CEE graduate students win multiple awards at annual research symposium


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Three graduate students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering recently won first place awards at the 15th Annual College of Engineering Research Symposium (CERS), held on Tuesday, April 10, at the Nittany Lion Inn.

CERS is a student-initiated and student-run event that provides a networking opportunity for undergraduate students, graduate students and industry representatives. CERS 2018 showcased the cutting-edge interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary research that is being conducted at Penn State through paper and poster presentations.

First- and second-place awards were given for morning and afternoon paper/oral presentations. First-, second- and third-place awards were given for morning and afternoon poster presentations and Art in Science submissions.

Behnoud Kermani, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering working under the supervision of Shelley Stoffels and Ming Xiao, won first place for the morning poster session with his research titled "Experimental and Numerical Study of Subgrade Soil Migration into Pavement Subbase and Mitigation Using Geotextile."

His research focuses on subgrade soil migration, also known as pumping, which is one of the most important failure mechanisms in pavement systems.

“I have conducted both experimental investigation and numerical study on subgrade soil migration in pavement to better understand this phenomenological behavior,” said Kermani. “The objective of the experimental study was to quantify the magnitude and rate of pumping in overlying granular layers in different classes and types of pavement. I have also investigated the effectiveness of geotextile separation and filtration layer in reducing pumping.”

After finishing the experimental investigation, Kermani developed a particle transport numerical model for predicting the amount of subgrade migration in pavement.

Kermani successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in January and will be graduating in May. He hopes to find a position in a leading institution where he can continue his professional contribution to civil engineering.

Bonnie McDevitt, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental engineering working under the supervision of Nathaniel Warner, was the first-place winner in the sustainable infrastructure category for her paper titled “Investigating Anthropogenic and Natural Sources Enhancing Salinization in Western U.S. Rivers.”

“The presentation was about increasing salinity in Wyoming river basins impacted by oil and gas produced water discharges for beneficial reuse in agriculture,” McDevitt said. “The paper sought to identify the source of salinity and natural mechanisms enhancing concentrations; however, further analysis is required to pinpoint a specific source.”

McDevitt is expected to graduate in the spring of 2020.

Benjamin Roman, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental engineering working under the supervision of Rachel Brennan, won first place in the environmental category with his research titled “Waste to Food: Protein Production by a Duckweed Polyculture Grown Throughout a Pilot-Scale Ecological Wastewater Treatment System.”

“The aim of my research is to simultaneously alleviate world hunger and lack of sanitation by capturing nutrients from waste streams to create a sustainable source of protein in the form of plant biomass,” Roman said.

His presentation covered the early work of his Ph.D., where he evaluated the protein content of duckweed grown on various stages of an ecological wastewater treatment system.

“Contrary to the literature, the protein content of duckweed did not increase with aqueous nitrogen concentrations, indicating that other parameters must be considered when growing duckweed for protein on wastewater,” Roman said.

Roman is expected to graduate in the summer of 2019 and hopes to continue researching and implementing waste to food systems.

First place paper/oral presentation winners received $400, first place poster winners received $225 and the first place Art in Science winner received $150.

Other winners include Saman Barzegari, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering, who won second place in the sustainable infrastructure category; Moses Ajemigbitse, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental engineering, who won second place in the environmental category; and Michael Gomez, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering, who won third place in the afternoon poster session.


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Jennifer Matthews




The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute is Penn State’s transportation research center. Since its founding in 1968, the Larson Institute has maintained a threefold mission of research, education, and service. The 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 problems.

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