May 2, 2024

Schulich PhD student wins pair of prestigious civil engineering student awards

Md. Shahjalal aspires to a career in bridge engineering and research
MD. Shahjalal
Md. Shahjalal has won a pair of prestigious awards for his research in structural engineering. Submitted

He may have only arrived at the University of Calgary in January, but Md. Shahjalal is already making an award-winning impact with his research.

A PhD student who is originally from Bangladesh, his passion for improving the construction of bridges has captured the attention of many in the civil engineering world.

His research focuses on the analysis, design and testing of concrete structures using various sustainable materials, where he has already published 15 journal papers and 14 conference papers.

For his work, Shahjalal was recently named the winner of the Sonia Saari Memorial Scholarship by the Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI) and the Stewart C. Watson Memorial Scholarship winner by the American Concrete Institute Foundation.

He says the recognitions will help elevate his research now while continuing to add to his goal of being a leading expert in the field of bridge engineering.

Motivated to make a difference

It was the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza Garment Factory in his home country in 2013 that first introduced Shahjalal to the world of civil engineering.

Considered as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history, the eight-storey building collapse led to the deaths of 1,134 people while injuring another 2,500.

Shahjalal says it was the first time he realized how one mistake by an engineer could change thousands of lives forever.

“My inquisitive mind was always thinking about the mechanism of structures along with their components,” he says. “I was mesmerized by the sheer size and design of the buildings and bridges around me.”

It led Shahjalal down a path which led him to earn a Bachelor of Science from the Military Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) in Bangladesh in 2018, and a Master of Science from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2022.

Making bridges stronger

After serving as an assistant professor at MIST, Shahjalal came to the Schulich School of Engineering in hopes of furthering his interest in bridge engineering.

Supervised by Dr. Muntasir Billah, PhD, and Dr. Mamdouh El-Badry, PhD, he has focused his attention on the connections between bridge decks and precast girders.

“In bridges, the cast-in-place deck slab or precast panels are usually connected to the supporting girders using various types of shear connectors like bent bars or threaded rods,” Shahjalal says. “This makes the interfaces significantly congested.”

Using double-headed fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) studs in different arrangements, he says he’s able to make the connections more durable and corrosion resistant.

“The goal of my research is to understand how well the deck will connect to the precast girders using these studs,” Shahjalal says. 

“My study will also introduce a sustainable approach to bridge construction facilitating optimized designs, saving on materials and costs, reducing reinforcement congestion and improving durability for precast bridge systems.”

Tapping into his potential

Seeing himself as a future researcher and faculty member in bridge engineering, Shahjalal says his supervisors have been integral in providing expertise and mentorship as well as encouragement and inspiration.

Billah, who is an assistant professor in Schulich's Department of Civil Engineering, says he’s fortunate to work with a number of exceptional students, adding Shahjalal is a remarkable doctoral student.

“His achievements have been nothing short of extraordinary,” Billah says. “His passion for research, innovation, originality and critical thinking impresses me the most, and his interest in attempting any challenging academic problem and his originality of thinking make him the effectual person for research work which is reflected through his many awards, scholarships and publications in peer-reviewed journals.”

He adds Shahjalal has the potential to provide the Canadian bridge construction industry with a “new dimension” in bridge girder design and construction, and the know-how and guidelines being developed in his PhD project will help further the use of double-headed FRP studs in bridge construction.

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