“Young engineers and scientists are not only smart and highly trained to solve problems of all types, they are highly adaptive and hungry to put those skills to work. Young professionals possess unique skills and are being trained with cutting-edge technology and tools that allow us to arrive at the correct solution very quickly. They are largely removed from the many biases and sub-optimal solutions that have us currently trapped in a D- infrastructure condition rating. They seek pavements with better ride quality, longer performance, longer life and more sustainability — all at a lower cost to the taxpayer. They will propel technological advancements in paving materials never seen before. This is specifically what we strive to do here at Blacklidge and young professionals, like Michael, are here making it happen right now. We are thrilled to have him.”
– Grover Allen, Ph.D., P.E., Blacklidge Technical Director
Upon earning his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Vanderbilt University, Michael joined Blacklidge in September 2019 as an R&D Chemist. Michael reflects on his experience and shares his thoughts on the asphalt industry.
Explain to us what an R&D Chemist does.
I examine our products through a chemistry lens, seeing how the molecules are interacting with each other to produce a better product.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The problem-solving — how we can get to a solid solution using the tools we have available.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Currently, my main focus is around our liquid anti-strip, ReBindTM, essentially making it a better glue for the the asphalt and aggregates. The majority of my time is spent researching ideas. But, there are a few days a week where I’m actually in the lab, testing out different types of formulas, seeing if things are compatible with each other or looking at tests that have been run and seeing what we can do better.
What made you decide to go into the asphalt industry?
I have a background in synthetic, organic polymer chemistry and there’s an increasing amount of polymers being used in asphalt to modify its properties. I’m also a problem solver. So, I’m able to combine my two passions here at Blacklidge to create better, more reliable products.
What excites you about the future of the industry?
The general trend of people looking at ways to extend the lifespan or rejuvenate asphalt is really interesting.
What advice do you have for students who may be interested in joining this field?
Asphalt is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. There’s actually a lot more chemistry going on than one might initially think. The problems we’re solving are actually really interesting and require a lot of in-depth thought and new ways of thinking to solve them.