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Civil Engineering Professor's Pavement Study Fueled by NSF CAREER Award

June 30, 2009

rafiIt’s the complexity of asphalt pavement that fascinates Rafiqul Tarefder, assistant professor of Civil Engineering. It is the variations in load as the flow of traffic cycles from bicycles to cars to pickups to heavy tractor trailers, and the physical changes as the pavement heats, cools, oxidizes, ages and cracks. His interest in pavement is now paying off with a National Science Foundation CAREER grant.

Over the next three years Tarefder will examine the effects of moisture-induced damage in asphalt pavement. The funding that comes with the award will allow him to hire graduate students to help delve into the problems of asphalt damage at the molecular level.

Tarefder says the damage and cracks caused by moisture in damp pavement have concerned engineers for more than 70 years, but most models that predict pavement problems don’t consider the chemistry involved in damage and cracking. His research will explore the ways moisture interacts with the aggregate and asphalt binders and he hopes it will lead to the eventual creation of asphalt that is more resistant to moisture and more long lived.

“We are going to find out what kind of chemical changes take place, and under what kind of load these cracks show up,” he says.

Tarefder has received another NSF grant in which he plans to look at how asphalt ages and to use molecular dynamics simulation to study how molecules change under pressure and temperature. He and his graduate students will be looking at how carbon and hydrogen molecules are oxidized and how this makes asphalt stiff and vulnerable to cracking.