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Simulator lets Rowan researchers put rubber to road

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Professor Yusuf Mehta, director, CREATES Institute, with the Heavy Vehicle Simulator.
Professor Yusuf Mehta, director, CREATES Institute, with the Heavy Vehicle Simulator. - ()

Rowan University is using a heavy vehicle simulator to replicate the effects of motor vehicles on asphalt in a project aimed at helping transportation officials design better roads.

The simulator is being used by researchers at Rowan University’s CREATES Institute, or Center for Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems, which is housed at the South Jersey Tech Park in Mullica Hill.

Rowan has been loaned the simulator through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The simulator applies truck and aircraft loading on pavement, simulates typical wander patterns and controls the surface temperature of pavement sections.

Yusuf Mehta, the director of the CREATES Institute, said Rowan is the only university in the Northeastern U.S. performing this kind of research.  

“It applies 20 years of damage in a few months,” Mehta said. “It is an accelerated damage tool. Why is that useful? Because many lab studies and computation studies only answer part of the question. The first thing a state agency will ask is how will it do in real life? This helps answer that question.”

The researchers are seeking to find ways to prevent the pavement from cracking.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has joined the research project, and the state is looking to develop a consortium with Delaware and Pennsylvania to benefit from the research. Rowan has received grants from the Florida and Wisconsin departments of transportation. 

“There are many tests like these across the nation that claim they are the best test,” Mehta said. “State agencies are afraid to make decisions based on lab studies. That’s why the heavy-vehicle simulator gets closer to the truth. We have very controlled conditions. … When you intervene at the right time, you can extend the life of the road.”

State highway agencies and pavement companies in the Northeast can also sponsor sections of Rowan University’s Accelerated Pavement Testing Facility.

The facility features 12 full-scale pavement sections that are used to conduct advanced and field-representative pavement research. All full-scale sections can facilitate constructing upward of 3-foot deep pavements and some sections may be designed with water table control capability within the supporting base and subgrade layers.

“[Companies] want to have their materials tested, so there are new materials that are being tested,” said Steven Weinstein, Rowan’s executive vice president for policy and external relationships. “We are doing the same thing on coatings on buildings because they do not last the same in extreme weather conditions. Our engineering program has developed an expertise and works with the Department of Defense and the Army Corps, and that is how these things come about.”

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David Hutter

David Hutter

David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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