ITS-Davis graduate students honored for outstanding research

By Jamie Knapp • J Knapp Communications

Every year, the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies recognizes one Ph.D. dissertation and one master’s thesis as examples of the highest-quality research conducted by its graduate students. This year’s winners are Nathan Parker, 2011 Friends of ITS-Davis Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation award (right) and Geoff Morrison, 2011 Friends of ITS-Davis Outstanding Master’s Thesis award (left).

Parker received his Ph.D. in Transportation Technology and Policy in Jan. 2011 and is currently conducting postdoctoral research at UC Davis. His dissertation, “Modeling Future Biofuel Supply Chains using Spatially Explicit Infrastructure Optimization”, highlights a new approach for identifying how much, from where and at what cost biofuel could be produced to meet policy goals in the United States.

Parker’s dissertation advisors professors Joan Ogden and Bryan Jenkins wrote, “Nathan’s work has strong bearing on one of the most important energy policy debates in California and the United States: how to develop new, low carbon fuels for the transportation sector. His work is of high relevance to the state of California and the nation.”

Parker developed a comprehensive model that employed geospatial models to estimate the location and magnitude of biomass resources, engineering/economic models to replicate the bio-refinery supply, production and fuel delivery system, and sophisticated mathematical programming techniques combining these factors to find the best supply chain solutions.

“His success in developing this first-of-a-kind comprehensive model attests to his exceptional creativity and facility as a mathematical modeler,” his advisors wrote, adding that the multi-disciplinary nature of his work is one of its strong points. Parker’s methods have attracted wide attention in the energy and modeling communities, they added, and could be applicable internationally.

Morrison, an Agricultural and Resource Economics student, analyzed the commute habits of military personnel in his thesis, “Driving in Force: Why the U.S. Military Commutes by Automobile.” He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Transportation Technology and Policy.

Morrison found that military personnel are more likely to drive to work than civilian counterparts, even after controlling for typical predictors of travel behavior such as socio-economic, demographic, family, immigration, transit availability and built environment variables. The study also investigated incentives for driving to base such as discounted gasoline, free parking and lack of walkability.

Professor Cynthia Lin, chair of Morrison’s thesis committee wrote, “Geoff’s research has the potential to make an important impact on policy… his research could improve the cost-effectiveness of infrastructure decisions on bases, help reduce congestion at gates, promote more healthy lifestyles of service members, bolster the environmental image of the Department of Defense, and facilitate the development of carbon-neutral-alternative-energy solutions.”

The judging committee noted that Morrison’s work is unique. “The study is original and tackles a subject that has not been well researched,” members wrote.

A three-person committee of ITS-Davis faculty judges the thesis and dissertation entries on their originality, significance of findings, rigor and logic, completeness, quality and clarity. Winners receive a $1,500 award from the Friends of ITS-Davis fund.


Photo: Taken at Shields Library, at the Robert Arneson sculpture named “Bookhead” (1991), from the Egghead Series, in September 2012. Geoff Morrison is on left, Nathan Parker is on right. Photo by Sylvia Wright – UC Davis