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Paving the way

Beatriz Fieldkircher, an engineering doctoral candidate at the U, has long been passionate about making a meaningful impact on the world around her. She’s now doing exactly that, though in an unexpected way—by creating better solutions for asphalt pavements.

But how did such a broad desire to create a better world get chiseled down to the very specific and intricate field of asphalt and pavement research?

When she started studying civil engineering at the University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, Fieldkircher realized that by creating more sustainable and enduring infrastructure, she would be creating a more sustainable and enduring environment and society.

Specifically, while studying asphalt pavements, her interest was piqued when she learned that pavements are, intriguingly, designed to fail within certain parameters. Which is what brought her to Utah.

In 2022, Fieldkircher sought an internship in the asphalt materials lab at the University of Utah under the guidance of Pedro Romero, an esteemed professor of civil and environmental engineering whose research on asphalt pavements has been instrumental for the state of Utah. Initially driven by the desire to design enduring pavements, Fieldkircher’s research began to hone in on asphalt’s behavior under varying temperature conditions.

While in Utah, she watched the challenge of the temperature’s extreme variation affect the pavements. “I saw that the studies conducted by Dr. Romero’s group addressing temperature conditions on asphalt benefit not just the contractors and agencies, but also society. And this sense of purpose increased my desire to be in academia, producing scientific knowledge.”

Now a doctoral student with Romero, Fieldkircher recently earned recognition at the Utah Asphalt Conference, where she was awarded the Utah Asphalt Pavement Association’s $1,500 One-Time Annual Scholarship—a distinct and prestigious recognition in the state’s engineering and transportation industry.

Fieldkircher’s research continues to focus on asphalt mixtures and their behavior in varying temperatures. She will continue to pursue creating materials that can better endure climate change with increased temperature differentials leading to accelerated infrastructure deterioration, specifically by looking at thermal cracking. Determined to make a difference, she aims to utilize her expertise in asphalt materials, pavement design and climate prediction to develop solutions capable of withstanding Utah’s extreme temperatures.

While balancing a full-time job as a research assistant with her graduate studies, Fieldkircher still makes time for her physical and mental health by taking daily workouts, having regular conversations with her family back home and indulging in the rhythmic delights of samba, a cherished part of her Brazilian heritage.

On weekends, one can find Fieldkircher immersed in the vibrant atmosphere of a samba school in Salt Lake City, where she dances with joy and passion, finding solace and inspiration amidst the rhythms of her culture.

As Fieldkircher navigates the challenges of academia and the complexities of asphalt research, she remains passionate about her pursuit of knowledge, driven by a deep-seated desire to make a meaningful impact on the world around her.