Lab Corner: A few of my favorite things

By Mike Anderson, P.E.

I love my dog, but he has his own odd quirks. He loves to play ball in the backyard, but we learned early on that if we just have one ball, then he will chase it once, get it and happily run around the yard never returning it. He is obviously more of a possessor than a retriever.

His behavior eventually led us to take two balls outside for our game. We thought that might work but he seems to be particular about the ball he will actually fetch and return… even though they are identical except for color. The blue ball is the key; that ball never returns for a second throw. He will, however, get and return the red ball many times in a row – as long as he knows you have the blue one.

This behavior makes me think that maybe I am like Morpheus to the canine world. I now start our game with a monologue, telling him: “You catch the blue ball, the game ends and you can prance in blissful ignorance around the yard. You catch the red ball – you stay in the backyard chasing and returning balls, and I show you where that rabbit hole is.”

I guess like all of us he just has his favorites.

I’ve been fortunate to have been a part of the asphalt industry for almost 35 years. In that time, I’ve developed a few favorites too:

Favorite asphalt binder test equipment: DSR (Dynamic Shear Rheometer)

Key to the PG system. Versatile enough to allow us to perform all kinds of test sequences like the temperature-frequency sweep tests needed to generate mastercurves and Black Space graphs. Rheology is FUNdamental.

Favorite asphalt mixture test equipment: SGC (Superpave Gyratory Compactor)

I was going to say the AMPT (Asphalt Mixture Performance Tester), which is the DSR of mixture performance testing, but the Superpave Gyratory Compactor (SGC) is the key piece needed for determining mixture volumetric properties, understanding densification and preparing performance specimens. If you have ever worked with a Marshall hammer you know how nice this compaction procedure is compared to that.

Favorite asphalt-specific technical conference: AAPT Annual Meeting

The Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists (AAPT) has been the preeminent technical association for asphalt technical folks since 1924. Great people. Great technical discussions and networking receptions. Usually warmer weather.

A close second for me is the Canadian Technical Asphalt Association (CTAA) Annual Meeting. Great people. Great technical discussions and networking receptions. Usually colder weather.

Favorite asphalt technical manual: MS-2 Asphalt Mix Design Methods

Another tough call, but I started my career as a mix design engineer and MS-2 was my constant companion when I was with the Kentucky Department of Highways. It eventually surpassed the AD&D Players Handbook as my most frequently read book. If you ask my spouse, she will tell you that both facts are equally sad.

Favorite asphalt engineering principle: Time-Temperature Superposition

A concept used when testing materials in the linear viscoelastic region. Trading loading time for temperature is so helpful in the lab, particularly for tests like the Bending Beam Rheometer (BBR). Why measure a property after loading a sample for two hours at -22°C when you can get the same information after loading a sample for 60 seconds at -12°C? Quicker, and easier on the equipment.

Favorite Pixar movie: Cars

My choice if for no other reason than the fact that they show asphalt being placed in the movie. It is not the most favorable illustration of the actual placement process, but the excitement of the citizens of Radiator Springs when they get a new, smooth asphalt road makes it worth it. Plus, they use a great cover of “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts early in the movie.

Favorite Sci-Fi movie: The Matrix

Probably not a surprise given the conversation I typically have with my dog. Not asphalt related, but then what is “asphalt”? How do you define “asphalt”?

I wonder what would happen if I threw my dog a purple ball?

Mike Anderson is the Director of Research and Laboratory Services at the Asphalt Institute.