Recent University of New Orleans graduate Dallas Rolnick has won a yearlong Fulbright Grant that will allow him to conduct research at the University of Leoben in Austria. Rolnick, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering in 2015, will be part of a research team that studies tunnel boring machines. He successfully navigated a highly competitive process; his proposal was first approved by the National Fulbright Committee and subsequently selected by the host nation.
Rolnick said he first became interested in the subject of tunnel construction while spending a semester in Innsbruck, Austria as part the UNO-Innsbruck Academic Year Abroad program and as a recipient of a research scholarship from the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation. At that time, Rolnick studied the Brenner Base Tunnel, a 64-kilometer rail tunnel currently under construction in Austria, which, when completed, will become the longest transportation tunnel in the world. According to Rolnick, most modern tunnels that are more than a few miles long are excavated by a tunnel boring machine, rather than with conventional drill and blast methods.
Researchers at the University of Leoben have begun working to improve accuracy in the forecasting of tunnel excavations as well as to advance the capabilities of the tunnel boring machines. Rolnick has been invited to join a team in the fall of 2016 where he will participate in testing new sensor equipment on the Brenner Base Tunnel boring machines. If the equipment is successful, it will become standard on tunnel boring machines worldwide, Rolnick said.
“Austria leads the world in tunneling research and construction and the University of Leoben is home to Austria’s premier tunneling program,” Rolnick said. “The Brenner Base Tunnel is a globally significant construction project. As an engineering student planning a career in tunnel construction, I couldn’t hope for a better opportunity.”
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries. The program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide and it awards approximately 8,000 competitive merit-based grants each year.