Jack Stephens: Driven to Improve Road Durability

Dr. Jack Stephens, emeritus professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, maintains a busy schedule that would challenge the stamina of a 20-year old. At a time when many in his peer group spend their days pursuing recreational activities, he remains active as Senior Research Advisor of the Connecticut Advanced Pavement Lab associated with the Connecticut Transportation Institute. He formally retired in 1989 and has remained vital and productive in the 16 years since.

Dr. Stephens was initiated into the joys of the highway as a child, riding as a passenger with his father through the nation’s heartland. The elder Stephens was a maintenance manager for the Lubright Division of Mobil Oil, and his job entailed 100,000 miles of driving every 11 months, according to Dr. Stephens. It’s a safe bet that today’s national highways bear little resemblance to those of Dr. Stephens’ childhood.

Like many of his generation, Dr. Stephens’ aspirations for college took a back seat to World War II. During the war, he served in the infantry as a member of General Patton’s famed Third Army as it marched from Wiesbaden, Germany to Linz, Austria. After completing his military service, Dr. Stephens earned his B.S. in Civil Engineering at UConn in 1947. In addition to securing his degree, he also married his wife of 57 years, the former Virginia Ives, whom he met while she was a student secretary to Engineering Dean John Lampe. The couple has two sons, both civil engineers, and two daughters.

Dr. Stephens began his engineering career with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, where he built bridges. He then embarked on a decidedly circuitous route toward earning his master’s and doctoral degrees, which took him from Yale University to Purdue University, then the University of California at Berkeley, and back to Purdue, where he ultimately earned both his M.S. (1955) and Ph.D. (1959) degrees. It was during his graduate years that he first kindled his appetite for pavement design which, he remarked, should be “locality oriented” to account for climate, native materials and traffic characteristics.

After joining the faculty of the Civil Engineering Department at UConn in 1950, he soon became involved in state and regional transportation issues. Together with Edward Gant, whose expertise lay in structures and mechanics, he was instrumental in the 1962 Connecticut State Legislature’s creation of a continuing Joint Highway Research Project between the Connecticut Department of Transportation and UConn.

He also founded the Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI), the Connecticut Technology Transfer Center (CTTC) and the Connecticut Advanced Pavement Lab (CAP Lab)-all located at the University’s Depot Campus. In addition, Dr. Stephens was an original member of the Board of Directors, and remains on the Board, of the New England Transportation Technician Certification Program. Dr. Stephens continues to write research proposals, oversee technical work, assist in project reports and serve as a member of various panels and committees. In addition to countless research contributions, Dr. Stephens’ career has also entailed some administrative service: from 1965-72, he served as Head of Civil Engineering.

Dr. Stephens spends substantial time as a research specialist at the CAP lab, which serves the Northeastern U.S. in implementing SuperPave. SuperPave is the acronym for Superior Performing Asphalt Pavements, which arose from a $50 million research effort by the Federal Strategic Highway Research Program to develop new ways to specify, test and design asphalt materials. The lab continues to design and test new SuperPave mixes, and serves as an educational center for undergraduates studying bituminous concrete.

With a goal toward improving the durability of roadways, Dr. Stephens and his colleagues are hard at work developing composite asphalts that incorporate recycled asphalt, bituminous binders, manufactured sand and course aggregate. Recycling old pavement material, Dr. Stephens explained, eliminates the problem of disposal and permits the state to save petroleum. Along the way, the team has experimented with some unexpected materials, including cornmeal, sawdust, and even powdered paper.

One career highlight involves his work in development of an additive to reduce corrosion of reinforcing in concrete.

With funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Dr. Stephens pioneered use of a new anticorrosive additive. Later, working with professor Gregory Frantz, he produced findings that were corroborated by teams at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Today, 10 states are conducting field tests of the material developed by Drs. Stephens and Frantz, disodium tetrapropenyl succinate (DSS), which Dr. Stephens deems “the best anticorrosion additive I’ve seen in 60 years of working with construction materials.”

Dr. Stephens has received numerous plaudits, including fellowships to the Automobile Safety Foundation and Asphalt Institute; a teaching excellence certificate from the Western Electric Fund; the Connecticut Section/American Society of Civil Engineers Benjamin Wright Award; and at the University of Connecticut, the Alumni Association Distinguished Public Service Award and the Engineering Alumni Award. He is listed in The Marquis Who’s Who publication Who’s Who in Science and Engineering (2005-2006).

Categories: anticorrosion, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering, Connecticut Advanced Pavement Lab, disodium tetrapropenyl succinate, Dr. Jack Stephens, emeritus professor, Federal Highway Administration, Headline