Student Spotlight: Saamiya Seraj
Name: Saamiya Seraj
Hometown: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Hobbies: I love traveling and getting to experience different cultures! Very recently I visited Italy, and it was an amazing experience to see the beautiful remnants of Roman engineering. I love reading books as well, my favorite being mystery novels. I’m also a big food person, and Austin’s a great city to indulge yourself in all these eclectic cuisines!
Where were you before you came to pursue your graduate degree at UT?
I came to UT as an undergraduate. Before that, I was finishing up high school in Bangladesh.
How did you become interested in transportation engineering?
Growing up in a developing country, such as Bangladesh, I witnessed firsthand how a lack of infrastructure can be crippling to a country. Ambulances getting stuck in traffic gridlocks, streets getting flooded due to inadequate drainage, people having water and electricity shortages due to unplanned urban growth – the list goes on. I was determined to change that, and felt that studying civil engineering would give me the means to do so.
Why did you decide to pursue your graduate studies here at UT?
I loved how multi-disciplinary the research efforts at UT were. For example – a lot of the transportation research not only draws on concepts from engineering, but also from economics, geography and psychology. Another example is my own research that I’m doing for the Texas Department of Transportation, studying alternate supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) in concrete. I’ve had to learn concepts from geology, chemistry, and as surprising as it may seem, volcanology!
Our world is beset by such complex problems, that I feel one field alone cannot provide all the answers. That’s why UT’s multi-disciplinary research was a big draw for me.
What kind of work are you doing here? What role are you are playing in the research, and what are your responsibilities?
I’m looking at alternative supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) that can replace Class F fly ash.
Fly ash, a by-product of coal burning power plants, is one of the most popular supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) used in concrete. Since the production of cement generates a lot of carbon dioxide, SCMs are thought to be sustainable since they replace a percentage of the cement and are usually industry by products, like fly ash. Fly ash’s popularity as an SCM, however, is not only from its environmental benefit. It’s much cheaper than cement, and when used as an SCM it can significantly increase concrete strength and durability.
However, due to pending environmental restrictions, there have been concerns about the future availability of fly ash in the US. Considering that about 77% of all concrete products in the US have fly ash in it (ARTBA, 2011), once these restrictions take effect, the concrete industry will be severely affected. My research focuses on finding replacements materials that have similar benefits in concrete as fly ash.
This project is interesting because I’m getting the opportunity to look at these materials both from a macro and micro perspective. At the macro level, I’ve casted concrete samples with these alternate SCMs to see how they perform under unfavorable conditions. On the micro scale, I’m trying to link back the performances of the material to its innate characteristics. Essentially, I’m trying to find what makes one material work better than the other, and understand how these SCMs affect the overall hydration and chemistry of concrete.
What got you interested in this field?
We’ve achieved spectacular advancements in making buildings more sustainable from an energy efficiency point of view. I felt that building materials would be the next big area to look into, to see how we can make our buildings – and infrastructure – more sustainable. For example, there is a widespread effort to prolong the service life of our infrastructure in the US. Questions such as – can we increase durability of the materials, can we make them self-healing, can we reuse waste products – can be answered through materials’ research.
After you finish your studies here, what next? Any post-graduate school goals?
There is a lot of research looking into innovative cements and binders that are more sustainable than the traditional cement that’s used in concrete. Some are looking at cements that actually absorb carbon dioxide instead of releasing it during production. Others are looking into binders that only use industry by-products like fly ash. Regardless of whether it’s in academia or in industry, I’d love to be a part of such exciting research after I graduate.