In Simpson Lamichhane’s home country of Nepal — with the Himalayan range in the north, the rolling foothills that follow, and the massive rivers flowing into the plain region in the south — the road system, with its two-lane hairpin curves, can be somewhat treacherous.
Add onto this a three-month monsoon season with flooding and rock slides, and nearly 50 percent of the country becomes inaccessible. The unpaved mud roads that account for about half of the country’s network become disastrous.
Medical facilities and schools become hard to reach, and the transportation of goods and commodities from the foothills to the plains, and vice versa, comes to a standstill.
“A proper transportation system is the only thing Nepal needs to develop,” said Lamichhane, who came to the University of Idaho in August 2017 from Jhapa, Nepal, and is studying pavement engineering under College of Engineering Assistant Professor Emad Kassem,
Lamichhane saw the potential for better roads when he began traveling on his country’s national highways to the capital city of Katmandu.
“Whenever I used to go to some other places, or travel with my parents, that was a pleasant experience,” he said. “And I thought, ‘What would it be like if we could build roads like that in my hometown?’ I felt like if we built better roads it would help a lot.”
Lamichhane received a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Tribhuvan University's Institute in Engineering in Katmandu in 2012. He then worked for a private contractor, surveying and designing roadway infrastructure. It was then that he got a closer look at how poor the road conditions are, especially in the northern reaches of Nepal.
A year later, Lamichhane took a job with the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training near his hometown, training high school students in basic engineering skills like brick and stone masonry, pipe fitting and surveying.
With a budding interest in teaching, he got a job as a civil engineering lecturer at Kantipur Engineering College in 2015. Immersed in the university setting again, Lamichhane began considering opportunities for an advanced degree. He felt the U.S. had the best programs for pavement engineering, and came across U of I on the internet.
“I’m lucky I got accepted here,” Lamichhane said. “I emailed to Dr. Kassem and he replied about having a Skype interview. And he said if I need you I’ll contact you.”
Currently, Lamichhane is assisting doctoral student Mohammad Al-Assi with research for the Idaho Transportation Department on improving roadway skid resistance. Then he’ll begin his own research on how studded snow tires affect pavement friction.
Last summer, Lamichhane traveled with Al-Assi to southern Idaho to conduct field research on state highways.
“It was kind of awesome,” he said. “In the capital of Katmandu we have a four-lane highway, but it’s only for 6 or 7 miles. I got to see a lot of roads with asphalt and that was a pretty new experience. I’ve never seen roads in such length. And I saw we can still maintain the greenery. You don’t have to destroy everything to build the roads. The roads and the environment can go together. That’s the most beautiful thing I find in Moscow.”
Lamichhane will graduate from U of I in 2019 and hopes to get additional experience working in the U.S. Then he’d like to return to Nepal and pursue a job in pavement construction. In a country with dangerously slick roads due to monsoons, he’s particularly interested in applying his research on skid resistance.
“We have a lot of traffic accidents in Nepal, and friction is the main thing that we need to maintain, especially in the wet weather,” he said. “People have started to look into it, but I don’t think there are any specialists working in friction in Nepal. So maybe when I go there I could be the one implementing or testing these things. I’ve only been here one month and I know most of these tests.
“I’ve never seen those kinds of tests in Nepal,” Lamichhane added. “I want to be part of that change.”
Article by Kate Keenan, College of Art and Architecture
Published in Spring 2018