The show must go on

Enter stage right, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering students are handling the necessary changes related to COVID-19 in stride.

With empty classrooms, a virtual commencement and so many questions looming, it’s clear the future is unknown. Out of an abundance of caution, UIUC moved all of its classes online and Illinois Center for Transportation’s faculty, staff and students began working remotely in early March. Changing the entire working dynamic of a college and its transportation research facility isn’t an easy task, but it’s one ICT’s student researchers are adapting to and are coming out of all the better for it.

Here are their stories:


Xiuyu Liu works on numerical analysis of vehicle-road interaction from his desk at home.

Xiuyu Liu

For Xiuyu Liu, a UIUC Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering doctoral student, making the switch to an online learning and research environment has been a snap.

In fact, it’s helped him improve his time-management skills.

“With everything moving online, I am saving plenty of time on (not going to) the lab or classrooms,” Liu said. “Additionally, I can get up later and conduct my research work or course work at night, which is my most efficient working hours.”

Liu spends most of his time researching numerical analysis of vehicle-road interaction, which examines how fuel consumption induces road roughness.

“The results of the study may be used in the transportation industry’s decision-making process to mitigate transportation-related fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.


Egemen Okte showcases his MacGyver-like, problem-solving skills by putting his monitors on top of one another to conserve space.

Egemen Okte

Autonomous and connected vehicles are the name of the game for Egemen Okte, who spends his days researching how their integration in our transportation system will impact pavement design frameworks.

“Autonomous and connected vehicles are closer to reality than we think,” said Okte, a CEE doctoral student. “We need to stay ahead of the curve to make sure that our infrastructure can support (them).”

And while his research is coming along seamlessly, Okte admits the adjustment to working from home has its moments.

“I live in a house with four people, so space is limited,” he said. “It has been hard, but (I’m) using some MacGyver solutions. I was able to mount one monitor on top of the other one!”

Aside from having to think on the fly, Okte digs the remote working lifestyle, especially its added benefits to his schedule.

“(It) means I can work out during lunchtime if I get really frustrated to have a more productive afternoon session,” he said.


Siqi Wang takes a selfie from home with his iPhone. Wang hopes his contributions to GPR technology will make the tool as intuitive as Apple’s iPhone.

Siqi Wang

With less than a year to go in his doctoral program, Siqi Wang is focusing all of his efforts on ground-penetrating radar ― a tool that sends electromagnetic waves into the ground to detect an object beneath the surface by generating its reflection on a screen.

“Right now, I’m designing and modifying a standalone, user-friendly tool to help the roller operator decide the compaction job quality,” Wang said.

His hope is that the GPR tool is “super easy” to use.

“I wish anyone (could) use this tool as easily as the first time they play with (an) iPhone,” he joked.

But in all seriousness, Wang wants to ensure he provides “cutting-edge” and “fundamental” research to improve the tool and make it practical for real-world implementation.

As for life in quarantine?

Wang’s utilized video conferencing software, like Zoom, and chat apps to keep connected to friends and colleagues.

“It really doesn’t matter if we are talking about research all the time,” he said, “but we do encourage and support each other.”

“The bonding has never been stronger,” Wang added.

This self-isolation period has also given Wang more time to think about his future.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time envisioning not only what kind of job I’m gonna take after this, but also some research topics that I may touch in the coming five years,” he said. “These days everything seems to be connected through 5G tech, autonomous vehicles, IoT (Internet of Things), etc.”

“We engineers definitely don’t want to be left behind,” Wang added. “The coming years are going to be exciting and challenging.”


Zehui Zhu enjoys brainstorming with his peers to keep his research top notch.

Zehui Zhu

Evaluating asphalt overlay performance is at the top of Zehui Zhu’s list during the work-from-home routine. The CEE doctoral student uses large-scale testing in hopes of improving our roadways.

“This will help Illinois Department of Transportation to revise its current overlay planning and construction plan to build a more durable highway system,” he said.

Zhu credits having more time to bounce ideas off his teammates for his research progress.

“Because of the pandemic, I got more time to read and brainstorm,” he said. “We actually came up with a lot of good ideas to make our future research smoother and more efficient.”



A big thank-you to all of our students for going above and beyond in your transportation research during these uncertain times.

Written by: Emily Jankauski

Posted: May 21, 2020