil engineering, is trading in his work boots for golf shoes.

He will be retiring at the end of August.

Scanlon has served in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as a professor, department head and interim department head.

His primary interests include the safety and serviceability of concrete structures and analytical modeling of concrete structures, which he applied to building and bridge research and several projects for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

He also focuses his research on building reinforced concrete floor systems. This work has been included in building codes and has been used by engineering professionals worldwide.

In addition, Scanlon works on seismic analysis and precast buildings.

Looking back, Scanlon considers the influence he had on his students to be one of the most gratifying aspects of his career. He estimates that he has taught roughly 6,000 students during his tenure at Penn State, many with whom he has kept in touch.

“I think one of the most satisfying things is that you can have some kind of an impact,” he said. “It’s always nice when you meet up with one of your students from many years ago, and they still remember you.”

Former graduate student Serdar Astarlioglu, now a structural engineer at Hinman Consulting Engineers, said Scanlon has been much more than an adviser to him.

“He has been a great mentor, friend and colleague,” he said.

Astarlioglu said that he faced some difficulties while seeking his doctorate and Scanlon gave him the support he needed to graduate.

“If it wasn’t for his guidance, support and understanding, I don’t think I would have a Ph.D. today,” he said.

Sezer Atamturktur, a former student who is now an associate professor of civil engineering at Clemson University, said that Scanlon taught her that she could be a friendly and approachable educator yet still be effective.

“You don’t have to be strict and difficult to teach important lessons,” Atamturktur said.

Along with his passion for teaching, Scanlon has always loved to travel, so it’s no surprise that his interest in civil engineering actually started many years ago and many miles away.

Born and raised in Clydebank, Scotland, just outside of Glasgow, Scanlon originally gravitated more toward sports than engineering.

“If I would have had my druthers, I would have preferred to be a professional soccer player,” he said.

But he realized that, although he was good, he would never be the best, so he began exploring other options.

Shipbuilding and manufacturing were some of the main trades in Clydebank at that time, but Scanlon didn’t want to enter into an apprenticeship at 15, which was the common path. He enjoyed school and was naturally good at math and science, so he decided to enroll at the University of Glasgow for engineering.

“I was the first in my family to go to university,” he recalled. “I think my mother would have been quite happy if I had become a plumber or a joiner (carpenter), as long as it had some kind of a skill.”

But Scanlon became much more than that.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1966 and moved to Canada to work for the Canadian Department of Public Works and Government Services where he was in charge of fisherman’s wharves on the Bay of Fundy in Brunswick.

There, he worked for two years before returning to school for his graduate degree at the University of Alberta. He began in the master’s program but decided to skip straight to his doctorate instead. While there, Scanlon also met his future wife, Mary, who was studying for her doctorate as an educational psychologist. He and Mary had three children: Aimie, Mark and Christine.

Scanlon graduated from the University of Alberta in 1972 with a doctorate in civil engineering.

He then worked for the consulting company Reid Crowther and Partners in Edmonton for seven years and the Portland Cement Association in Chicago for four years before accepting his first position in academia back at the University of Alberta. There he stayed until 1987 when he accepted a position at Penn State.

Scanlon said part of what appealed to him most about Penn State was that he would get to help rebuild the structures group. Many of the current faculty members were retiring and this position would allow him to be one of the leaders in the rebuilding process.

Another influential factor was faculty member Harry West, who was the chair of the search committee at the time.

“He and I hit it off right away,” Scanlon said, and the two have remained close friends ever since.

Scanlon said building those relationships, with both faculty and students, was one of the most fulfilling aspects of his career at Penn State.

His least favorite part was grading.

“There is an old saying among academics,” he said. “You'd rather be like Jesus and teach rather than like God and judge.”

Though Scanlon is retiring, he doesn’t plan on leaving civil engineering behind completely.

“I’m retiring from Penn State, but I’m not going to sit in my rocking chair for the rest of my life,” he quipped.

He plans to continue teaching CE341 concrete structures online until a teaching replacement is found, and he’s established a relationship with Northern Arizona University-Flagstaff where he taught a class during a recent sabbatical. He may teach there again while serving on their advisory board.

Scanlon also will stay involved with the American Concrete Institute and American Society of Civil Engineers among others, primarily through society committee work, but he is looking forward to some well-deserved free time, too.

He’s an avid golfer and is planning some golf trips in the coming months. He also hopes to do some writing, develop his piano skills and hike the scenic landscape of Sedona, Arizona where he and his wife will now call home.

And, of course, he plans to travel.

“I’ve always enjoyed traveling,” he said. “I’m like the black sheep of my family. My mom and dad lived their entire lives in the town I grew up in. They never had any desire to go anywhere else.”

Scanlon, on the other hand, has spent nearly 50 years away from home, over half of them at Penn State.

“I’ve met a lot of good people over the years,” Scanlon said. “And that’s the important thing to me.”


July 2, 2015

Geological Society grant supports Susquehanna Shale Hills research

Yu Zhang, an environmental engineering doctoral candidate, recently received a Geological Society of America (GSA) research grant to help fund his hydrological-morphodynamic modeling research on the Susquehanna Shale Hills.

Zhang, along with Christopher Duffy, professor of civil engineering, and Rudy Slingerland, professor of geosciences, are using the $1,100 grant to design and build a 3-D landscape evolution model of the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) in order to perform long-term simulations of sediment transport and monitor the landscape changes over time.

The Critical Zone Observatory, located in Penn State’s Stone Valley Forest, is a nationally funded observatory established in 2007. Their research promotes the understanding of how a forested, first-order catchment of shale bedrock evolves over time in a temperate climate.

The goal of this project is to study the possible causes of an asymmetric slope and thickness to the layer of rocky material covering bedrock on the north- and south-facing hill slopes at the Observatory and to analyze how the hill slope and thickness of the rocky material progresses toward a normal symmetrical state.

“The SSHCZO project has been observing and measuring many important data for hydrology, geochemistry, hydropedology, vegetation and others, but there is a lack of data on sediment load and parameters for sediment transport," Zhang said. "The GSA grant will be used to fill that gap.”

The researchers plan to measure the sediment load at the outlet and sediment concentration in stream at different rainfall events and seasons in order to gather basics such as the sediment size and bulk density.

Samples of different soil types will also be collected.

“I was very excited to receive the student grant,” Zhang said. “It is really encouraging because my research proposal has been recognized by the geological community.”

The primary role of the GSA research grants program is to provide partial support of doctoral thesis research in the geological sciences for graduate students enrolled in universities in the United States. 

July 1, 2015

Penn State Engineers in the Spotlight

Ed Gannon: Bridging the Gap Between Communication and Construction

Abington, PA, native Ed Gannon (’82 C E, ’91 MS, ’98 PhD) has dedicated his career to finding ways to improve the construction process. He explains, “Despite all the advances in engineering technology, we really are no more productive today than we were fifty years ago.”

Ed came to the University Park campus to study civil engineering after completing two years at Penn State Abington.

Check out the rest of the article here.

June 24, 2015

Three members of the Penn State Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are retiring this summer.

LeAnn Anderson has served as the department’s administrative assistant since 2006. She is responsible for maintaining budget records, spreadsheets, databases, commitments and matching funds; financial reporting; salary distribution, supplemental I and II, transfers, buyouts, and graduate lecturers; serving as the liaison to the college’s human resources office; processing faculty visa applications and gifts/endowments; and supervising and hiring staff. Her last day will be June 30.

Andrew Scanlon, professor of civil engineering, joined the department in 1987. His research expertise includes the safety and serviceability of concrete structures and analytical modeling of concrete structures, reinforced concrete floor systems and seismic analysis and precast buildings. He holds a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Alberta. His last day will be Aug. 31.

Gregory Shufran has served as an instructor in surveying for the department since 1999. His areas of interest include surveying, geodesy and computer-aided drafting and design. Shufran received his bachelor’s degree in education from the California University of Pennsylvania in 1976 and holds a Pennsylvania Professional Land Surveyor registration. His last day will be June 30.

June 23, 2015

Martin Pietrucha, professor of civil engineering at Penn State, was featured in WalletHub’s recent study about 2015's best and worst states for summer road trips

Check out the article here.

June 15, 2015

What would happen if a common tree had the potential to turn cloudy, contaminated water into clean, safe drinking water for millions in need? Penn State researchers are hoping to find out using the seeds of the Moringa oleifera tree.

Lack of potable water is a huge problem in many developing countries. According to UNICEF, 783 million people worldwide are without improved drinking water, and the World Health Organization estimates that lack of proper drinking water causes 1.6 million deaths each year from diarrheal and parasitic diseases.

Part of the problem is that many of these countries must import expensive chemicals to clarify the water, limiting the amount they can afford to produce.

But there may be an alternative.

The Moringa oleifera tree grows abundantly throughout many tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It reaches fruition in only six months and is already being used in many areas as a food source. The seedpods, seeds, leaves, roots and flowers are all edible and nutritious.

In addition to these benefits, something in the tree’s seeds has the ability to kill bacteria and clarify water.

“That has been known for some time,” says Stephanie Butler Velegol, environmental engineering instructor at Penn State. Women in ancient Egypt reportedly rubbed Moringa seeds on their clay water pots, and dried powder from crushed seeds has been used as a handwash for many years.

In recent years, the water-clarifying ability of Moringa powder was found to be due to a positively-charged protein called the Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (MOCP). When you crush the seeds and add them to water, this protein will kill some of the microbial organisms and cause them to clump together and settle to the bottom of the container. 

However, the dried seed powder alone is not ideal for water purification because the organic matter from the seed will remain in the water, providing a food source for any bacteria that have not been killed. As a result, water treated with this seed does not remain safe to drink after some time in storage.

In 2012, Velegol and a team of Penn State researchers published a paper showing that MOCP can easily be attached to grains of sand. When the sand is mixed with unsafe water, bacteria stick to the sand and are killed. The newly-clean water can then be removed and stored for later use. Then the sand can be rinsed to remove the organic matter and “recycled” for another round of purification.

In Velegol’s most recent study, published in the April edition of Langmuir, she, along with chemical engineering assistant professor Manish Kumar and chemical engineering students Kevin Shebek, Kathleen Lauser, Allen Schantz and Ian Sines, used a combination of cryogenic electron microscopy and fluorescence assays to discover that the cationic protein isolated from Moringa seeds kills water-borne bacteria by causing their cell membranes to fuse.

This study revealed the mechanism by which MOCP turns polluted water into safe drinking water.

But there are still questions to be answered before the Moringa protein can be used on a large scale to purify water. One question is which Moringa seeds are most efficient in water clarification. The researchers knew that leaves and seeds harvested in different seasons differ in nutrient content, but did the seeds’ ability to kill bacteria also vary based on the season and the seed’s maturity level?

“One of the biggest challenges in using Moringa seeds for cleaning water is that people don’t know which seeds work and don’t work,” Velegol says.

This is a problem because if people use the wrong seeds, they will think their water is clean when, in fact, it’s not.

So the researchers teamed up with Bashir Abubakar, a botanist from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. Abubakar brought four kinds of seeds of different maturity levels and harvest times from Nigeria to Penn State. The researchers then studied their mass, oil content and ability to kill bacteria and clarify water.

They found that the extracted protein of mature dried seeds collected in the rainy season is most effective, followed by mature dried seeds collected in the dry season.

Abubakar, a native of Nigeria where about 66 million people do not have access to safe drinking water (UNICEF), foresees benefits to using Moringa that go beyond providing clean water to poor communities.

“The farmers will have an additional income, because not only will they be growing Moringa for food, but they can also grow large plantations of Moringa for the seed,” he says.

In addition, the money saved by using the locally grown seeds to clarify water could then be used for other projects.

“You can divert the money for other infrastructural and societal needs, either to improve the farmlands or to construct roads,” he says.

This research is the foundation for larger scale studies. The researchers are now seeking funding for those studies.

The Penn State College of Engineering Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and Research Initiative (CERI) for Undergraduates funded a majority of this research. Bashir Abubakar’s research at Penn State was supported by a grant from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council in Abuja, Nigeria. Also participating in the study were Darrell Velegol, Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering, and Ricky Bates, professor of horticulture.

June 1, 2015

The Journal of Structural Engineering recently selected Gordon Warn, associate professor of civil engineering, as an ASCE 2014 Outstanding Reviewer.

One of the oldest and most respected periodicals in the field, the Journal of Structural Engineering has a history of reporting on fundamental knowledge that advances the state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice in structural engineering.

Warn has been a member of the Penn State faculty since 2008. His research interests include dynamic systems, performance-based design and earthquake engineering.

May 13, 2015

Our department head Peggy Johnson has announced three faculty promotions in the department this spring: Tong Qiu has been promoted to associate professor with tenure, Eric Donnell has been promoted to full professor and Shelley Stoffels has been promoted to full professor.

May 8, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Bruce Logan, Evan Pugh Professor and Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, and Christopher Gorski, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering,  received a National Science Foundation EAGER award to fund their research on technologies that generate and store electrical energy from waste heat using salinity gradients.

NSF Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) funding is used to support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.

The researchers received a $130,000 grant for the one-year project, which began April 1.

The goal of the project,“Enhanced Electricity Production from Engineered Salinity Gradients using Capacitive Mixing,” is to take a new approach to energy production and storage using a process called CapMix -- captive and pseudo-captive mixing.

“What we propose is a process that will capture electrical energy out of a chemical in water,” Logan said. “Then we can remove that chemical out of the water using waste heat.”

Using the CapMix process, the researchers hope to develop and advance new methods for energy production using primarily only water and simple and renewable materials.

Currently, several technologies are being explored to capture electrical energy from salinity gradients. These gradients may exist naturally in such things as seawater and river water or be engineered by using, for example, waste heat and thermolytic salts.

CapMix is one of the newest methods. In this approach, capacitive and pseudo-capacitive electrodes are alternately exposed to solutions having high and low salt concentrations.

The researchers will be using ammonium bicarbonate as the salty solution and will also experiment with ammonia.

Both ammonia and ammonium bicarbonate can be driven out of water by heat, Logan said. “We hope to use that heat energy as a way to create, essentially, batteries.”

Unlike other technologies, CapMix has a critical advantage because it does not require membrane materials such as reverse osmosis membranes or pressure retarded membranes, which are often prohibitively expensive. The problem with current CapMix methods, however, is that they tend to produce lower power densities than these membrane-based processes.

Logan and Gorski hope to change that. In their system, CapMix processes will use inexpensive and activated carbon and binders, in some cases avoiding the need for costly membranes. Even when a membrane is needed, it will be minimal.

If successful, the technology could produce two results simultaneously while past technologies have only been able to produce one.

“Previous heat recovery technologies only transform heat energy into electricity,” Logan said. “Then there are energy storage systems that cannot transform energy. What makes this a really unique approach is the potential to do both.”

Logan said this technology could improve energy efficiency at power plants and extract energy from waste heat for later use.

“Nobody has tried to create battery-like reactions with these solutions before, so we have to really sift through the chemistry,” Logan said. “… But the potential is out there.”

April 30, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Patrick J. Fox has been named the John A. and Harriette K. Shaw Professor and Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering within Penn State’s College of Engineering.

Effective Aug. 1, Fox will replace Peggy Johnson, who is stepping down after nine years in the position. Johnson will remain in the department as a faculty member.

“Pat has achieved a great deal in his academic career and has a nationally and internationally prominent research program as well as leadership positions in the profession,” said Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering Amr Elnashai. 

Fox will oversee and provide leadership for the department, which offers a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, as well as master’s and doctorate programs in civil engineering and environmental engineering.

"I am delighted to join Penn State, one of our leading public universities, as department head of civil and environmental engineering,” Fox said. “I look forward to working with the faculty and staff to advance the reputation of the department and deliver a top quality education to its students.”

He is currently a professor of geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering in the Department of Structural Engineering at the University of California-San Diego.

Prior to joining UC San Diego, Fox held tenured academic appointments at multiple universities including Purdue University, Ohio State University and the University of California-Los Angeles.

He has won awards for research, teaching and service and has published over 200 technical papers.  His research awards include the Arthur Casagrande Professional Development Award and the Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He has also received the Chandra S. Desai Medal from the International Association for Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics, the IGS Award from the International Geosynthetics Society and best paper awards from several professional journals. 

An ASCE fellow, Fox currently serves on the Board of Governors for the ASCE Geo-Institute and recently stepped down as editor-in-chief of the ASCE Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering.

He is also a member of various other professional and scholarly societies.

“Pat's energy and drive, and vision for excellence in education, research and service, will be critical for the next phase of development for the college," Elnashai said.

Fox received his doctorate in civil and environmental engineering with an emphasis in geotechnical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

April 30, 2015

Jennifer A. Kearney will be the student marshal for the civil engineering baccalaureate degree program at the Penn State College of Engineering spring commencement ceremony on May 8. Kearney will receive a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with a minor in engineering leadership development.

A Schreyer Scholar, Kearney participated in the Integrated Undergraduate/Graduate Program and will also receive a master of science degree in civil engineering. Her thesis is titled “An Analysis of the Dynamic Response of Suspension Footbridges Measured Against Human Comfort Criteria.”

She has chosen John M. Regan, professor of environmental engineering, to be her faculty escort.

College of Engineering student marshals are selected for their outstanding academic achievement and contributions to engineering student life.

Kearney is the daughter of Susan and Gregg Kearney of York. She is a 2011 graduate of Dallastown Area High School in Dallastown.

Her awards and honors include the Penn State Commission for Women’s Achieving Women Award, the Penn State Women in Engineering Program’s Joelle Award for Engineering Leadership, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ New Faces in Civil Engineering Collegiate Edition, the Penn State Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Class Award in Structural Engineering, the Penn State Leonhard Center Engineering Speaking Contest People’s Choice Award, the Penn State Society of Women Engineer’s Aspire Award and the Bridge Builder Conference Poster Session Research Award.

Kearney was the recipient of the Carpenter’s Company of the City and County of Philadelphia Scholarship, the American Institute of Steel Construction Scholarship, the Susan and Dean Vought Scholarship in Engineering, the American Society of Civil Engineers Student Award, the Engineering Society of York Scholarship, the Society of Women Engineers’ Scholarship, the II-VI Foundation Scholarship and the Chi Epsilon Scholarship.

Her extracurricular activities included Bridges to Prosperity (president, 2013), the Women in Engineering Program (orientation rover, 2012; orientation mentor, 2013; orientation overall lead, 2014), the Steel Bridge Team (logistics and funding officer, 2012-14), Engineers Without Borders (local projects officer, 2012-13), the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers (stayover logistics chair, 2011-12), Engineering Orientation Network (mentor, 2012; head mentor, 2013) and the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Kearney completed two structural engineering internships, one with Carney Engineering Group, where she designed projects including schools, offices, renovations and warehouses, and the other with Johnson, Mirmiran, and Thompson, where she designed single-span and two-span concrete bridges, sound walls and signs and inspected overhead signs.

Following graduation, Kearney will join Thornton Tomasetti as a structural engineer.

April 29, 2015

Pennsylvania's bridges provide safe passage across our state's waterways and roadways, but they also connect communities, spanning geographic, cultural and socioeconomic divides. As the state repairs and rebuilds its bridges for the 21st century, what can it learn from the work done so far? How can Pennsylvania make the best choices today to sustain its connections for future generations?

Check out the Keystone Crossroads: Building Our Communities video here.

April 29, 2015

At Penn State, researchers looking for the next big thing in infrastructure

On the surface, Dr. Farshad Rajabipour's job might not sound that interesting. He's an associate professor of civil engineering at Penn State. And he studies concrete.

"It's actually a material that's used pretty much everywhere in the world," Rajabipour said. "It's so common that people don't notice it."

Concrete is in the roads and bridges you drive over, the buildings where you live and work, and even the pipes that transport your city's stormwater.

Rajabipour works at Penn State's Civil Infrastructure Testing and Evaluation Lab. Researchers at the lab are devoted to making infrastructure safer, less expensive, and longer-lasting.

Pennsylvania's infrastructure is not in the best shape. The state has the second highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country, after Rhode Island. That means those bridges need repairs or they may be weight restricted or closed. And about 44 percent of the state's roads were rated in "fair" or "poor" condition in 2013.

Listen or read the full WHYY story here.

April 22, 2015

China Embedded Field Program

Would you like to earn 4 credits and travel the world this summer?

Consider the China Embedded Field Program: China's Water Realities and Sustainable Solutions with A Field Practicum in China (CE 497D). This 3-week field course teams Penn State undergraduates with students from Nanjing and Jiangnan Universities in China to study the deterioration of China's fresh water supply and the efforts needed to restore and conserve it. The course is a Tech Elective.

Contact Rachel Brennan at with any questions. Enrollment is limited.

Application deadline is April 30!

April 15, 2015

Civil engineering's Radlinska wins ACI achievement award

Aleksandra Radlinska, assistant professor of civil engineering at Penn State, has been selected as the 2015 recipient of the ACI Walter P. Moore, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award.

The award, which was presented on April 12 by the American Concrete Institute at the ACI Concrete Convention and Exposition in Kansas City, Missouri, is given to a faculty member with less than seven years served in all faculty positions and recognizes “excellence and innovation in the teachings of concrete design, materials or construction, with demonstrated evidence of technical competence, high character and integrity.”

Radlinska, a Penn State faulty member since August 2012, received her bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering with a specialty in structural engineering from West Pomeranian Technological University in 2004 and her doctorate in concrete materials from Purdue University in 2008.

Prior to joining Penn State, Radlinska was an assistant professor at Villanova University from 2008 to 2012.

Radlinska teaches undergraduate courses in materials science as well as graduate courses in concrete materials and properties.

Her research interests include cement and concrete in sustainable design, durability, shrinkage and cracking of concrete, reliability-based analysis of the behavior of construction materials and using alternative cement binders with reduced CO2 emission.

Prior to winning the ACI Walter P. Moore, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award, Radlinska won the ACI Young Member Award for Professional Achievement in 2012, the Best Paper Award from the ASEE Mechanics Division in 2011, the Bryant Mather Award for Best Paper in Concrete Materials from the Transportation Research Board in 2008, and the Magoon Award for Excellence in Teaching from Purdue University in both 2006 and 2007. She was also the 2009 ExCEEd Teaching Fellow.

The ACI Walter P. Moore, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award was established in 2001 to honor the late Walter P. Moore Jr. Moore was an ACI Fellow, an ACI Board Member and a structural engineer in Texas who believed in the development of educators committed to the teaching of concrete.

April 14, 2015

Civil engineering alumnus named Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Tennessee

One of the oldest departments in the College of Engineering will soon have a new leader: Chris D. Cox has been selected to oversee the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Cox will take over from interim department head Greg Reed on May 1, assuming leadership of a department whose history predates the college itself.

“We conducted a national search for this position, but at the end of the day it was clear that the best choice was already here,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “He’s served us well as a professor and as associate department head, and he will be an outstanding department head.”

Read full article here


April 13, 2015

Jennifer Kearney, a senior in civil engineering at Penn State, was named the national representative for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in DiscoverE’s fourth annual New Faces of Engineering—College Edition.

Sponsored by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, College Edition recognizes students in the third, fourth and fifth years of their undergraduate engineering degree.

Kearney, who will receive a $500 scholarship, said she hopes to use the award as an opportunity to make a greater impact.

DiscoverE looks for students who exemplify the vision, innovation and leadership skills that form the foundational elements of a successful engineering career.

Kearney is one of 12 representatives from student organizations across the country who were honored by DiscoverE. The students participate in a diverse range of projects and initiatives, including non-engineering related community service, and demonstrate academic excellence and leadership.

Kearney started the Penn State student chapter of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) – a nonprofit organization that builds pedestrian bridges in developing countries to provide isolated communities access to basic needs. Her B2P chapter constructed a 250-foot suspended pedestrian bridge in Panama that connected the people of Caimital to Penonomé. This provided Caimital residents with much needed access to markets, higher education and doctors.

Kearney also worked on redesigning a chlorine injector to purify water. Her team’s design is now being replicated and distributed by the Moroccan government throughout the country.

In addition to her involvement in ASCE and B2P, Kearney is also involved with Engineers Without Borders-USA, the Society of Women Engineers, the American Concrete Institute, the American Institute of Steel Construction, Tau Beta Pi and Chi Epsilon.

“I am truly honored to be named a New Face of Engineering,” Kearney said. “I had no idea what engineering was before I started high school, and through the help and support of many teachers, professors, mentors, professionals, and my family and friends, I have been able to not only survive the engineering curriculum but also use my skills to make a difference in the world.”

Upon graduation, Kearney will join Thornton Tomasetti in Washington D.C. as a structural engineer.

April 13, 2015

Centre Daily Times Article

Students hit the waters of Lake Perez with concrete canoes

PETERSBURG, HUNTINGDON COUNTY — The waters of Lake Perez at Stone Valley Recreation Center were busy Sunday as several canoes maneuvered and darted on the lake’s surface.

The shape of each was quite familiar, long and pointed at either end, but the swiftness and speed with which the vessels moved were not indicative of the primary material used to construct the canoes. All were made of concrete.

“The concrete canoe, it’s kind of an oxymoron,” said Tom Skibinski, an instructor in civil engineering and faculty adviser for the Penn State concrete canoe team. “It’s very sophisticated.”

Read full article here

April 8, 2015


Kearney receives Commission for Women Achieving Women Award

Jennifer Kearney was honored with the Achieving Women Award at the ninth annual Commission for Women Awards Luncheon on April 2.

The award recognizes Penn State women who have shown notable leadership and accomplishment in their fields and have gone beyond the requirements of their employment duties and responsibilities in support of the University's diversity efforts, promotion of equal opportunity or contribution to human causes and public service activities.

Kearney is a senior in civil engineering at Penn State. She was selected as the Women in Engineering Program Orientation Overall Lead in 2014-15. In this role, Kearney affects more than 185 first-year women engineering students from campuses throughout the Penn State system and directs more than 50 upper-level undergraduates. She also founded the Penn State chapter of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) in 2013, and served as B2P president from 2013-14. In this capacity, she planned, coordinated and managed all aspects of a five-week trip to Panama in 2014 for a team of 10 engineering students. The team designed and built a 240-foot pedestrian bridge connecting impoverished Panamanian citizens to education, health care and resources on the opposite side of a torrential river.

April 8, 2015


Alumna Saundra Johnson Austin receives College of Engineering's highest honor

2015 College of Engineering Outstanding Engineering Alumna
Saundra Johnson Austin
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME)

Saundra earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Penn State and an executive master of business administration from Notre Dame. Upon graduation from Penn State, she worked for Bechtel Power Corporation in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where she worked in project controls, estimating, and business development.

Throughout her 25 years of experience in corporate America, secondary and postsecondary education, community and workforce development and non-profit organizations, she has had an amazing time leading and collaborating with key stakeholders and end-users to enable education and community transformation.

In 2007, Saundra founded the Charis Consulting Group, LLC in response to the various needs of academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and businesses.

Since 2010, she has served as the senior vice president for operations at NACME, Inc., the largest private provider of engineering scholarships for African American, American Indian, and Latino young adults. NACME was formed in 1974 by a group of corporate executives at the urging of minority leaders, business interests, and the academic community to achieve greater diversity in the field of engineering. In her current role, Saundra supports the president and CEO on key organizational and strategic direction and is responsible for the execution of programs, research, communications, and engineering public policy.

Previously, Saundra was President & CEO of St. Michael’s High School (2008 – 2010), Executive Vice President for the Community Partnership for Lifelong Learning (CPLL) (2005 – 2008), Executive Director of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM)  (2000 to 2005), and Director of the Minority Engineering Program at Penn State (1994 – 2000).
As a champion for the education of underrepresented minorities in engineering and the sciences, she has published and presented papers at national conferences, to Fortune 500 companies, as well as government agencies throughout the United States. She also served on numerous boards and is a member of various national, regional, and local organizations.

Saundra also holds a lifetime membership to the Penn State Alumni Association and is a member of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Industrial and Professional Advisory Committee.


April 8, 2015


Civil engineering's Appman wins 2015 Chi Epsilon scholarship

Timothy Appman, junior in civil engineering at Penn State, was recently awarded the 2015 Chi Epsilon Undergraduate District Scholarship for the Metropolitan District.

“I was not expecting to get that email,” Appman said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

The annual recognition honors students in 10 regional districts. The metropolitan district encompasses Pennsylvania, New Jersey and part of New York. A member from each district receives a District Scholarship ($2,000) and a National Scholarship ($3,500).

Qualification for the award is based on the student’s grade-point average, a personal essay, two letters of recommendation, work and research experience, offices held, outside activities and honors.

Chi Epsilon is a national civil engineering honor society for juniors and seniors enrolled in civil engineering. Membership is by invitation and is based on scholarship, character, practicality and sociability. The purpose of this organization is to recognize and develop the fundamental characteristics of the successful civil engineer.

Penn State students have been awarded Chi Epsilon scholarships for three of the past four years with Jennifer Kearney winning the national award in 2014 and Matthew Garver winning the district award in 2012.

Appman plans to use a portion of his award for tuition and would like to focus on transportation during his time at Penn State.

He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, treasurer of Penn State's Club Cross-Country, a member of Marathoners for Medicine and participates in THON. He is also a teaching intern for CE 370- Introduction to Environmental Engineering.

April 8, 2015


Student wins three scholarship awards for his efforts in civil engineering

Thomas Pochatko, a junior in civil engineering at Penn State, was recently awarded three scholarships including the 2014-15 National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) Scholarship, the 2015 American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE) Scholarship — Southwest Region and the 2015 American Concrete Institute (ACI) Pittsburgh Chapter Art Livingood Scholarship.

“I'm grateful for being the recipient for all three scholarships this year,” Pochatko said. “It was a lot of work applying for them but it was worth it in the end.”

The NPCA Educational Foundation sponsors scholarships for deserving students pursuing a career related to the precast concrete industry. These careers include opportunities in manufacturing facilities, architectural fields, the specifying community, engineering firms and the general construction industry.

The ASHE Scholarship awards a total of $6,500 to three applicants based on the recommendation of the Scholarship Committee. This recommendation is based on an essay students write to describe how they envision their involvement will be with the development of highway systems once they graduate.

The Pittsburgh Chapter of the ACI offers Art Livingood Awards to three eligible students who have an interest in the areas of cement technology, concrete technology, design or construction.

“I plan on using the scholarship money to help pay for graduate school once I am finished with my undergrad,” Pochatko said.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Pochatko would like to pursue either a master of engineering degree or a master of business administration and then work in the heavy highway construction industry. He would also like to obtain his professional engineer license and his professional land surveyor license. Eventually, he’d like to own his own business.

Pochatko is also the Concrete Canoe Team co-captain and president of the Penn State Student Chapter of the American Concrete Institute.


April 7, 2015


Instrumentation and Sensor Technologies for Highway Infrastructure Monitoring
11:15 a.m., April 10, 2015
251 Willard Building

Dr. Xiaochao Tang
Widener University

With the aging highway infrastructure, growing demands for road usage, and the constrained funding for repair and maintenance, reliable and cost-effective monitoring of the highway infrastructure conditions has become more important than ever in order for the federal and state transportation agencies to effectively make decisions on early scheduling of repair and maintenance. Over the decades, instrumentation and sensor technologies have been increasingly adopted to measure the critical responses and monitor the performance of highway infrastructure. The future instrumentation of highway infrastructure as a component of structural health and response monitoring systems is also being seriously explored, and is increasingly seen as viable. Since embedding instrumentation and sensors in highway infrastructure is perhaps the most reliable way to measure and monitor the in-situ responses and performance, the application of sensors and instrumentation technologies in highway infrastructures is expected to continue growing. This presentation will showcase a study that involves using commercially available sensors for monitoring highway infrastructure. In addition to the technical details on the selection, calibration, and installation of the various kinds of sensors, some outstanding drawbacks of using the traditional sensors will be discussed. This presentation will then offer a look into the future generation of sensor technologies for highway infrastructure monitoring. In particular, the presentation will discuss a category of sensors that are based on ultra-low-cost and open-source hardware and have the potential to lead to reliable and cost-effective infrastructure monitoring on a large scale or at the network level.


March 30, 2015


The Role of Verification and Validation in Predictive Geomechanics
11:30a.m., April 3, 2015
251 Willard Building

Majid T. Manzari, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
The George Washington University
Washington, DC

Reliable and accurate prediction of the response of engineering materials is a challenging task that engineers in charge of design and analysis of constructed facilities and manufactured devices face in their daily work.  The task is particularly daunting when the material of choice is a geomaterial.  Difficulty in proper characterization of material properties, complexity in the stress-strain-strength behavior of geomaterials, and multiscale/multiphysics nature of the response of these materials in boundary value problems have been a major source of concern for practicing engineers who often decide to stay with simpler tools and to rely heavily on what has worked in the past.  The availability of tremendous computational power and advanced numerical modeling techniques as well as significant improvement in the understanding and modeling of geomaterials in recent years have provided engineers with an unprecedented opportunity to use advanced modeling tools as an aid in their design works.   A major obstacle to the adoption of the new simulation tools in practice is the question of validity and reliability of the new modeling techniques. 
In this presentation, the role of verification and validation in laying out a strong foundation for predictive geomechanics is discussed.  A case study will be presented in which a series of blind predictions were used to assess the capabilities and limitations of advanced modeling tools in the simulation of seismic response of saturated soil structures containing liquefiable soils.  The performances of a few advanced elastoplastic constitutive models for soils and the capabilities and limitations of a fully-coupled effective stress-based analysis procedure will be discussed.


March 19, 2015

In the most recent institutional rankings released by the National Science Foundation of total research expenditures for science and engineering, Penn State stands second in the nation, behind only Johns Hopkins and tied with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the number of fields in which it is ranked in the top ten.

The rankings, released in February 2015, are for the 2013 fiscal year. Overall, Penn State ranked 17th nationally in total research expenditures across the board. In 12 individual fields, however, the University achieved rankings in the top ten nationally. Only Johns Hopkins, with 15 top-ten rankings, had more.

"This is testament not just to our overall strength, but to the extraordinary breadth and variety of Penn State's research enterprise," said Neil Sharkey, Vice President for Research. "Very few other institutions can demonstrate such a high level of achievement in fields as disparate as materials science and psychology."

Read full article here

March 10, 2015

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Dennis James wasn’t really interested in attending a college too close to home. Deciding between Arizona State University and Penn State, James spent three days at University Park for Achievers Weekend. He recalled, “I networked with other students who were considering engineering, as well as engineering faculty. I was hooked.”

During his visit, James also met staff from the College of Engineering’s Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP), who helped him sort out his financial aid options. He said, “I was fortunate to be awarded a Bunton-Waller Fellowship.”

The fellowship pays full in-state tuition for James, who is the first in his family to attend college. He said being a Bunton-Waller Fellow has other advantages. “For instance, all fellows live in the same residence hall during their first year. This fosters a sense of community among students and helps ease the transition to the academic atmosphere.”

Read full article here

February 24, 2015

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), this state leads the nation in the number of bridges classified as "structurally deficient."

That's probably not a surprise to most residents who've done any driving throughout the commonwealth. Our 25,000 state-owned bridges are aging -- their average age is over 50 years -- and in need of repair. Civil engineer Farshad Rajabipour and his colleagues are working on solutions.

Rajabipour, together with Aleksandra Radlinska and Gordon Warn, all Penn State civil engineering faculty, are researching methods for enhancing the maintenance and durability of civil infrastructure -- including anything made of concrete, from bridges to roads to buildings.

Read full article here

February 19, 2015

Penn State’s student chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) will be having a joint meeting with the central section of the Mid-Atlantic Section of ITE (MASITE) on Thursday, March 26th. Transportation and traffic engineers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region will be joining Penn State civil and transportation engineers to discuss the future of our region’s transportation. Representatives from Erdman Anthony will be doing a presentation on the recently completed Juniata River Bridge project, a project which won them the MASITE 2014 Project of the Year award. The meeting will provide an excellent opportunity for our members to network with professionals from throughout the region.

February 18, 2015

Issa Ramaji, a doctoral candidate in architectural engineering at Penn State, has been selected to receive one of two annual Chicago Committee on High-Rise Buildings (CCHRB) scholarships.

He was cited for his research on the application of modular building technology in high-rise buildings, as well as his academic achievements and community service.

Ramaji is advised by Ali Memari, the Bernard and Henrietta Hankin Chair of Residential Construction and director of the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center.

His research focuses on Building Information Modeling and multi-story modular buildings.

Ramaji received his bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Iran, and worked for five years in the construction industry before starting his doctoral studies.

He will receive $3,000 and has the option to attend a future CCHRB meeting to be formally recognized.

The CCHRB is a not-for-profit organization founded to investigate problems or enhancements, support research and disseminate information for economic design, construction, operation and rehabilitation of high-rise buildings.

The committee consists of 80 members including architects, engineers, specialty consultants, building owners and building managers, general contractors, specialty contractors, representatives of professional organizations and members of the legal profession.

February 18, 2015

On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the Penn State Chapter of ACI will be hosting a dinner downtown at the Tavern. This will be a joint function with the Pittsburgh Chapter of ACI. Civil and environmental engineering faculty are encouraged to attend at $25.00 per person.

Confirmation from all attendees is needed by Sunday, March 1 in order to confirm seats. All confirmations can be sent to Tom Pochatko at with a subject of: ACI Dinner Confirmation.

If you have any questions please contact

February 18, 2015

Challenges and Promising Strategies for Fabricating and Using
Nanomaterial-Enabled Membranes for Water Treatment
4:30pm, Monday, February 23, 2015
358 Willard Building

Mark R. Wiesner, Ph.D.
James L. Meriam Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University

Membrane technologies represent a wide range of solutions for separations required in municipal water treatment. Their small footprint, ability to automate and ability to remove materials form salts to microbes, makes them attractive for both conventional water treatment as well as reuse. The literature describes many cases where nanomaterials have been used to create membranes with new or enhanced properties. However, in many instances, successful implementation these proposed uses of nanomaterials is challenged by limitations in mass transport, thermodynamics, and scale-up. This talk surveys some recent developments in membrane technologies as enabled by nanomaterials for the purposes of desalination, membrane disinfection, water reuse and other applications. The sacrificial use of nanomaterials to reduced membrane fouling, photocatalytic membranes, “high flux” membranes, and templated membranes are among the proposed uses that will be considered. Challenges associated with these strategies for using nanomaterials to enhance membranes processes will be reviewed and promising applications will be highlighted.

Mark R. Wiesner holds the James L. Meriam Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University where he has appointments in the Pratt School of Engineering and the Nicholas School of Environment. He serves as Director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). Dr. Wiesner’s research established the area of environmental nanotechnology, examining the application of nanotechnologies for environmental quality control and the possible environmental implications of nanomaterials. He co-edited/authored the book “Environmental Nanotechnologies” and serves as Associate Editorof the journals Nanotoxicology and Environmental Engineering Science. Professor Wiesner also pioneered research in the area of applications of low-pressure membranes to water treatment. He co-edited and -authored the book “Water Treatment Membrane Process,” served as the founding Chair of the American Water Works Association’s Membrane Research Committee, and serves on the editorial board of the journal Desalination. Professor Wiesner is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Water Association. Wiesner is a former President of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP), a de Fermat Laureate (2004) and the 2011 recipient of the Clarke Water Prize for his work in improving water quality through advancements in membrane and nanotechnology research.

February 12, 2015

Gordon Warn, associate professor of civil engineering, along with two other Penn State faculty members, recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award to fund their research on resilient and sustainable building design.

Warn, along with Timothy Simpson, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and Lisa Iulo, associate professor of architecture, will collaborate with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh on the project.

Warn and his team received approximately $850,000 of the $1.26 million collaborative grant. The three-year project will begin March 1.

Read full Warn article here

February 13, 2015

High concentrations of dissolved iron from abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania have been contaminating some of the Commonwealth’s streams and rivers for many years, potentially affecting aquatic habitats and drinking water for millions of residents.

To combat this problem, a team of Penn State researchers has proposed a method to eliminate much of the iron before it reaches the waterways.

Their research, published in the most recent edition of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, uses bacteria and natural iron “terraces” to remove the iron in a process called biological low pH iron oxidation.

Read full iron article here

February 4, 2015

Seminar with Dr. Tyler Ley

Associate Professor

Oklahoma State University

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 @ 9:30 a.m.

202 Hammond (Stavely Conference Room)

“Combining X-ray Tomography and Chemical Mapping for 3D Chemical Segmentation and In-situ Observations of Dissolution and Precipitation in Cementitious Systems”

Dr. Tyler Ley is an Associate Professor and the Williams Foundation Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Oklahoma State University.  He has received many awards for his teaching and research including the NSF Career Award, the OSU Regents Research Award and the ACI Walter P. Moore Jr. Faculty Achievement Award.  He is also the author of Hydration Theater ( and Engineering is Everywhere ( two novel teaching methods to help college and elementary students learn more about engineering.  His research interest is in characterizing the chemical and physical processes of cementitious systems as they react, development of novel sensors, concrete durability, and concrete construction.  More information can be found at

February 4, 2015

Jennifer Kearney, senior in civil engineering, was named one of 10 national American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) New Faces of Civil Engineering-College Edition.

The annual recognition honors students who demonstrate strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, good communication skills, business and management knowledge, leadership, high ethical standards, professionalism and flexibility.

Kearney is now eligible for selection as ASCE’s national representative in the New Faces of Engineering program, sponsored by DiscoverE. The winner will receive a $500 cash scholarship.

Read full article here

February 3, 2015

The 23rd annual Housing and Land Development Conference will be held March 4 and 5 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in University Park.

Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC), the conference is intended for builders, remodelers, code officials, design professionals, engineers, educators, factory-built housing manufacturers, product manufacturers, home performance contractor engineers, developers, design professionals, planners and regulatory officials. 

Wednesday’s theme is "Housing" and participants can choose from one of three tracks: Design & Innovation, Construction or Building Codes.

The keynote speaker is Eric Werling, coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America program.

Read full conference article here

February 2, 2015

Tong Qiu, assistant professor of civil engineering, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Award.

The CAREER award is the most prestigious award given by the NSF and is designed to support junior faculty members who have shown exceptional promise through outstanding research, excellent teaching and the integration of education and research by awarding assistant professors with five years of funding.

Read full NSF article here

February 1, 2015

The Penn State student chapter of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) took first place in the Student Chapters Residential Construction Management Competition, held during the NAHB International Builders Show on Jan. 20 to 22 in Las Vegas.

A total of 34 four-year schools participated in the competition, which gives students the opportunity to apply skills learned in the classroom to a real construction company by completing a management project/proposal.

Read full NAHB article here

January 29, 2015

According to the Schuylkill Action Network, the Schuylkill River and its tributaries provide drinking water to more than 1.5 million Pennsylvania residents and habitats for both fish and wildlife. It’s also being actively polluted.

Two abandoned coalmines in Minersville — the Oak Hill Collieries and the Pine Knot Complex — are releasing thousands of gallons of contaminated water into the river each minute.

In fact, during severe drought, “these two discharges are the Schuylkill River,” said environmental engineering professor William Burgos. “They make up something like 80 to 90 percent of what’s called the base flow.”

Not only do these discharges violate the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PaDEP) Clean Streams Law, which was established in 1937 to “preserve and improve the purity of the waters of the commonwealth,” but they are detrimental to aquatic life, impact water quality for downstream users and cost Pennsylvania money in lost recreational tourism revenue as well.

To combat this pollution problem, Penn State civil engineering undergraduate students helped the PaDEP develop what will become the largest mine water treatment facility in the state.

The scholarships will provide recognition and financial assistance to academically talented juniors and seniors who are majoring in architectural engineering or civil engineering.

Read full treatment plant article here

January 29, 2015

PJ Dick and Trumbull Corporation have committed a total of $350,000 over the next five years to establish two scholarships in the College of Engineering.

The scholarships will provide recognition and financial assistance to academically talented juniors and seniors who are majoring in architectural engineering or civil engineering.

Read full scholarship article here

January 28, 2015

The 2015 Annual Thomas C. Kavanagh Memorial Structural Engineering Lecture will be presented on Thursday, April 2, 2015. The lecture will be held in 108 Forum beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The 2015 speaker will be Dr. Sharon Wood, professor and dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Wood is a 2013 inductee to the National Academy of Engineering for design of reinforced concrete structures and associated seismic instrumentation for extreme loadings and environment. Dr. Wood is also the vice president of the American Concrete Institute and has been nationally recognized for her research on the earthquake response of reinforced concrete structures.

Her research interests include improving the structural response of reinforced concrete buildings, design and evaluation of bridges, and development of passive sensors for infrastructure systems. She has served on federal advisory committees for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Learn more about the Thomas C. Kavanagh Lecture here


January 28, 2015

Penn State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering added a new faculty member this semester.

Ilgin Guler has joined the department as an assistant professor in civil engineering. She received bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and industrial engineering from Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2007 and a master’s degree and doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008 and 2012, respectively.

Learn more about Dr. Guler here

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