Propane pro: Ariaratnam named to national committee studying safety of pipeline infrastructure

July 10, 2017

Six million American households rely on propane gas to heat their homes and water, dry their clothes and barbeque their pork chops.

Farmers use propane to heat livestock housing and greenhouses, dry crops and power farm equipment and irrigation pumps. Samuel Ariaratnam, a construction engineering professor and program chair, was appointed for a 16-month term to serve on national committee studying the safety of the nation’s propane pipeline systems. Photo by Tim Trumble Download Full Image

Many businesses employ propane to power equipment ranging from forklifts to electric welders.

Transporting this fuel to homes and establishments across the United States requires an elaborate system of storage tanks and pipeline facilities. And since this volatile gas can displace oxygen to cause asphyxiation and is highly flammable and explosive, the safety of these systems is an imperative focus.

If the gas is allowed to pool in an area, a discharge of static electricity can be enough to cause an explosion.

Samuel Ariaratnam, construction engineering professor and program chair, was recently appointed for a 16-month term to serve on a United States’ National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine committee studying the safety of the nation’s propane pipeline systems.

The National Academies is composed of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council and the National Academy of Medicine, and serves as advisers to government and public leaders.

Commissioned by Congress, the committee’s “Study on Propane Gas Pipeline Facilities” is part of the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016, known as the PIPES Act, signed by former President Barack Obama in June 2016.

The PIPES Act renewed the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal government’s pipeline safety overseers within the U.S. Department of Transportation. Agencies like PHMSA and the National Fire Protection Association play an important role in monitoring propane storage and transportation methods.

Delivering propane to consumers involves transferring the fuel to the tank’s site, safely transferring the fuel from the delivery vehicle to the storage tank, and storing the fuel on the site where it can be channeled to homes via service lines.

However, these pipeline systems greatly differ in size — consider the propane storage needs for isolated rural properties compared with a large metropolitan city. A problem arises when federal regulators don’t adapt their compliance protocol for smaller systems.

To this end, Ariaratnam and the committee will be studying the current regulatory framework and making recommendations on possible modifications to reduce the compliance burdens of smaller systems — defined as 100 or fewer customers — while maintaining top safety.

“We have an opportunity to conduct a thorough study and to make recommendations concerning regulations, techniques and practices for propane pipeline systems,” Ariaratnam said.

Additional goals include reviewing techniques and best practices to ensure safe design, installation, operation and maintenance of these smaller systems; and examining the costs and benefits of the regulatory regime, as well as associated techniques and best practices.

The committee is composed of nine experts appointed by the National Academies. Members were drawn from academia, local and state government, and industry.

“It is important for academics to contribute to studies aimed at benefiting society. The opportunity to work with a diverse group of professionals is exciting,” said Ariaratnam.

From 2010-2011, Ariaratnam served on a National Academies’ committee and contributed to a book published by the National Academies in 2013 aimed at providing communities with guidance on underground engineering for sustainable development.

Propane-related fatalities, injuries and costs of property damage and loss have declined from 1987 to 2016. Ariaratnam is excited to play a role in continuing to decrease incidents and promote greater public safety across the country.

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Graduate College appoints Brian Smith as associate dean of graduate initiatives

Smith will lead international initiatives at the college to enhance ASU’s global presence

July 12, 2017

Brian H. Smith, an accomplished researcher in behavioral neuroscience and professor at the School of Life Sciences, has been named associate dean of graduate initiatives in the Graduate College at Arizona State University.

In his new position, Smith will lead international initiatives at the Graduate College to enhance ASU’s global presence. Brian Smith Brian Smith will lead international initiatives at the Graduate College to enhance ASU’s global presence. Download Full Image

“Dr. Smith clearly has the skills necessary to deepen the quality and scope of ASU’s graduate academic programs, while advancing graduate initiatives,” said Alfredo Artiles, dean of the Graduate College. “I’m thrilled he has agreed to join the leadership of the Graduate College.”

Smith joined ASU as faculty in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University in July 2005, after having spent 15 years as faculty at Ohio State University’s Department of Entomology. In 2006, he led the development of a new doctoral program — Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience, in partnership with Barrow Neurological Institute. He then served as director of the School of Life Sciences for three years and as a leadership fellow in the Office of the Provost, where he has worked to help advance development of online programs at ASU. Under direction of the provost, he recently completed work on a new undergraduate program in neuroscience, set to launch this fall semester.

During his research career, he has mentored many undergrads, 15 graduate students and more than 20 postdoctoral researchers who have gone on to teaching and research positions in the United States, France, Germany, Argentina, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Collaboration with researchers from disciplines as diverse as mathematics, chemistry, engineering and art has been central in his research and administrative work: “I find collaboration allows me to ask questions at different levels,” Smith said.

“By 2030 the number of people in the world that will require a university education will more than double. This presents an opportunity for ASU to address a growing demand for graduate programs by actively engaging with other programs in the U.S. and across the world,” Smith said.

As associate dean, Smith will foster initiatives to advance strategic graduate program development.

Smith’s own research has been continuously funded since 1991 by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Human Frontiers Science Program out of the European Community.

Additionally, Smith serves as a fellow in PLuS Alliance, which is a consortium between ASU, King’s College London and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and he is a senior fellow of the Zukunftskolleg at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

An author of more than 100 peer-reviewed journal publications, Smith is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received a Fulker Award from Behavior Genetics Association and a National Institute of Mental Health Nation Research Service Award.

Smith’s appointment took effect July 1.