TIDC Researcher Introduces Engineering to Millinocket & Medway Students

Millinocket & Medway, ME – On a snowy January morning during a normal school day, Professor Aaron Gallant and his graduate research assistant, Temitope Omokinde, made the trip up I-95 from the University of Maine to Medway Middle School & Schenck High School. There, they introduced elementary through high school students to the world of engineering and the opportunities available to them at the University of Maine. 

Professor Gallant began his presentation by asking the audience what they think an engineer is. The answers varied from “a person who fixes cars” to “someone who solves problems.” The latter answer became a running theme for the remainder of the demonstration, as Gallant displayed chronological images of engineering feats throughout history, each time stopping to ask the students “what problem is being solved here?” Gallant concluded the presentation segment of the demonstration by introducing the many subdisciplines of engineering including civil engineering, chemical engineering, bio-medical engineering, and his own field: geotechnical engineering.

From there, Gallant and graduate student Temitope Omokinde provided a live demonstration of a TIDC sponsored geotechnical engineering project, soil carbonation—a new approach to stabilize weak underground materials for construction. This chemical stabilization method consumes carbon dioxide to precipitate carbonate minerals that bind the soil together. The demonstration was presented in the context of one of the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) fourteen grand challenges: the development of carbon sequestration methods, as well as a problem that students in northern Maine are intimately familiar with, damage to roads as a result of harsh winter frost. Several student volunteers assisted Gallant and Omokinde during these demonstrations. They observed the significant amount of heat that’s generated as part of the reaction of carbon dioxide being introduced to lime-treated silt, bringing to life the chemistry being discussed. Additionally, students and faculty were provided with samples of fully carbonated silt, something that now feels more like rock than soil. In the Schenck High School auditorium, students cheered on their teacher, Mr. Gallegher, to break the carbonated soil block. As hard as he tried, the soil did not crack, showing how strong the material becomes after the reaction. 

The demonstration brought to life the creativity and problem-solving that engineers engage in every day. It also provided the chance for students to learn about the exciting careers that can stem from an education at the University of Maine’s College of Engineering, and the opportunities for engineering students to get hands-on work experience at the Advanced Structures & Composites Center and Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center.

The TIDC is the 2018 U.S. DOT Region 1 University Transportation Center located within the University of Maine Advanced Structures & Composites Center. TIDC’s focus is on extending the life and improving the durability of transportation assets. The University of Maine has partnered with The University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Vermont, and Western New England University, in collaboration with all 6 New England DOTs to create TIDC. 

Professor Aaron Gallant Presenting at Medway Middle School

Graduate Research Assistant Temitope Omokinde showing students a sample of soil before the soil carbonization demonstration 

Schenck students ready to answer questions from Gallant

Schenck students assisting in the soil carbonation experiment

Schenck teacher, Mr. Gallegher trying to break the carbonated soil sample