Graduate Student Spotlights 

Ben LeBlanc - Civil and Environmental Engineering

Area of study: Civil & Environmental Engineering: Structural Engineering/IGERT

Faculty advisor: Eric Hernandez

From: Saranac Lake, New York

Why did you choose UVM? What do you like best about being at UVM?
I chose UVM because I wanted to live in Vermont. I wanted to have the relaxed community atmosphere while conducting novel research. I like having the ability to conduct research during the day and hike, bike, or run in the morning and evening.

Why did you choose this area of graduate study? What career will you pursue when you complete your degree?
In undergrad I was a math, physics, and mechanical engineering major and very unsure of what I actually wanted to do. It wasn’t until my senior year that I became interested in bridges and civil structures. I then knew that I needed to go back to school to get a degree in civil engineering.

Tell us a little about the research or project you are working on.
My research project focuses on designing a fatigue monitoring and prognosis framework for structural and biomechanical systems. Essentially we want to be able to instrument a system so that we can monitor the stresses imparted on the system during its lifetime or a time period of interest in order to estimate its remaining useful life. The systems of interest are wind turbines, metal beams, and the human body. The most recent project I am working on is to monitor stress reactions in high mileage runners. By using an iPhone to measure accelerations and a model it is possible to estimate ground reaction forces while running. From these forces we can estimate an equivalent stress felt by the tibia throughout a run. Ultimately we want to be able to determine the probability of a stress reaction during a training block to maximize performance and minimize overuse injuries.

If you had a time machine and could go back to before you started your graduate program, what advice would you give yourself?
The best advice I could give my past self is to not rush into graduate school right after undergrad. Before graduate school I had applied to jobs without any luck but decided that I would just go back to school after taking only a semester off. I didn’t really know what I wanted to focus on for the next four/five years but it seemed like the best option at the time. Although I found the direction I wanted to pursue during my time at UVM, it still took a few years. By that point I was in a multi-disciplinary program, which doesn’t necessarily let you focus on the research you are most passionate about because of its broadness. I believe that at an undergrad level it is fine to be in a multi-disciplinary program but I wouldn’t advise being in one at the PhD level. 

Have you had an internship? If yes, where was it? What were your responsibilities? What were the highlights?
During my second summer at UVM I had an internship at the National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colorado. I worked with leading wind energy researchers on a project to determine if the reference frame that was used to model the properties of a 65-meter wind turbine blade would change the results from wind turbine simulations. They had a previous researcher work on this project who wasn’t able to finish it. Therefore I followed up on the work and found that there were convergence issues with the industry standard program when running wind turbine blades with different reference frames. Although the problem is still open ended I was able to find a bug in their code to help them make the program more robust.

Papers
LeBlanc, B., Hernandez, E.M. (2017). “Fatigue usage monitoring in wind turbines using sparse vibration measurements.” Proceedings of the International Workshop on Structural Health Monitoring, USA, 11, 2483-2490.

Bijay K C - Civil and Environmental Engineering

Area of study: Civil and Environmental Engineering, PhD

Faculty advisor: Dr. Ehsan Ghazanfari

From: Bhaktapur, Nepal

Why did you choose UVM? What do you like best about being at UVM?
The first reason is obviously its academic excellence. UVM is a well-reputed university. Moreover, UVM is a perfect sized university. It offers wide areas of study, wide enough that you will never feel constrained, yet small enough that your advisor will have enough time to work with you. UVM has all the resources that you can exploit to excel in your field. The faculty and staff at UVM work to make sure that you get all the possible help and resources to perform your research effectively. The second best thing about UVM is its location. Burlington is one of the best college towns in the country. There are so many things to do around UVM during free time. You can go to the Lake Champlain beaches, hike in the Green Mountains in the summer and ski during the winter.

Why did you choose this area of graduate study? What career will you pursue when you complete your degree?
During my undergraduate studies, I had no idea what to choose as my career. After I graduated, I started working for a consulting firm in Nepal. We performed a lot of site characterization, slope stability, soil and rock testing for the construction of roads and tunnels for hydropower. Geotechnical engineering never failed to amaze me. There was always something new that I would learn from each site I worked on. Once you start going deeper and deeper into the soil or rocks, you will keep on uncovering new facts. There is always something that amazes you in every site, which makes geotechnical engineering interesting. The deeper you go into it, the more interesting it becomes. This is why I chose geotechnical engineering as my area of graduate study. After graduating I plan to get a post-doc to expand my knowledge in the field, then I would like to go work for a research institution that works to develop bedrock, miles below us as a potential resource such as geothermal system, carbon capture and storage, or nuclear waste repository.

Tell us a little about the research or project you are working on.
Currently, in our lab at UVM, we are working on a geo-mechanical characterization of a rock specimen from a geothermal field at Nevada. We are also working to investigate how the coupled processes affect the fracture aperture and permeability evolution in an Enhanced Geothermal Systems. We are investigating the potential use of seismic signatures to monitor the condition of fracture aperture and permeability of a rock matrix in a geothermal system.

Can you share a time when a faculty advisor or mentor connected you with either new insights or a valuable opportunity (conference, publication etc.)?
Last summer, I was performing a test on a rock specimen from Blue Mountain Geothermal Area in Nevada. One day, my advisor (Dr. Ghazanfari) walked into the lab and talked to me about the American Geophysical Union conference. He asked me if I had any idea to present in the conference. I told him we should we present the current research we are performing in the conference. He said he had the same idea. Then, we applied for the presentation and we were selected to present at the conference. I will be going to Washington, D.C. this December to present at the conference, which I think is a great opportunity for me as a Ph.D. student.

Papers
Kamali-Asl, A., K C, B., Foroutan, M., Ghazanfari, E., Cladouhos, T. T., & Stevens, M. (2019). “Stress-strain response and seismic signature analysis of phyllite reservoir rocks from Blue Mountain geothermal field.” Geothermics, 77, 204-223.
Kamali-Asl, A., K C, B., Ghazanfari, E., Hedayat, A. “Flow-induced alterations of seismic signatures and fracture aperture under constant state-of-stress in a single-fractured rock.” [Submitted to Geophysics in July 2018 (Under Review, Manuscript # GEO_2018_0574].
Pasha, M. F. K., Yeasmin, D., Zoldoski, D., K C, B. and Hernandez, J (2016). “Performance of a Biological Wastewater Treatment Plant for a Dairy Farm: Case Study” Journal of Environmental Engineering, 144(1), 04017086.

Lindsay Worley - Civil and Environmental Engineering

Area of study: Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ph.D.

Faculty advisor: Mandar Dewoolkar and Donna Rizzo

From: Langhorne, Pennsylvania

Why did you choose UVM? What do you like best about being at UVM?
I choose UVM 10 years ago for my undergraduate degree when I fell in love with beautiful Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains. After a short hiatus in consulting, I came back to UVM for Graduate School for the same beauty but also for the great Professors and small attentive classes. 

Why did you choose this area of graduate study? What career will you pursue when you complete your degree?
I choose Civil Engineering because I wanted to do work that would help the environment and the community.  I hope to become a Professor after completing my Ph.D. 

Tell us a little about the research or project you are working on.
I am part of the IGERT grant looking into the smart grid and I am hoping to combine my passion for hydrology and energy to form a thesis topic in the very near future. 

Can you share a time when a faculty advisor or mentor connected you with either new insights or a valuable opportunity (conference, publication etc.)?
My advisors help me every day to reach my goal of becoming a professor by going over prospective research topics that will be marketable upon graduation. I have also attended the HydroVision conference over the summer to expand my knowledge on possible topics.  

Have you had an internship? If yes, where was it? What were your responsibilities? What were the highlights?
During the summer of 2018, I had an internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee as part of the IGERT grant. I worked in the hydropower department on the team concentrating on the Standard Modular Hydropower Project. It was great to experience working at a National Lab and exploring Tennessee for the summer.