By Majeed Badizadegan

Oregon and neighboring states have been devastated by unprecedented wildfires this summer. 

David L. Blunck, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University

High temperatures, strong winds, dry conditions, and low humidity have combined to create the massive blazes, says David L. Blunck, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

Blunck studies wildfires and the hazards they pose to people and property in the wildland-urban interface. A longtime Oregon resident, Blunck says he could not recall a time when fires posed a more immediate threat to so many in the state. 

“This fire event is unusual in the scope, number, size, and communities affected,” he said. 

Blunck’s research focuses on how wildfires spread through spot fires, which form when firebrands — pieces of burning material such as wood, needles, cones, or bark — break off from structures or trees and are carried in the air. Specifically, he studies the generation of firebrands and what controls ignition once they land. Thin fuels, such as needles on trees, can ignite quickly, Blunck explains. 

“Even seemingly small shifts in humidity can greatly impact how easily smaller fuels ignite,” he said. 

In extreme fire events, firebrands can be carried by winds on the order of 10 miles. During the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, a firebrand jumped the Columbia River from Oregon to start a new blaze on the Washington side, about 4 miles away. Firebrands pose a serious threat to homes. They can jump containment lines and start new fires by landing on roofs or decks, or by entering houses through ducts and windows. 

Infared imaging shows firebrands emitting from a burning tree.

In partnership with the College of Forestry, Blunck has set up experiments burning trees up to 20 feet tall. His team collects, counts, and measures the characteristics of firebrands that land on the ground. Their aim is to learn how different tree types burn and emit firebrands. To date, there is little research the size and scope of Blunck’s work. He hopes his research helps push forward the field and increase understanding of how wildfires propagate with different fuel sources. 

Blunck is working with collaborators to share results and to improve the fidelity of computational models in order to more accurately predict firebrand behavior. This ultimately could help in prioritization of fire response. 

“Fires are part of the ecosystem, and part of Mother Nature. It’s part of the natural cycle,” Blunck said. “We are going to have fires, and they are going to get worse. Changes in the climate, increased fuel within forests, and humans living closer to the wilderness make it a perfect storm for fires.” 

The majority of fires are put out quickly. However, this creates a vulnerability to wildland-urban interfaces as the forest floor accumulates more and more fuel. Blunck hopes to see more prescribed burns to reduce the buildup of fuel and updated building codes to make structures more fire-resistant. 

“People don’t like the smoke from prescribed burns. No one likes smoke,” Blunck said. “You can have your smoke in the spring when you know it will go away. Or you can have it in the summer when it’s much more dangerous and there are no guarantees.”

Living in Oregon means living next to large swaths of wilderness. This proximity offers benefits that many residents enjoy, but it also brings risks. ”We need to mitigate the risk to homes and structures. Firefighters will not be able to contain every fire,” Blunck said. “Oregon residents must be more in tune with the risk of wildfire. We must acknowledge it and face it head-on.”

The 2018 Graduate Research Showcase took place on Feb. 8 at the LaSells Stewart Center on Oregon State University’s campus in Corvallis. Nearly 150 students presented their research to more than 500 attendees, including industry, students, faculty, and the greater OSU community.

First, second, and third place awards were were granted to the top presenters in each school based on intellectual merit, potential impact, and oral and visual communication skills. The award winners were also invited to attend the 2018 Oregon Stater Awards to present their research.

Read more about:

 

 

 

By Steve Frandzel

Elmond Decker

Elmond Decker ‘51, inventor, educator, and a member of Oregon State’s Engineering Hall of Fame, will be inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame for contributions in electrical signal technology. His work enabled the United States Navy to produce a new generation of technologically advanced ships that confound radar detection.

The induction ceremony is November 9, 2017, in Dayton, Ohio.

Decker will be honored for his pioneering work in specialized high-frequency wave transmission technology. The state-of-the-art technology, which minimizes radar reflections, has been incorporated into littoral combat ships and a recent class of destroyers.

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Decker returned home to study electrical engineering at Oregon State on the G.I. Bill. While conducting research for the military during the post-Korean War era, he developed an over-the-horizon radar system to better monitor Russian missile launches and the technology to minimize radar reflections on naval vessels. In 2011, Decker was named to Oregon State’s Engineering Hall of Fame.

After retirement, Decker worked with the Dayton, Ohio, Engineering and Science Foundation to develop science kits and books for school systems around the world.

The mission of the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame is “to recognize and honor engineers and scientists for achievements that significantly enhance the quality of life for humanity.” Its inductees include the Wright Brothers, Charles Kettering, Buckminster Fuller, Alexander Graham Bell, and many others.

by Steve Frandzel

The annual Celebrate Excellence Breakfast on September 20 acknowledged the collective achievements of the College of Engineering over the last 12 months and looked ahead to what’s sure to be another academic year filled with renewed promise and success. The College introduced new hires, recognized faculty and staff who earned promotions, and honored outstanding achievement with its Celebrate Excellence awards. This year’s award recipients are:

Adam Higgins: Austin Paul Engineering Faculty Award, which recognizes faculty who “develop student relationships in which they lead, encourage, and stimulate students in the pursuit of creative and innovative engineering ideas.”

Jens Odegaard: Classified Employee Award, which recognizes “exceptional performance and service.”

Elisha Brackett,: Professional Faculty Award, which recognizes “outstanding performance by a faculty member whose contribution and service is not defined within the traditional categories of teaching, research, or extension.”

Kagan Tumer: The Research Award, which recognizes “sustained, unusually significant and meritorious achievement in research and scholarship.”

Sinisa Todorovic: The Research Collaboration Award, which recognizes a member of the engineering faculty for “sustained, unusually significant and meritorious achievement in collaborative research and scholarship.”

Arun Natarajan: The Engelbrecht Young Faculty Award, which recognizes “outstanding young faculty” in the College of Engineering.

Skip Rochefort: Alumni Professor Award, which recognizes “excellence in teaching and service to students.”

Benjamin Brewster: Loyd Carter Award, which recognizes faculty for “outstanding and inspirational teaching,” as voted by members of the junior and senior class in the College of Engineering.

Katarina Morowsky: Graduate Teaching Assistant Award, which recognizes efforts “beyond the level normally expected of a GTA.”

Yang Xu and Nitish Kumar: Graduate Research Assistant Award, which recognizes contributions “beyond the level normally expected of a GRA.”

Tanner Fiez: Burgess/Tektronix Award, which recognizes an “outstanding senior in the College of Engineering,” as judged by a variety of activities beyond just academic performance.

 

 

 

By Steve Frandzel

College of Engineering faculty won six of the 21 annual Oregon State University Day Faculty Senate Awards—and $30,000 in accompanying funding. The awards, handed out at a dinner ceremony by OSU President Ed Ray, recognize the best work and achievement of OSU faculty. Congratulations to all of the winners!

Christopher Hagen, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering and Director of the OSU Energy Systems Laboratory at the OSU Cascades Campus won two awards: the Faculty Innovator Award ($10,000), which recognizes a faculty member whose extraordinarily high-impact innovations from research are translated into transformative results that help promote economic development and social progress; and the Excellence in Postdoctoral Mentoring Award ($2,000), which recognizes and encourages outstanding mentoring of postdoctoral appointees by OSU faculty members.

The Industry Partnering Award ($10,000), which recognizes a faculty member who achieves extraordinarily high impact innovations through research collaborations with industry, went to Karl Haapala, associate professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

Kendra Sharp, Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering, was awarded the International Service Award ($1,000) in recognition of her exemplary, on-going contributions to the internationalization of the university by enhancing student, faculty, and staff awareness and participation in international education, research, and related activities.

The Student Learning and Success Teamwork Award ($5,000) went to the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering Capstone Design Team of Javier Calvo-Amodio, Robin Feuerbacher, Chris Hoyle, John Parmigiani, Tracy Ann Robinson, and Nancy Squires. The award recognizes departments or interdisciplinary groups at OSU that have demonstrated exceptional teamwork in creating and sustaining an exemplary teaching and learning environment to advance the university’s strategic goal of student success and excellence.

Cindy Grimm, an associate professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering, was awarded the Dar Reese Excellence in Advising Award ($1,000) for outstanding advising of undergraduate students by a member of the OSU faculty, as well as demonstrated success in teaching, research and service.

To see a list of all 2016 award recipients, visit http://oregonstate.edu/events/universityday/award-recipients-amp-nomination-process