Chemical engineering major Anna McCaslin has investigated ways to make asphalt more durable and longer-lived. Her discoveries could help address a problem as old as roads themselves.
If you’ve ever been maddened by tooth-rattling potholes, Iowa State’s Anna McCaslin has you covered. The chemical engineering senior has investigated ways to make asphalt more durable and longer-lived. Her discoveries could help address a problem as old as roads themselves.
Out with the old asphalt, in with the new
Limited lifespan is baked into asphalt. It cracks and buckles over time as it reacts to heat, cold, rain, drought, traffic, and everything in between. Then it’s dug up and discarded, and the road is repaved with new asphalt. Anna — who added a sustainability minor to her studies — says she was thrilled to be tapped as a first-year student by Eric Cochran, the Mary Jane Skogen Hagenson and Randy L. Hagenson Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering, to help innovate ways to recycle old asphalt.
“I had never done research before and thought I’d be washing dishes or prepping samples,” she says. “But I got to run real experiments. I reconstituted used asphalt with compounds extracted from soybean oil. They made the asphalt stretchier and waterproof. My work could help keep miles of old asphalt out of the landfill.”
Research that matters
Solving big problems has been important to Anna since she was eight years old. “I woke up the day after the 4th of July and saw the lingering smoke from the fireworks. I thought, this can’t be good. I tried to brainstorm ideas to filter it out.”
Iowa State’s emphasis on undergraduate research sealed the deal when it was time for Anna to choose a college. “I wanted to do research that actually mattered, to work on projects that had real-world applications,” she says.
The Griswold Undergraduate Research Internship helped make that a reality.
“I like the idea of making things from things we already have, to last a long time,” Anna says. “And fostering innovation is one of the most important parts of my experience here.”