Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Reply to 'FDS and the Challenge of Big Data'

While on the Tube's District Line from the office, I read the most recent blog article written by the developers of FDS. It is titled "FDS and the Challenge of Big Data".

For those of you who do not know it, FDS stands for Fire Dynamics Simulator, and it is the state of the art in fire modelling. It is a fine, advanced and excellent code of Computational Fluid Dynamics  (CFD), especially developed to simulate the behavior of flames and smoke in buildings and large open spaces. Its source code, in FORTRAN, is open and freely avaible to all. The work of development and maintenance is mostly carried by staff at NIST (VTT at Finland also plays a major role). NIST stand for National Institute of Standards and Technology, and it is a USA government agency which mission is to "promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing science and technology".

Their blog article is mostly a complain. It is formulated around the apparent lack of good collaborations from academia around the world to support their difficult task of developing and maintaining FDS. They think the reason for this is down to the "publish or perish" stereotype, and use a blog article from a Cosmology researcher who expresses similar frustrations with academia.

I have four points to make regarding the FDS blog article:

0) Thank you. I felt bad that you think your contributions go thankless.This is unfair, because FDS is the state of the art, it is provided without cost and openly for all around the world to use. It has tremendously helped the Fire Safety Engineering community to develop further.

1) Test You Hypotheses. You should make sure you know and understand your potential collaborators, specially before you criticize them in the open. For example, the "primary currency of the academic reward structure" in engineering departments is funding and industrial relevance, not published papers. Be aware of using a Cosmology case to run your arguments against academic users of FDS who are mostly from engineering departments. Also, note that there are more jobs for research in Cosmology than for research in Fire Safety, so I find your final kick "there are only so many jobs available in cosmology" ill suited to the critique.

2) More Carrots. Find some of the true rewards that match the motivation of your potential collaborators. For example, I suggest you create the yearly NIST Award for Outstanding Contributions to FDS. This would create recognition and esteem which are highly valued in academic CVs, more than a bunch of papers, and in some cases it is the key for obtaining a position or promoting.

3) Elephant in the Room. Lets we forget that academia has played an essential role in the success of FDS, maybe also a thankless task. I have said in the past [*] that I believe the industrial success of FDS lies on three pillars; it is free, it is excellent for research, and there are hundreds of papers showing good modelling results (just google it). The third point is because no other fire code has ever received so much publication attention. The difference with other fire codes being of two orders of magnitude. This very high number of journal papers and the multiple open discussions taking place in any fire conference every single year have promoted somehow the image that FDS is 'the validated', 'the accepted' or 'the standard' model for a wide range of industrial designs. And industry uses FDS extensively, in thousands of fire protection projects worldwide in any one year, with the approval of the corresponding authorities. Hence, FDS contributes to fulfill the mission of NIST, and promotes innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing science and technology, in the USA and also in the rest of the world. This industrial projection is thanks to all the research users of FDS who decided to publish and go public at some point. Thanks go to them too.

[*] Advantages and Disadvantages of Fire Modelling, Irish Chief Fire Officers Association Annual Conference, Dundalk, May 2012.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Fin's and Candle's Creative Contests: towards the motivation of engineering students

We engineers are in general not the best communicators nor the best at appreciating arts. These are not really topics of interest during university studies in Engineering Schools around the world. This was the theme of a latest editorial in Ingenia, the magazine of the Royal Academy of Engineering, where Dr Steedmand said "Engineers are rarely taught about public engagement and as a result are often criticised for lacking communication skills. A few engineers, through their work, do spend time with the public, but this is not enough. We need much more public engagement if we are to raise the awareness and understanding of engineering and its role in society".

I wanted to build on this in the two courses I teach at Imperial College, ME2 Heat Transfer and ME4 Combustion. I also wanted to boost somehow students' motivation. So I organized Creative Contests at the beginning of the new academic year. The instructions to participate were the following:
"I have three extra copies of the textbook to give away. If interested, send me a poem, comic, drawing, painting, song, video, or anything creative that explains why you are taking this course. Art, wit and humour are allowed". 

And I gave them one week to submit their pieces. I received several submissions and found three winners for each course. Congratulations to the winners, hope you use extensively your new gifted textbooks.

Submissions to the 2013 Fin's Creative Contest in ME2 Heat Transfer:
(first three are the winners. Each received a hardcopy of Incropera's Foundations of Heat Transfer)

by Keon - Heat transfer is not a lie - Click for song . Click for lyrics.
by Hugh  - Amazing Heat Transfer Acrostic


By Eifion - Heat Transfer Limericks

By Kathryn- why study heat transfer?
By Robert - Five reasons why I am studying heat

 Submissions to the 2013 Candle's Creative Contest in ME4 Combustion:
(First three submissions are the winners. Each received a hard copy of McAllister's Fundamentals of Combustion Processes).

By Christian - Combustion, it blows you away!
By Wayne - Little deyas

By Maria - Flames estatue

by William - Combustion
Miles sent this photo by McLaren of an P1 exhaust flame

Boris - Hot air balloon in Morocco

Guillaume - First bone fire in human history - synchronistic style

Walaa selected the poem Fire by 'livin the night life'

Saturday, 26 October 2013

When smart buildings help Fire Commanders

I recently gave an invited talk in Warsaw on the prospects of fire protection in smart buildings. The talk is now avaible in youtube and as slides.
Forecasting Fire Dynamics: When smart buildings help Fire Commanders

Together with other colleagues we were invited by the organizers of the 1st ICRA Workshop who are researching the topic of decision support during fire emergencies merging the points of view of Computer Science and the Fire Service. Oriol Rios, whom I had the pleasure of supervising during his MSc studies, gave a talk on the forecasting of wildfires (youtube, slides).

Thursday, 5 September 2013

PhD Studentship at Imperial College on computational pyrolysis

The Haze Lab at Imperial College London is looking for a top UK or EU student interested in fire science and modelling who would like to do a PhD thesis with Dr Guillermo Rein on computational pyrolysis (see related work in this post  and this paper). We are already interviewing candidates, and the position will be filled before mid October.

The student will be hosted in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Ours is one of the best and largest Mechanical Engineering departments in the world. This studentship includes registration fee (£4,000 per year) and a stipend (~£1,300 per month, tax free) for three years and a half. The requirements are a 1st Honours MEng or MSc degree in engineering (ME, ChE, CE, physics, mathematics or chemistry), and a high motivation in advancing the state of the art of science and technology.

Send an email with CV attached to Dr Guillermo Rein.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Validation and Fire Modelling

Paper submission deadline: 15th Aug, 2014

Validation remains an essential activity for the continuous improvement of computational fire modelling skills. By validation, we refer to the determination of the expected level of accuracy and the range of applicability of a given fire model by means of comparison to experiments (or higher hierarchy models).
Papers are invited as part of a special issue of Fire Technology devoted to validation studies of modelling of any fire phenomena (eg, pyrolysis, flames, compartment fires, wildfires, structural response, toxicity). Of interest are topics that contribute towards the understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, and include among others:
  Validation techniques
  High-fidelity modelling
  Benchmark experiments
  Multi-model comparison
  A priori vs. a posteriori
  Round robin studies

* Editors of this issue are :
Dr Guillermo Rein, Imperial College London, UK,
Dr Randall J McDermott, NIST, USA,

*Fire Technology* (
FT is the interdisciplinary journal by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Springer, spanning the whole range of fire safety science and engineering. It is the oldest fire journal, publishing uninterruptedly since 1965. The aims are to provide and advocate for research and education in fire safety engineering, and reduce the worldwide burden of fire hazards.
*Paper Submission*
Authors are encouraged to submit high-quality, original work that has neither appeared in, nor is under consideration by, other journals. All open submissions will be peer reviewed subject to the standards of the journal. Manuscripts based on previously published conference papers must be extended substantially. The journal accepts three types of manuscripts (full papers, case studies and short communications). Letters to the Editor are also considered. Manuscripts should be submitted to: Please choose article type “Validation of Fire Modelling" when submitting.