Aerial view of JFK International Airport, New York.

Aerial view of JFK International Airport, New York.

The Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program recently announced the winners of its annual Graduate Research Awards. The prestigious awards focus on applied research on airport and related aviation system issues to help the public sector continue to improve the quality, reliability, safety, and security of the U.S. civil aviation system. Xiao Chen, a doctoral student at Rutgers was one of eight winners and was selected for work studying the impact of sea level rise on airfield pavement performance in coastal areas.

Airports are critical to the movement of people and goods throughout the nation, region, and internationally. Sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and administered by the Transportation Research Board, Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Graduate Research Awards aim to stimulate thought, discussion, and research by those who will become future leaders of the airport industry and transportation workforce.

ACRP recently announced this year’s winners, eight graduate student awardees representing seven universities from across the U.S. and research ranging from pavements and foreign object debris detection to parking revenues.

Among them was Xiao Chen, a Civil Engineering doctoral student at Rutgers University. His award-winning paper is titled “Impact of Sea Level Rise on Airfield Pavement Performance in Coastal Areas.” His faculty mentor is Dr. Hao Wang, an Associate Professor at the Rutgers School of Engineering and a researcher at the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT).

Climate change is projected to continuously accelerate the rise in sea level, putting coastal airports at a risk of flooding as the groundwater under airfield pavements also rises. According to Xiao’s research, the invasion of water may cause the weakening of pavement foundation and deterioration of pavement performances under aircraft loading.

So, his research is attempting to quantify the impact of sea level rise (SLR) on performances of asphalt airfield pavement in coastal areas, including the SLR-induced flooding and groundwater rise. He is also developing an advanced hydro-mechanical model to investigate the vulnerability of airfield pavements subjected to SLR with different structural, geological, and hydrologic conditions.

Newark Liberty International Airport.

Newark Liberty International Airport. Photo ©Wikimedia Commons.

Overall, the expected outcomes of his research include quantification of SLR impact on airfield pavement, and adaptation-strategy recommendations to support airport authorities battling climate change impacts on critical airport infrastructure.

Xiao also recently won an NJDOT Outstanding Student in Transportation Award for his research investigating roadway pavements, specifically innovative methods and materials for pothole repairs.

Roadway pothole repairs are one of the most vital and frequent maintenance activities for transportation agencies—especially in regions such as the Northeast prone to freeze-thaw weather cycles. 

At the 24th Annual NJDOT Research Showcase, Xiao won the 2022 Outstanding University Student in Transportation Research Award for his work on the NJDOT project “Innovative Pothole Repair Materials and Techniques” led by CAIT researcher Dr. Hao Wang.

The ACRP Graduate Research Award offers a $12,000 stipend as well as the opportunity for the student’s final research paper to be published in TRB’s peer-reviewed journal, Transportation Research Record, and to present their work at TRB’s Annual Meeting, to be held in Washington, D.C., in January 2024. Awardees are also assigned a panel of experts to advise them throughout their research.