Gibbons lights the way for a safer future

Becoming an engineer was only natural for Ronald Gibbons, who now serves as director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Infrastructure-based Safety Systems.

Ronald Gibbons, director of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Infrastructure-based Safety Systems, became an associate professor in 2018 at the university’s School of Architecture and Design.

These days he spends most of his time investigating projects related to lighting and safety but as a kid, he loved nothing more than building things and even making home renovations.

The Canadian native went on to receive his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate, all in systems design engineering, from the University of Waterloo before coming to the U.S. in 1995.

At VTTI, he came across an opportunity in Illinois he couldn’t ignore: a chance to apply his lighting expertise toward soybean growth.

Gibbons eagerly joined Illinois Center for Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation’s joint project, “R27-172: Roadway Lighting’s Impact on Altering Soybean Growth” (volume 1 and volume 2), as principal investigator.

Here the research team studied the effects of overhead lighting from neighboring highways on soybean growth, finding a relationship between soybean yield and the amount of lighting in the field.

“It was a fun project,” Gibbons said. “We were able to establish a limit to how much light can enter the field from the roadway.”

Gibbons couldn’t be happier with the project’s wide reach, with the results sparking global conversations.

“(The results) are generalizable internationally, as far as we know,” he said. “We didn’t find an impact of or change in the response based on the variety of soybeans, so we assume that the results can apply to anywhere where soybeans are grown.”

Gibbons is keeping busy with two more ICT-IDOT research projects in the works, both related to lighting.

In project “R27-202: Roadway Lighting’s Effect on Pedestrian Safety at Intersection and Midblock Crosswalks,” he’s working with researchers in Illinois and Virginia to answer one question: What impact does intersection lighting have on pedestrian safety?

To get to the bottom of it, his team is collecting data in Virginia and implementing it on a test track in Illinois.

“We’re taking real-world measurements on one side and implementing them on the other side,” Gibbons said. “That’s allowing us to really define and drive the lighting specification process for Illinois.”

As for the second project, “R27-206 Evaluation of Roadway High-Mast Tower Lighting,” Gibbons and the researchers examine high-mast lighting, where light fixtures are mounted at least 100 feet in the air.

High-mast lighting is typically used on highways, but it’s expensive.

“The goal is to reduce the cost of the infrastructure required for high-mast (lighting) and yet still get the benefit,” he said.

All in all, Gibbons is thankful for the opportunity to partner with ICT and IDOT.

“ICT and IDOT are promoting a good research agenda for lighting and for other fields as well,” he said. “There’s good work being done with Illinois as a leader in bringing this research forward.”

Written by: McCall Macomber

Posted: Feb. 3, 2020