Bow Valley High graduate Hannah Thompson (nee Barr) is part of a team in the running for a provincial STEM award that could improve the resilience of asphalt.

Hannah, 22, along with teammate Tyce Daniells, former civil engineering technology students of Lethbridge College, were recognized for their efforts to determine if the addition of glass fibers to hot mix asphalt would improve its performance.

Their idea was that glass fibers would bond with the asphalt and create elastic-like properties within it to result in less wear and tear.

While attending Lethbridge College, Hannah says they were assigned a research project to come up with an idea to fix a problem in the engineering world.

"We talked about it a lot to figure out what we could do, and we had a real interest in asphalt from the beginning," she says. "We originally thought about recycling glass bottles and crushing them up into sand and incorporating them into the asphalt. But then, because glass wouldn't bond well to the asphalt, we thought of using glass fibers due to their high tensile strength."

Glass fiber is glass that has been drawn into long, thin strands and then processed into various other materials (e.g. cloth and rebar) or mixed with resins to be molded into various shapes, such as boats, doors, or car hoods. It’s low-maintenance and has a high tensile strength with a melting point of approximately 1,135°C and a softening point of 845°C.

Given the immense impact borne by roadways when vehicles travel across them, the former teammates sought to confirm that the glass fiber additive would decrease the amount of stress at the point of contact between the wheel load and the asphalt pavement, and distribute that stress more evenly.

During lab experiments, they varied the glass fiber content throughout three asphalt mix designs. They ultimately concluded that hot mix asphalt combined with five per cent glass fibre content does improve the asphalt’s stabilityHowever, should the glass fibre content exceed five per cent, the performance worsens.

The pair are pleased their hypothesis proved true.

“The former Lethbridge College team’s project may, like asphalt, seem simple on the surface, but it has significant value and depth,” says Barry Cavanaugh, CEO of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET). “Any research that makes more resilient something as fundamental to our daily lives as asphalt is a huge win for everyone, not just the former students who conducted that research.”

The team was informed in June by college officials that their project had been submitted for the award and were thrilled to be named finalists weeks later.

"Winning this would be a huge success and that would definitely catch people's eye," says Thompson. "I would hope that one day it would end up being used or someone would pick it up and continue on our projects. It does open up a lot of career opportunities."

Her father heavily influenced her chosen career path.

"He is a civil engineer in Calgary and growing up he would always take me and my sisters to different plants to see like wastewater treatment plants, water treatment plants, all that kind of stuff, and I always had a big interest in that stuff from a young age. It kind of grew on me as I was growing up, and I always loved getting my hands dirty. This is the perfect job for me."

Hannah is a member of Bow Valley's Class of 2018.

The Capstone Project of the Year Award was established by ASET in 2017 in response to overwhelming member interest in stories about Capstone Projects undertaken by teams of engineering technology students from NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer Polytechnic, and Lethbridge College as part of their end-of-program requirements.

This project is one of nine finalists for the 2023 ASET Capstone Project of the Year Award. The winning project will be announced at the end of October.

The use of asphalt dates back to 625 B.C., when the first recorded asphalt road was built in Babylon. Belgian chemist Edmund J. DeSmedt laid the first true asphalt pavement in 1870 in the front of the city hall building in Newark, New Jersey.  

In 1915, Canada’s first asphalt paved roads were constructed in Ottawa, ON, and Edmonton, Jasper, and Camrose, AB.

ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. It currently represents approximately 17,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates, and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries. 

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