Program gives students hands-on research experience

Third-year civil engineering students Manaswy and Yashaswy Gollamudi spent part of their spring term conducting research on trenchless technologies under the supervision of civil engineering professor Alireza Bayat.

Edmonton—The University of Alberta is a North American leader in trenchless technologies, an aspect of construction in which holes and tunnels are bored beneath the ground to support anything from fibre optic cables to full-scale storm sewers and pipelines. So when Yashaswy and Manaswy Gollamudi discovered the chance to conduct research in the field, they jumped at it.

The two civil engineering students have just completed their first research projects under the Dean’s Research Award program, getting hands-on experience conducting valuable research.

Both students, sisters who travelled from Hyderabad, India to study civil engineering at the U of A 2-1/2 years ago, say they’re interested in continuing their education after completing their undergraduate degrees and plan to enroll in graduate studies. And they say the Dean’s Research Award experience gave them valuable experience, including the chance to sit in on a graduate student class.

“We didn’t know a lot about trenchless technology or the engineering challenges it presents when we started out,” said Manaswy. “We learned a lot about geotechnology and soils.”

“Next year,” added Yashaswy, “we’ll be taking geotechnical courses, so our experiences here will probably help us.”

The two were tasked with researching different aspects of horizontal directional drilling. In trenchless technology projects, horizontal holes are bored through the soil, then pipe or conduit or cables are pulled through from the exit point to the start point.

Yashaswy was studying pull-back forces—working to understand the enormous forces that can be required to pull a pipe that could be as large as 64 inches in diametre through a long underground tunnel that can be two or three kilometres long.

Manaswy was investigating bore hole geometry to understand how increasing length and depth affects pull back.

Alireza Bayat, a professor of geotechnical, construction and transportation engineering and director of the U of A based Consortium for Engineered Trenchless Technologies, says the two made valuable contributions to his research team.

Graduate students who are interested in pursuing academic careers get more experience working with undergraduate students, and the undergraduates are exposed to leading-edge research, he says.

“We have a wide range of people working in the trenchless technologies area—we have a postdoctoral fellow and PhD and Master’s students. Having undergraduates on the team really rounds out the overall picture,” he said.