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

2017 Sustainability of Civil Infrastructures summer scholars.
2017 Sustainability of Civil Infrastructures summer scholars.

Application Dates

Nov 15 2017 App opens
February 1 Priority deadline
March 1 App closes
April 1 Decisions complete

Program Dates

June 3 2018 Arrival day
June 4 Program begins
August 7 Program ends
August 8 Departure day

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
  • Canoe and camping trip
  • 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 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. 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)

Transport of particulate contaminants in groundwater

Groundwater is one of the most important components of the hydrologic cycle, serving as the source of about 33 percent of public water supply and providing drinking water to more than 90 percent of the rural population in the United States. Biological (bacteria) and non-biological (soil particles) natural colloids are ubiquitous in groundwater. The transport of pathogens (biological colloids) is relevant to producing safe drinking water, and the transport of heavy metals as facilitated by colloids (non-biological colloids) in groundwater has been widely recognized as a serious public concern. Almost all natural colloids are anisotropic in nature, being non-spherical in shape and possessing varied degrees of heterogeneity in surface charge. The current theories and models, however, assume all particulate contaminants are spherical with a uniform surface charge.  In this project, we will study the transport and retention of particulate contaminants, with various sizes, shape, and surface charge heterogeneity in groundwater. The REU participants will be involved in performing innovative experiments to measure the interaction of particulate contaminants with different aquifer materials and developing models to predict their transport. 

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. John Sangster Civil Engineering (Transportation Engineering)

Behavior of Drivers Newly Encountering Roundabouts

Single-lane roundabouts provide significant safety benefits over signalized intersections, and in low volume conditions, also provide significant travel time improvements.  However, there is a hesitation to embrace this type of facility as a default option, especially by rural communities who do not yet have them.  By understanding more about the ways in which driver behavior change as a population becomes more experienced with roundabouts, policy and decision makers can better prepare these communities with expectations on what will happen, and will be more successful at broadening the reach of this safe and efficient design.  When roundabouts are first installed, some percentage of drivers initially change their route to avoid it.  Among drivers that do use the roundabout, some are hesitant to enter the circulating lane, and the capacity is significantly reduced until drivers are more familiar with the use of the facility.  Although it is difficult to schedule a research study to coincide with the construction of a roundabout in an area previously devoid of them, there exists a site in Lincoln, NE where one is in close proximity to a high school parking lot, which would allow researchers to analyze how the behavior of new drivers in a roundabout differs from average (experienced) drivers. 

Dr. John Sangster Civil Engineering (Transportation Engineering)

Safety versus Access on Rural Highways

Median-divided rural highways have intersections with minor roads that are two-way stop controlled throughout the less populated areas of Nebraska.  These crossings of a high-speed road with a low-volume crossing street pose severe safety concerns, as drivers pulling out sometimes misjudge the time available for their maneuver, leading to the types of automobile accidents with the worst outcomes.  This pilot study proposes to examine the potential for replacing the standard intersection design at these locations with a restricted crossing u-turn facility, prohibiting left- and through-movements from the side road, and providing a u-turn location downstream from the main crossing.  The initial work of the REU participant will be to conduct literature review on the geometric design of restricted crossing u-turns, as well as the safety and operational impacts of implementing this design.  Of particular interest will be the median size required to implement this design, which will have the most significant impact on the cost effectiveness of this solution at a given location.  

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.