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UT’s Smart Communities Initiative Honored by Southeast Tennessee Development District

SCI program was honored by the SETDD boardThe University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Smart Communities Initiative was honored today by its past and continuing partner, the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

CEE’s Dr. Jenny Retherford was on hand for the events, since CEE has been one of the most engaged departments in the program.

Through SCI, which kicked off during the 2014-15 academic year, UT connects faculty and students with Tennessee cities, counties, special districts and other governmental organizations to engage in real-world problem solving aimed at improving the region’s economy, environment and social fabric. SCI is a key component of Experience Learning, the university’s initiative that emphasizes experiential learning.

Last year, SCI partnered with the district. Faculty and students in 20 courses worked on 22 projects ranging from researching Cherokee Indians who walked the Trail of Tears to developing proposals for water quality improvements across the region.

At the end of the year, it was announced that SCI would continue to work with the Southeast Tennessee Development District as a partner while also engaging in new partnerships that can include small and rural communities. This year’s partner is Lenoir City.

“UT’s SCI program has been selected to receive the Flame Award from the district,” said Chuck Hammonds, assistant executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

“Our agency holds a full board meeting every two years and presents some awards for outstanding projects in our area. The Flame Award is the overall agency award and is named because of the symbolism of a flame or spark that kindles or starts a fire,” he said. “We are recognizing the SCI program because of the university’s commitment to engage the community to solve real-world problems and to ignite the imagination of our future leaders.”

The award was presented at today’s annual district board of directors meeting.

Kelly Ellenburg, director of UT’s Office of Service-Learning, which oversees the SCI, attended the event to represent the SCI and UT. She was joined by faculty members Brad Collett, Jennifer Retherford and Deb Shmerler.

“We’re thrilled to receive this award from the district. Our partnership with them was— and continues to be—very beneficial for all involved,” Ellenburg said. “The district represents a large area and has provided a wealth of opportunity for our faculty and students to create impact with the community by brainstorming ideas, doing research, and developing strategies to help resolve difficult and complex issues. We really appreciate that the district is recognizing the work we have done together.”

Mayors from across the region as well as elected officials at the state and national level attended the event.

“To be honored in front of so many public officials from across the area provides great exposure for the Smart Communities Initiative, our faculty and students, Experience Learning and the university as a whole,” Ellenburg said. “We hope some of these leaders learn more about our program and reach out to explore future partnerships.”

New Video Explains CEE-led Research on Concrete for Nuclear Application

Professor John Ma is leading a four-year research project in partnership with ORNL, a consortium of other universities including Vanderbilt, the University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina, as well as Ready Mix USA to study a concrete specimen in steel confinement that will have potential implications for the nuclear industry. This video shows the scope of the project, along with explanations from various partners involved in the collaboration.


Three CEE Representatives Honored with ASCE Awards at 2016 Tennessee Engineers’ Conference

asceThe Tennessee Engineers’ Conference is the premier gathering for engineering professionals to connect with each other, learn from other leaders in the state, expand their awareness of challenges across the engineering landscape and see the newest technology innovations.

Three representatives from the CEE department were honored at the conference with Tennessee ASCE awards for their outstanding contributions in the field.

Dr. Retherford (Dr. J) received the Peter G. Hoadley Award for Outstanding Educator;

Nancy Roberts received the Daniel B. Barge Jr. Award for Distinguished Service;

and Liam Weaver (not pictured) received the award for Student Chapter Member.

CEE Department Head Chris Cox said the following about the three recipients: “I am extremely pleased that three of our best have received recognition from ASCE. Dr. Retherford has completely transformed our senior design class. The student projects typically address real-world problems being faced by our local communities, and all of the realistic constraints that come with them.

“Additionally, Ms. Roberts has taken it upon herself to be the liaison between the Student Chapter and the Knoxville branch of ASCE. She provides assistance with their service projects and conference competitions, recruits local professionals to serve as advisors, welcomes new graduates to the young member group within the Knoxville branch, and helps them with networking within the local civil engineering community.

“Finally, Liam’s leadership as president of our student chapter during the last year was inspiring. There were a number of strong leaders in the student chapter during his year of leadership, and he did a remarkable job inspiring them to chip in, trusting everyone to do their part, and keeping everyone focused on a common goal.”

5th Annual UT Watershed Symposium: “Careers in Water”

5th Annual Watershed SymposiumThe Watershed Faculty Consortium of the University of Tennessee (UT) welcomed students and potential employers to the 5th Annual Watershed Symposium on Tuesday, Sept 13th. Over 50 undergraduate and graduate students associated from 16 different academic programs interacted with professionals in water-related fields, from private consultants to state, federal and municipal governments and nonprofit organizations. The 17 tables that comprised the career expo represented a cross-section of the diverse career paths that students may enter after completing their Watershed Minor program at UT.

Read the full story here.

UT Engineering Presence Felt High Above Battle at Bristol As Well As on Field

collossus, world's largest 4-sided video screenWhile University of Tennessee, Knoxville, quarterback Joshua Dobbs, a senior in aerospace engineering, and defensive end Corey Vereen, a senior in computer science, might be the most high-profile engineers in this weekend’s Battle at Bristol football game with Virginia Tech, UT engineering is responsible for one of the most visible aspects at the game — literally.

The instillation of “Colossus,” the massive 700-ton high-resolution TV that hangs over the field, required a company experienced in such large-scale projects.

Thanks to its history with massive construction and installation jobs, Barnhart Crane — headed by 1983 UT civil engineering graduate Alan Barnhart — was hired do the job.

“Barnhart is known for bringing solutions to complicated rigging challenges, so when presented with the installation of Colossus, we knew we had to be involved because of a certain historic football game that was to be played,” said Barnhart Vice President of Development Brian Thomas, a 1985 chemical engineering graduate of UT.

“UT’s College of Engineering and the university as a whole have had a major influence on our company though our owner and president Alan Barnhart and senior leadership such as Jeff Swanson, who have seen the company grow from 25 employees back in Memphis in the mid-1980s to over 1,200 employees in over 45 locations throughout the U.S. today.”

According to Bristol Motor Speedway officials, about 40 miles of cable and fiber optic lines were required, with the largest such cable weighing in at 63 pounds per foot.

While the same officials noted that the main suspension lines are larger than those supporting the Golden Gate Bridge, the job wasn’t merely about heavy lifting.

The nature of the fiber optics and the 485-speaker sound system meant that the installation had to be technically precise as well.

“The biggest challenge was the installation of suspension cables that were 3.5 inches in diameter and more than 600 feet long, with each connected to a suspended halo 160 feet over the infield,” said Thomas. “All of that had to be done simultaneously, without any touching the ground, with limited planning time to mobilize the required equipment and personnel.”

Barnhart Crane’s expertise in such work has earned it a number of national awards, including three Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association awards in 2015 alone, more than any other company.

Bristol officials said that one of the biggest fears—that a punt or pass might strike the TV—were unfounded, noting that the sheer scope of the speedway meant that the screen would be positioned well out of reach of any errant footballs.

NSF Funds UT Engineering Look at Stormwater Adaptation, STEM Education

Jon HathawayThe growing reputation of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Engineering as a center for environmental research got a big boost recently thanks to the National Science Foundation.

The NSF’s Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation announced backing for a UT-led project to identify techniques for more sustainably managing stormwater runoff in urban areas.

Headed by an interdisciplinary team from the College of Engineering, the project includes Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Jon Hathaway as well as Assistant Professor Anahita Khojandi, joint ORNL-UT Associate Professor Olufemi Omitaomu and Associate Professor Xueping Li, all of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

“We’re excited about this project. We all view problems through a different lens, so when we collaborate there is a synergy that really elevates the final product,” said Hathaway, the team’s principal investigator. “The issue of urbanization and urban runoff management is only getting worse, and we believe the methods developed in this study will be really beneficial to municipalities nationwide.”

As part of those efforts, the team is working on the assumption that urban areas have out-of-date, undersized and crumbling stormwater infrastructure. The team suggests that rather than replacing this infrastructure, areas should use more sustainable techniques, such as implementing a green infrastructure, to achieve multiple environmental and societal goals.

While taking an environmentally friendly approach to the problem is key to the recommendations, the team notes that changing weather patterns can leave cities unsure of the best way to spend their resources.

In an effort to alleviate some of that uncertainty, the team wants to present city planners and decision makers with data showing what’s likely to happen based on infrastructure upgrades they may or may not make.

To achieve that level of information, the team is taking a number of approaches:

  • Looking at future weather predictions based on a number of climate models.
  • Using hydrologic modeling to show how particular areas respond to flooding under various climate scenarios.
  • Employing high-end mathematics to account for weather variations over time as part of infrastructure planning.
  • Taking socio-economic factors into consideration on a case-by-case basis to show best use of green infrastructure.

“Our team is working with novel approaches such as hydrologic response models from environmental engineering and stochastic programming models from industrial engineering,” Li said.

“This innovative framework enables us to tackle a new class of problems that require new methodologies to maintain a holistic view while developing practical solutions.”

Another key component of the plan that drew the NSF’s attention is that the team plans to boost diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education by partnering with campus chapters for minority education, such as UT’s branch of the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.

CEE Receives National Attention in the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education

Thanos PapanicolaouThe August 2016 issue of the Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, published by the Universities Council on Water Resources, included research by Professor Thanos Papanicolaou and Research Assistant Professor Chris Wilson, along with colleagues from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa. The research identifies new dynamic indices for soil quality that have been developed based on the ER experiments enabling understanding of how soil redistribution affects topsoil labile and recalcitrance carbon under different management.  Suggestions on how to work with stakeholders for soil assessments are provided. Read the research paper here.


UT, ORNL Study Climate’s Role in Demands Placed on Energy Grid

Joshua FuChanges in climate and shifts in population density can lead to significant changes in regional demand for electricity. As the nation plans its infrastructure improvements for the future, vulnerabilities at local scale will be an important consideration.

Joshua Fu, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his colleagues at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are applying a new methodology for predicting the demands that future climate and population changes could place on the nation’s energy grid.

“What we wanted to do is to look at population trends, look at climate trends and figure out where the problems will be down the road to better predict the strains brought on by increased electricity demand at the resolution of the electricity service area,” said Fu.

Fu and Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Professor Steven Fernandez coordinated with ORNL’s Mohammed Olama and Melissa Allen, who was Fu’s former Ph.D. student at UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. The team used Fu’s previous climate study to help analyze these impacts to the nation’s electrical grid.

That data, combined with projected population growth and shifts due to extreme events such as hurricanes, allowed the team to begin theorizing appropriate responses to those threats.

As the temperature goes up in the summer, the thermostat gets turned down in a constant battle to keep living spaces comfortable, which increases the overall demand for electricity.

With increasing temperatures due to climate change, the effect is more severe still. As populations shift and concentrate in some cities, demand during the summer spikes further in those locations.

Electricity providers can plan to some extent for population growth, but sudden shifts can become more problematic.

One example of such a shift in population is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast 11 years ago. Katrina forced an immediate change in electricity demand. As a result, networked infrastructures were required to accommodate new load centers.

With the intensity and frequency of natural disasters on the increase, population distribution could change rapidly in the areas directly affected by disaster as well as the locations that take in displaced victims.

“We’re not saying that all future extreme events will happen to those degrees, but we want to be ready if and when it does occur,” said Fu.

Fu said this study demonstrates that power grids and energy delivery must be developed not just for now, but for the “what ifs.”

The next step for the group is to develop more solutions and refined data, with an eye on keeping the nation’s power supply and demand ahead of potential problems.

The research was recently featured in Nature Energy.

Outstanding Alumna: Sharon Habibi

Sharon Habibi (BSSharon Habibi/Arch ’75, MS/CEE ’77, EMBA ’89, University of Tennessee; Executive MBA ’89, Georgia State University) made the journey from the suburbs of Tehran, Iran, to a successful career as an entrepreneur and business owner in Atlanta, Georgia, with the help of a special mentor and an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee.

Habibi, born Shirin Sirang Habibi in Tehran, was the daughter of a nuclear physicist, Mozaffair Sirang. Mr. Sirang received a grant to study in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the family moved to Tennessee in 1960. Habibi completed 5th and 6th grade in Oak Ridge before the family moved back to Iran.

In 1970, Habibi returned to Tennessee and decided to major in architecture at UT–her father had consulted with some of his Oak Ridge friends and they had recommended the university for her studies.

“I was always good in math and numbers and in those days in Iran if you were not a doctor, architect, or an engineer you were nobody,” Habibi said. “My family insisted that I become a physician, but my grades in biology convinced me that I needed to follow a different path. Architecture was a great alternative but I still had an analytical side and a passion in me for the engineering.

After graduation I decided that structural engineering was a great add-on to the architecture degree that I had received.” Habibi decided to work towards a master’s degree in civil engineering.

During the process of research about the department, she met with CEE professor Dr. Ed Burdette and it was his encouragement and his confidence in Habibi that convinced her that she was on the right path.

After Habibi received her master’s degree, she accepted a position with Datum Engineers in Dallas, Texas. At that company, she became more engaged in computer programming and developing applications for engineering calculations.

In 1980, during the advent of personal computing, Habibi and her husband decided to start their own business. Since the couple had an eight-month old daughter, they decided to move to Atlanta where her parents were located so she could have childcare while continuing her career.

“In 1980 I moved to Atlanta and started up a small software company, Syscom Technologies, Inc., marketing to engineers, which soon took off to become an information technology hardware

and software company serving Atlanta’s growing business sector,” Habibi said. “The IT industry was growing by leaps and bounds and being part of it was fun, engaging, and filled with challenges.”

While facing the daily tasks of running a business, Habibi decided to go back to school for a business degree, and she received her executive MBA from Georgia State University in 1989.

After thirty-five successful years, Habibi sold her business in 2015. “I’m not ready for retirement yet, and I’m still searching for that second career everyone talks about,” Habibi commented.

Habibi is a strong supporter of higher education, and credits her degrees from UT as being integral to her career success. “You can get a good education in many schools, but it’s the personal attention that you get, the confidence that you build, and the clear vision that you develop that makes the difference,” Habibi said. “I think I was very lucky to get that at UT. My advisor and mentor Dr. Burdette was a major influence on me and I believe that engineering students at UT still have that same experience.”

Habibi has two grown daughters, Parisa and Azita. One daughter works in Spain for Amazon Corporation and the other is in San Francisco with Braintree. Habibi enjoys working out and playing tennis, and spending time with her grandson who lives with his mother in Spain.

“I owe what I have today to the mentors that I have had along the way, most especially my father and Dr. Burdette,” Habibi added.

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