Knee-deep in Research

Basnet back-dropped by a living snow fence at the I-35 site near Williams, Iowa, Feb. 21, 2014.

Basnet, living snow fence

Originally Posted on: March 1st, 2015

by Shianne Gruss

Growing up in the subtropical valley of Pokhara, Nepal, Keshav Basnet rarely saw snow, save for glimpses of faraway mountain peaks. As a graduate researcher at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, he’s often knee-deep in it.

“I saw snow falling for the first time when I was about 18 years old,” Basnet says. He was pursuing his diploma in civil engineering at Tribhuvan University at the time. “It was nothing compared to here in Iowa.”

He would know.

Basnet joined IIHR in 2011 and became part of an Iowa Department of Transportation project to design snow fences that reduce drifting and therefore improve road conditions across the state. These fences range from traditional plastic to “living” materials, such as rows of corn or switchgrass. Basnet works alongside IIHR researchers George Constantinescu and Marian Muste, using mathematical simulations and cameras to visualize how snow flows through a fence.

“The project entails repeated trips in the middle of snowstorms,” Muste says. “Keshav’s attention to detail, thoroughness, and quality of his work is the same irrespective of the weather adversity.”

Fortunately, Basnet enjoys the snow and remembers experiencing it during his early days at the University of Wyoming fondly. “While I was going to class during a heavy snowfall I asked myself, ‘Why don’t they close the college during the first snow fall of the winter?’ I was so excited to play with fresh snow.”

Before moving to the United States in 2009, Basnet worked as a junior engineer for the city of Pokhara, designing and supervising the construction of buildings, roads, and irrigation systems. However, after a serious motorcycle accident in 2000 left him unconscious for a week and required major dental surgery, he began to look at his life differently. He wanted to do something new.

Going back to school after a seven-year hiatus was difficult for Basnet, both mentally and financially. “I’d already forgotten everything I learned during my diploma,” he says. His parents sold their house to help him pay off his undergraduate student loans, and he was only able to self-fund his studies at Wyoming for one semester.

“When I met Robert Ettema, it was a turning point,” Basnet says. A professor of civil and architectural engineering at Wyoming, Ettema introduced Basnet to hydraulic structures and opened up a job opportunity for him. “I started to play with the water, and I started to enjoy it,” Basnet says. “What I found is that flow is dynamic, and I started to compare it with my life. I decided to move to hydraulics completely.” Ettema encouraged Basnet to transfer to IIHR at the University of Iowa, where Ettema had spent 27 years as an engineering professor.

During his time at IIHR, Basnet has experienced both the good and bad dynamics of life. In 2012, he lost his mom just a year after his only daughter was born. “I was really confused at that time, but my advisors gave me some way out,” Basnet says. “I am grateful that my advisors are not only teaching in the research area, but they understand and help my situation.”

Basnet lives in Iowa City with his wife, Ganga, and their two children. He plans to graduate with a PhD in civil engineering, with a concentration in hydraulics and water resources, in July 2015.