O'Shaughnessy Wins 3MT Competition
The University of Maryland Graduate School recently announced six campus-wide winners of the 2022 Three-Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), an international competition where students are challenged to explain their research in just three minutes. Amanda O’Shaughnessy, a civil and environmental engineering (CEE) master’s student, was named a winner of the 3MT competition for her research on transportation embankments. Her advisors are CEE professors Ahmet Aydilek and Allen Davis.
O’Shaughnessy’s presentation, titled, When Roads Want to be Dams: Looking to Dam Safety to Regulate Transportation Embankments, emphasizes the significance of being able to develop engineering solutions to address transportation systems.
“In civil engineering, the research we are doing impacts everyone,” said O’Shaughnessy. “From the road you drive on to the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, it’s important to make sure that engineering is done using the newest, best practices, and communication is the only way to ensure that happens.”
Indeed, O’Shaughnessy’s 3MT demonstrates the importance of using best practices when developing transportation embankments. She explains that when roads cross rivers or streams, a culvert is placed into a transportation embankment to allow for the passing of water. Engineers use past weather data to determine how much water each culvert needs to be able to pass.
However, many existing culverts are not able to handle the rising amounts of water due to climate change and increased precipitation. In these cases, transportation embankments may consequently act as dams to hold back the pooling water. Though, if these water forces are too strong, they could cause embankment breakage and road damage. This damage is similar to a dam breakage and have led to several cases of roads failing.
In civil engineering, the research we are doing impacts everyone. From the road you drive on to the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, it’s important to make sure that engineering is done using the newest, best practices, and communication is the only way to ensure that happens.
“There is a new player in the game when it comes to dam safety: transportation embankments,” says O’Shaughnessy.
O’Shaughnessy is conducting research to find engineering solutions to this challenge, including using dam safety elements to regulate transportation embankments. First, O’Shaughnessy gained an overall picture of how states currently deal with embankments and storm water. Her approach included a policy review to demonstrate that embankment breakage is a hazard, analyze culvert designs, and determine how different states define what a dam is. She also performed a literature review and found that impounded water hasn’t been heavily considered when designing transportation embankments.
After her initial research, O’Shaughnessy used geotechnical modeling to look at water levels, seepage, and water pressure to see what would happen to embankments in worst case-scenarios. She wanted to see if aspects of dam safety should be applied to transportation embankments and if so, what could be applied.
“This project has helped me think about the broader impacts of the research. How do we tackle the problem of updating our infrastructure? How do we make sure it’s safe given the changing climate? We want to make sure these systems are safe because we use them every day,” stated O’Shaughnessy.
O’Shaughnessy used her presentation skills in the 3MT competition to communicate her groundbreaking research on transportation regulation to a wider audience.
Published September 7, 2022