The White House is recognizing a University of Maine director for his innovation in the world of composites.

Habib Dagher, founding director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, was recognized Tuesday as a 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change, according to a news release from the university. Dagher is the primary inventor of the award-winning composite arch bridge system known as the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack” and the architect of the university’s off-shore wind project, VolturnUS.

The UMaine composites center is a research laboratory with 180 full- and part-time employees and students, the largest STEM-based research center at a Maine university.

At the event, hosted by U.S. Department of Transportation and the White House Office of Public Engagement, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx recognized 11 of the nation’s top transportation innovators for their exemplary leadership in advancing transportation and leading change that benefits the nation’s transportation system.

Dagher’s history of innovation includes being named on 24 patents with eight more pending. He has spent 30 years at the university.

A blog post and the biography of each honoree was featured on the White House website.

“There is a general perception that we here in the state of Maine are at the end of the road, that we have a limited future, and that we’ve just got to play the cards that we were dealt,” said Pete Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Cos., the Pittsfield-based construction company that has partnered with Dagher on multiple projects. “Habib Dagher is an example of how mistaken the skeptics are with regard to Maine. A bright future comes with a vision, a plan, and a strategy to take ideas forward and make them a reality. Dr. Dagher has proven with his accomplishments that Maine’s vibrant future begins by believing that we are fully capable of creating it.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers nominated Dagher. In the nomination, Peter Nonis of ASCE said the composite arch bridge technology is “a wonderful example of knowledge transfer to the private sector and a valuable innovation to the transportation industry.”

UMaine has licensed the composite arch bridge technology to a private startup company, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, which designs and builds these bridges. The technology involves using tubes made of composites that are packed flat, transported, then inflated and bent to any curvature over a mold and infused with a resin. The tubes can cure in three hours, resulting in a lightweight curved hollow arch twice as strong as steel, which is then filled with concrete on site.

The bridges have been installed in 18 locations in the United States and beyond by AIT, according to the release.

The recognition also sparked accolades from Maine’s congressional delegation.

“Dr. Dagher has long been an innovative force in Maine, and we are delighted that his work is being recognized so prominently by the White House,” said U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement. “The University of Maine continues to prove that it is a first-class research institution, and Dr. Dagher and his team at the composites center are exemplary of that excellence.”

“The brilliant innovations (Dagher) has developed are opening many economic opportunities for the state’s future,” said 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

“Bridge-in-a-Backpack is the type of innovation that will help strengthen and modernize our transportation system,” said 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Dagher said he was humbled by the award and shares it with his colleagues.

“This award goes to UMaine Composites Center faculty, including Professors Bill Davids, Roberto Lopez-Anido and Eric Landis, staff and students, as well as AIT staff who commercialized the technology, including Brit Svoboda, Ken Sweeney, Larry Abatiell, John Kenerson, Tim Kenerson, Matt Pellerin, Dan Bannon and Wendell Harriman. I’d like to also thank the Maine Department of Transportation, who continues to be a great partner of our center.”

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