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Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Energy & Thermofluids
photograph of some students

Microgravity Flame Research 

The short-term goal is to improve the design of several experimental facilities such as the Narrow Channel Combustion Tunnel, the 8-meter tall Flame Tower, and the Flame Stabilizer that have been built by our faculty and students to study flames. Two Ph.D. dissertations and at least 20 MS theses have been written on microgravity flame research at SDSU.

NASA has funded this long term research at SDSU (with a cumulative funding of over 2 million dollars) to characterize flame propagation in a gravity free environment. The long term goal of this program is to make space voyage, or long term stay in space, fire safe. To help achieve this goal, we plan on designing appropriate experiments that could be performed onboard the Space Station in the coming years. 


Wildfire Research

In recent years the severity of wildfires as measured in acres burned or property damage costs has risen dramatically. There are a variety of causes for this increase, such as a build-up of flammable material on wild lands due to past fire-fighting practices, prolonged drought or climate change, and increased construction in areas prone to fires. Of particular concern is the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), where developed areas abut natural land. The WUI is a unique blend of vegetative and structural fuel that has not received as much research attention in the past as have those fires involving either only structures or only vegetation. Our research focuses on the effect of wind on wildfire in the WUI, an area of great importance to San Diego where in the last decade hundreds of thousands of people have had to be evacuated due to fires, and thousands of homes have been lost in high Santa Ana winds conditions. To date, fire spread models are mostly empirical, and only recently with the advent of higher speed computers is it possible to develop physics-based models. Our near term goal is to validate a model of wind prediction in areas of uneven terrain and structures developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The long term-goal is to use the model to recreate the devastating fire in 2007 in Rancho Bernardo and ultimately to develop a predictive tool that can be used by firefighters and others to estimate how fast and where a fire will spread under varied conditions. This work has been undertaken by 4 Masters students and one undergraduate to date, with funding from NIST. 

Drs. Abraham, Bhattacharjee, Miller


Flame image taken by the flame tracker 

Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, E-326

San Diego State University

5500 Campanile Drive

San Diego, CA 92182-1323