REU: Sustainability of Horizontal Civil Networks in Rural Areas

Develop sustainable engineering solutions to infrastructure challenges in rural environments.

For information contact

Shannon Bartelt-Hunt
Professor, Department of Civil Engineering

2018 Sustainability of Civil Infrastructures summer scholars.
2018 Sustainability of Civil Infrastructures summer scholars.

Who should apply

Related fields

  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Physics
  • Mathematics

This program encourages applications from students at all undergraduate levels including freshman and sophomores.


Participation in the Nebraska Summer Research Program is limited to students who meet the following criteria:
  • U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Current undergraduate with at least one semester of coursework remaining before obtaining a bachelor's degree

See Eligibility for more information.

How to apply

Follow the application steps to submit the following materials.

About the Program

Rural areas, which contain approximately 20% of the US population (49 million people) and 80% of the land area in the United States are fundamental to human well-being in both rural and urban areas.  Within the United States, rural areas provide unique resources such as the infrastructure for food and bioenergy production as well as the transportation infrastructure from inland urban centers to ports. Despite this, little attention is paid to the unique challenges and opportunities these areas face with respect to building and maintaining civil infrastructure.

In this ten-week summer research program, students will work with faculty and graduate students in the Department of Civil Engineering to conduct research and contribute new knowledge to improve our understanding of how best to address the challenges facing rural environments.  Through collaboration with industry partners, students will also be given opportunities to learn how infrastructure challenges are currently being addressed by the civil engineering industry.


  • Competitive stipend: $4,500
  • Suite-style room and meal plan
  • Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
  • Campus parking and/or bus pass
  • Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
  • Wireless internet access

Learn more about academic and financial benefits.


  • Department seminars and presentations
  • Professional development workshops (e.g., applying to graduate school, taking the GRE)
  • Welcome picnic
  • Day trip to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Research symposium

Mentors and Projects

Dr. Shannon Bartelt-Hunt Civil Engineering (Environmental/Water Resources Engineering)

Occurrence of microplastics in water and sediment across a rural-suburban land use gradient

Plastics are a frequently observed component of marine debris and there is growing concern about microplastic ecotoxicity, and the impacts of sorbed hazardous organic contaminants, heavy metals and biofilms on microplastic surfaces.  Rivers are considered a major source of plastic marine debris. However, the relative importance of microplastics from different terrestrial and freshwater sources as a function of land use is poorly understood and limits our ability to develop best management practices to eliminate their occurrence.  In this project, we will characterize microplastics in terms of concentration, class (bead, fiber or fragment) and composition in air, soil and water across a rural to suburban land use gradient.  The REU student will assist with development of the experimental design to evaluate microplastic contamination, collect samples from various environments and analyze them for the presence of microplastic contamination using a number of different methods.

Dr. Ashraf Aly Hassan Civil Engineering (Environmental/Water Resources Engineering)

Treatment Of Nitrate And Atrazine From Groundwater In Rural Areas Using Immobilized Algae

The main project goal is to improve the drinking water quality in rural regions that use groundwater as water source while producing valuable biomass, which can be used as a sustainable energy resource. The objective is to develop and evaluate the performance of a low-cost system using immobilized algal cells for nitrate and atrazine uptake.

Dr. Libby Jones Civil and Transportation Engineering

Using Virtual Reality for Laboratory Teaching in Traffic Engineering

This project explores the use of virtual reality in a traffic engineering laboratory.  Traffic engineering is the study of how traffic operates and the design of systems, like traffic signals, to allow traffic to move safely and efficiently.  The study of traffic engineering typically uses field observations of traffic.  These field observations take place along highways and at intersections.  Field observations have several issues including the exposure to traffic that could be hazardous, adverse weather conditions, and the variable nature of traffic.  To overcome these challenges, video of traffic and microsimulation of traffic are often used.  Recently, virtual reality (VR) and 360 video are being used in educational settings.  

Dr. Seunghee Kim Geotechnical and Materials Engineering

Advancing implementation of Geosynthetically Reinforced Soil-Integrated Bridge Systems (GRS-IBS) in Nebraska

The GRS-IBS is an emerging technology that supports a variety of superstructures for single-span bridges (e.g., short county bridges). The concept was originally developed as part of FHWA’s “Bridge of the Future” (BOF) program to achieve faster construction of bridges and integrate substructure with the superstructure (i.e., eliminate the “bump”). The GRS-IBS has many advantages over conventional pile-supported bridge abutment systems, such as lower cost, faster construction, and better performance under extreme events (e.g., earthquakes). Of the nearly 500,000 bridges in the national inventory, the majority (~80%) is single-span bridges (less than 100 ft in length). Many of them were built within the last 30-40 years and in need of replacements, particularly in rural areas. GRS-IBS can be effectively applied to replace such a basic “bread and butter” bridges at reduced time and cost. Nonetheless, lack of confidence and experience with the GRS-IBS in Nebraska is hindering an active adaptation of the new and innovative construction technology. In this regard, there is an urgent need of research to advance the implementation of GRS-IBS more systematically in Nebraska. In this project, the REU student will be primarily involved in collecting data for single-span bridges in Nebraska, conducting geotechnical lab tests as well as numerical simulations to investigate the behavior of GRS-IBS system with the Nebraska soil conditions.

Dr. Yong Rak Kim Civil Engineering (Geotechnical and Materials Engineering)

Multiscale Experiment-Simulation to Identify Key Material Properties for Sustainable Rural Infrastructure Systems

This project will enhance fundamental understanding of the material properties and fracture characteristics of individual phases in heterogeneous mixtures that are often used in transportation infrastructure such as roadways, rails, and airfields. In particular, we are interested in optimizing key design variables of the overall infrastructure performance in rural conditions that are quite different from key factors considered for urban infrastructure systems. 

Dr. Xu Li Civil Engineering (Environmental/Water Resources Engineering)

Development of practices to limit the transport of antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance genes

The extensive use of antimicrobials (AMs) in the livestock industry for animal disease treatment/prevention and growth promotion has promoted the emergence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria.  Antimicrobial resistance genes (AMR genes) - the genetic materials that render resistance mechanisms to bacteria - can proliferate among the bacteria in the environment.  If human pathogens acquire AMR genes and become antimicrobial resistant, antibiotic treatment will lose its effectiveness in treating infected individuals (Walsh 2000).  The goal of this research project is to understand the fate and transport of AMs and AMR genes in the agricultural environment and develop best management practices (BMPs) to control their proliferation.  In the proposed project, the REU student will work with faculty and graduate students to test pilot-scale reactors for their effectiveness in removing AMs and AMR genes.  

Dr. Yusong Li Civil Engineering (Environmental/Water Resources Engineering)

Predicting rural environmental and water quality under a changing climate

With greater demands on global agricultural productivity and groundwater resources expected in the coming years, the need to better understand the links between agriculture and water environment has never been greater. This project investigates the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on the transport of nutrients and pesticides in soil and groundwater. The REU participants will be involved in collecting data to evaluate the environmental impacts on water and soil quality from agricultural and industrial activities under a changing climate.

Dr. Daniel Linzell Civil Engineering (Structural Engineering)

Revisiting Reliability for Rural Bridges

This project represents a transformative shift in the methodology used to manage bridge infrastructure and rationally extend service life by transitioning toward a performance-based paradigm.  Extending infrastructure service life is of particularly significance for sustainability of rural infrastructure, where construction activities become increasingly costly with increasing distance from larger population centers and associated manufacturing capabilities.

Dr. Joshua Steelman Department of Civil Engineering (Structural Engineering)

Better Rural Bridges Using Big Data

This project will leverage advances in computer science and machine learning to capitalize on past health monitoring successes (e.g. bridges, buildings, pavements, intelligent transportation systems) to effectively interpret and manipulate Big Data, extending service lives while ensuring safety for rural bridges.  Successful deployment of smart infrastructure system(s) will drastically change the way transportation infrastructure is managed and how resources are allocated.  In this research project, we will investigate which sensors and sensing systems are appropriate for smart infrastructure, what component and system models need to be implemented, and how component and system degradation can be adequately addressed.  The research project will incorporate neural network modeling to examine potential benefits of various smart infrastructure system configurations, coupled with validation and calibration using advanced computational modeling and laboratory and field testing. The implementation of neural network models will provide smarter and faster bridge health assessment capabilities, improving upon existing prognosis tools using real-time integration of various data sets ranging from physical models and load testing data to traffic demands.  Physical models will be used to predict system responses, including implementation of advanced, time-dependent constitutive relationships.  In this project, the REU participant will assist in construction and calibration of neural network models and will work with graduate students to refine models using laboratory and field data.  This project specifically addresses rural sustainability by providing a mechanism to reliably understand and quantify rural bridge condition in real time, thereby making those structures last longer and require less raw materials for repair and replacement.

Dr. Christine Wittich Civil Engineering (Structural Engineering)

Structural Response and Resilience of Rural Infrastructure to Natural Hazards

Rural communities are home to millions of people and small businesses, and are found in a wide range of geographic locations across the United States. As such, these rural areas are routinely subjected to extreme loads and natural hazards including earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Compared to their urban counterparts, rural communities suffer greater losses in the wake of these events and take a considerable number of years to recover, if at all. This is due, in part, to a lack of knowledge regarding the response of rural infrastructure to extreme loads and how this response contributes to the resilience of rural communities.