LAWRENCE — A graduate student in the University of Kansas School of Engineering has been granted a prestigious federal fellowship to help make bridges on the nation’s highways safer for travelers.
Jordan Nutter, a second-year master's student in civil engineering from Prosper, Texas, was awarded the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship by the Federal Highway Administration. The fellowship includes a $35,000 research grant.
“The Eisenhower Fellowship is probably the most prestigious fellowship opportunity out there for students who are studying in transportation-related fields,” said Caroline Bennett, professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering. “It's super competitive and a really high honor.”
“It’s really exciting,” Nutter said.
Under the fellowship, Nutter will research how to make the nation’s highway bridges safer by making it easier for engineers to assess when structures are in danger of damage or outright failure from “constraint-induced fractures” — cracks that can form in a structure when materials are not able to freely deform.
“Steel bridges can experience failed connections due to the inability of a portion of a girder to yield, which basically means it cannot bend or move under loading, causing that portion to become constrained,” Nutter said.
“This constraint can then cause a sudden fracture — and it means you can't reliably predict the failure. I'm going to research a way to design a connection in which you can accurately predict (and prevent) its failure mode, to help reduce the potential of sudden cracking. This will help engineers design bridges to avoid constraint-induced fracture.”
Nutter will be recognized at the annual Transportation Research Board conference in January 2022.
The fellowship “enables Jordan to work on a project that she might not otherwise have the opportunity to do,” Bennett said. “It puts her in contact with folks at the Federal Highway Administration. So she'll have a really good professional network formation there. And it will set her up to be a leader in transportation structures as she moves forward.”
The project is in addition to the research Nutter is undertaking for her master’s degree, and it will be part of her doctoral studies. Her master’s research involves developing methods to reduce vibration concerns and extend the usable lifespan of cantilevered highway signs — structures that overhang highways, often swaying under wind loading. Cantilever sign structure failures have been reported by several state departments of transportations, which is the motivation for Nutter’s research.
Nutter plans to pursue her doctorate after finishing her master’s degree and said she has benefited from the connections and education she has received at KU.
“I've learned a lot since being here,” Nutter said. “I think the instructors at KU have a lot of knowledge to share with us, which helped me determine what sector of structural engineering I want to go in. My research has then helped me delve into my interests even further.”
The fellowship suggests Nutter has a bright future, Bennett said.
“I think it's a fabulous opportunity. It's a really prestigious honor for her and for the KU School of Engineering,” Bennett said. “The research that she's going to be doing on constraint-induced fracture is going to be highly visible, and the industry will have a lot of interest in it. So it's a great opportunity all around.”
The Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program awards fellowships to students pursuing degrees in transportation-related disciplines. Awards are merit-based and generally result in 150-200 grants annually.