On April 30, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and second gentleman Doug Emhoff toured NC State’s Centennial Campus and the College of Engineering. The tour was part of Emhoff and Buttigieg’s visit to Raleigh to promote the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan with Rep. Deborah Ross and Rep. David Price of congressional districts two and four also present.
Morton Barlaz, head of the department of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State, was notified of the federal government official’s visit on April 25. Barlaz said after the notification, students, staff and faculty involved quickly planned and outlined the presentations and tour with an emphasis on quick but meaningful demonstrations.
According to Barlaz, the visit started with a welcome from Chancellor Randy Woodson. The group then walked to NC State’s Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics (CAMAL) in the department of industrial and systems engineering for demonstrations in advanced manufacturing and 3D printing before heading to a lab which studies asphalt.
“The focus of our research in asphalt is to understand its behavior,” Barlaz said. “There are two major problems: cracking and rutting. The goal was to design asphalts that are resilient. The longer it lasts, the less road closures, the less energy, the less materials you have to use in [it] to repair [it].”
Finally, at the Constructed Facilities Lab, the group received a demonstration regarding large-scale structural testing including technology which allows quick repairs of bridge columns when damaged by things like natural disasters. The visits to the trio of labs gave the college of engineering a chance to show off its capabilities.
“NC State is a significant player,” Barlaz said. “In fact, the manager of the Constructed Facilities Lab told me that the test he demonstrated in six minutes today, he didn’t think another lab in the country could’ve done it.”
The college’s presentations had their intended effect, as Emhoff pointed to the University as a shining example in his later remarks at Union Station.
“We toured NC State, they have this incredible facility dedicated to the future,” Emhoff said. “You heard the president the other night talking about the future, we need to invest in our future. Seeing what I saw with the materials, the 3D printing, the asphalt and the concrete test, that’s the thing we need to be doing all around the country so we can compete and we can win.”
According to Barlaz, the vast majority of research done in his department is by faculty and students in tandem. A few students were allowed to present some of the demonstrations with faculty to Emhoff, Buttigieg, Ross and Price.
“In the asphalt lab, there were two separate faculty and two students demonstrating. In the Constructed Facilities Lab, there were two faculty with multiple students around who were involved,” Barlaz said. “There would’ve been more students involved but there were very, very strict restrictions on numbers because of COVID-19.”
Barlaz said the fact federal government officials chose to tour NC State showed the University’s outstanding research and education in the country.
“In all three areas — advanced manufacturing, transportation materials and large-scale structural testing — we’ve got world-class faculty and students and research,” Barlaz said. “I think the fact that they picked North Carolina State is reflective or represents the fact that we’re a top school.”
Despite strict COVID-19 and security measures, Barlaz said faculty were pleased with the demonstrations and the government officials expressed interest in their work.
“I had the opportunity to walk with Secretary Buttigieg, and I talked about what we were doing and he asked questions and he cares,” Barlaz said. “And that’s very important; we have people in the White House who care about what we’re doing.”