UND Engineering prof a go-to guy for N.D. DOT when it comes to research on roadway surface materials

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UND Engineering prof a go-to guy for N.D. DOT when it comes to research on roadway surface materials

It’s a late summer afternoon, clear, breezy — perfect for an outing.

For University of North Dakota Civil Engineering faculty member Nabil Suleiman, that means a road trip — to a work site a few miles north of Manvel, N.D., on U.S. Highway 81, where contractors for the North Dakota Department of Transportation (N.D. DOT) are rolling out a thick, fresh overlay of asphalt.

“It’s heated to at least 280 degrees,” says Suleiman, pointing to the smoking, single lane track of the mixture pouring out of the paving machine, led by dumper semis unloading in the machine’s front hopper. As a regular at road work sites such as this one, Suleiman knows the gamut of jokes about the two Northern Plains seasons — winter and road construction.

Suleiman makes such site visits regularly — sometimes with groups of students from his pavement engineering classes — as part of his work as an asphalt consultant and researcher. His lab in the College of Engineering & Mines includes the latest equipment to test asphalt pavement cores, prepared right at the school.

“Really, there’s a lot more to it than asphalt,” says Suleiman. “Asphalt, a sticky petroleum by-product, is really the glue that holds many ingredients together to make an effective pavement. You can do it in many different thicknesses, depending on what kind of traffic uses the road you’re paving.”

Trucks account for most of the wear and tear on roads, Suleiman said.

“No doubt about it, in addition to this region’s challenging weather, it’s the truck traffic that causes most of the problems that require repair or repaving,” Suleiman said. He notes that one truck imposes loads and wear on a road equivalent to 5,000 cars — you read that right, 5,000.

“We don’t even consider cars when we design heavy traffic roads — we look only at what the expected truck traffic will be,” said Suleiman, who came from Jordan/Palestine to study engineering here. “When I first came to the United States, I was fascinated and impressed by the roads here — then I knew that’s what I wanted to work with.”

In addition to his consulting work for N.D. DOT, Suleiman also conducts research projects for the agency.

Today, out on the road as the big rollers rumble by, he smiles broadly under his hard hat and blaze chartreuse vest — this is what he does.

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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