Before Mohammad Khan left for the U.S. to study at the University of Idaho, he worked for a telecommunications company 10 miles from his home. He spent four hours commuting each day.
Road congestion is such an issue in his hometown of Dhaka, Bangladesh, that the average traffic speed is 7 kilometers per hour — just over 4 mph.
Khan knew that he wanted to make people’s lives better through his education. He realized that using applied science to help solve issues related to transportation was his way — and his country’s way — forward.
“Among the various factors responsible for this daily traffic jam are less durable roads due to improper construction, low-quality materials and an unplanned transportation system,” Khan said.
Khan was born in Bangladesh but moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where both his parents found work, when he was 2 years old. At age 18, Khan returned to Dhaka and studied civil engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
From there, Khan wanted experience in the corporate world and got a job in a leading telecommunications company, where he worked for over two years.
“Even though it didn’t have much to do with civil engineering, it taught me a lot with regard to corporate skills like customer management, strategic sourcing and negotiation skills,” Khan said. “In civil engineering, we do a lot of client management and sourcing for the right kind of construction materials. We deal with clients, so we need to ensure their satisfaction.”
Khan’s life goal didn’t involve the corporate world, though. He wanted to be a transportation engineer. So he began looking into master’s programs in the U.S., paying special attention to professors whose research interests matched his own. He came across U of I’s civil and environmental engineering program in the College of Engineering and saw that Assistant Professor Emad Kassem was looking for a student to join his research team.
Since arriving at U of I in January 2016, Khan has been focusing on a multipronged project that involves analyzing the chemical components of asphalt binder to better understand how asphalt ages — and eventually cracks.
Khan graduated from U of I in fall 2017, and may look toward more advanced research opportunities or doctoral programs in the U.S. Then he plans to return to Bangladesh to apply his research and raise public awareness on traffic congestion solutions there.
“The door opened doing my master’s,” Khan said. “I didn’t know this stuff before coming here. Of course it has very real applicability in my country. If we can build good sustainable roads at the beginning then it might last longer than its lasting now.”
“Transportation is a basic need after food, education, clothing and shelter,” he added. “When farmers grow something, they want to sell it in Dhaka, so each day they travel over hundreds of kilometers. They use the state road every day, and they use it in poor condition. So there is traffic congestion and they’re wasting their valuable time. We need to plan the traffic, we need to improve the road quality. That’s how we can directly impact people’s life.”
Article by Kate Keenan, College of Art and Architecture
Published in Spring 2018