TCNJ Magazine Fall 2019

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28 The College of New Jersey Magazine 28 The College of New Jersey Magazine late July and close to 100 degrees outside, but civil engineering professor Tom Brennan and three students in the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience program he's leading are about to make it snow in the STEM building, where some people are swaddled in thick hoodies. No, indoor precipitation is not in the forecast: the deep chill is the product of prodigious air conditioning, apparently to keep lab computers happy, and the coming storm is a computer simulation of an actual one that blew in pretty much out of nowhere on the afternoon of November 15, 2018, creating traffic nightmares throughout New Jersey. Brennan leans in as his students demonstrate their time- lapse depiction of the storm's impact on major roadways. Eyes glued to a computer monitor, they watch over a 20-second span as small green dots, indicating normal traffic flow on a map, begin to turn yellow and grow, fusing and covering larger networks of roadways, and then become orange and ominously bigger. Suddenly, an eruption of red makes huge areas of the state all but throb like a vein in the neck of a frustrated motorist. "Everything starts to glow around 3 o'clock," says Bob Dinger '21 who, with his twin brother Tom and Steve Villaverde '20, built the massive database that undergirds the visualization. "The thought before we did this was that it was going to look bad," says Tom Dinger, "and this is confirmation that it was bad." Indeed, the state government's lack of preparedness that day generated its own political storm that lasted weeks afterward. Brennan, dressed in a loose shirt and shorts, is visibly pumped, not only by the display, but by the knowledge that, in just eight weeks, his undergrads have laid the groundwork for a data tool he believes could prove highly valuable to traffic engineers in the future, helping them determine where to invest in public infrastructure. Moments later, stretching out his lanky frame in a lounge, Brennan says the idea behind the project was to create something that hadn't been done before; that is, a visual chronicle of recorded traffic movements statewide, over the course of a single year, broken down into 15-minute increments. The aim is not graphical, however: it's to establish a baseline of what New Jersey traffic looks like and determine, for lack of a better term, what's "normal." The thinking is that by later adding other variables, such as rail and tunnel disruptions, and putting it all through machine learning, traffic might eventually be predicted as accurately as weather, or even more so. "It feels like we're adding something to society," Brennan says. "Even though it's

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