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.”

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

By Krista Klinkhammer

Global Summit of Women
Left to right: Liz Jachens, Kendra Sharp, Dick Evans, Gretchen Evans, Phylicia Cicilio, and Susan Elliott.

Three engineering graduate students and Kendra Sharp, professor of mechanical engineering, recently accompanied Richard ’69 and Gretchen ’69 Evans to the 2016 Global Summit of Women in Warsaw, Poland. They were among 1,000 women from 75 countries, and many government and industry leaders, including CEOs and former heads of state.

The three graduate students in attendance were recipients of Evans Family Fellowships for field work related to their graduate programs:

  • Liz Jachens, MS student in Water Resources Engineering, received a fellowship for fieldwork in East Africa to develop a School 2 School initiative between U.S. and African schools as part of the Trans Africa Hydro Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO.org) project. The team is working to install weather stations spaced every 30 km across Africa.
  • Susan Elliott, MS student in Water Resources Engineering, received a fellowship for fieldwork in Ethiopia working with the International Water Management Institute.
  • Phylicia Cicilio, Ph.D. student in Electrical Engineering, received a fellowship for fieldwork in rural Alaska to acquire and analyze data on the integration of diesel microgrids with renewable energy and energy storage.

Richard Evans moderated a plenary panel called Closing the Digital & Technology Gender Gap, and presented on the success of drawing females to engineering through the Humanitarian Engineering program at Oregon State. The percentage of female engineers in humanitarian engineering coursework offered at Oregon State or funded by scholarships or fellowships through the program is nearing 70 percent.

“This type of experience is so critical to enabling our female students to truly envision themselves as future leaders who can aspire for the top roles in their organizations,” said Sharp, who is also the Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering.

The students were able to attend due to the Evans’ generosity, and appreciated the opportunity to learn from women in leadership positions all over the globe. “I hope to be back in a few years to network and represent myself as a young woman in the industry,” said Jachens.

By Steve Frandzel

Brian Wood, professor of environmental engineering.
Brian Wood, professor of environmental engineering.

Brian Wood, professor of environmental engineering has been awarded a fellowship by the London Mathematical Society (LMS), the United Kingdom’s leading learned society for mathematics. As part of the fellowship, Wood will reside in Oxford and deliver a series of six lectures at prestigious universities including Oxford University, Cambridge University, Imperial College, and University College.

The fellowship and lectures represent a unique opportunity to bring visibility to Oregon State and help foster potential collaboration. Wood will also conduct collaborative research with Helen Byrne, University Lecturer in Computational Biology at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford. The topic of both the research and the lectures will be upscaling in complex, hierarchical biological systems, such as tissues and organs.

The primary aim of the visit is to establish new partnerships between Wood and members of the Mathematical Institute at Oxford who have common interests in the development and application of tissue homogenization in biology and medicine (creating tissue samples that are equal in composition).

Wood’s primary research interests include the description of mass, momentum, and energy transport in natural and engineered multiscale systems. He also specializes in subsurface hydrology; bioremediation and biochemical processes; water and wastewater treatment; and sustainable design and engineering.

The LMS publishes journals and books, provides grants to support mathematics, and organizes scientific meetings and lectures.