One of the toughest, but at the same time sweetest choices during the IMFSE program is the choice of the master thesis topic. Six partner universities offer a huge variety of really interesting and current topics from many fire engineering related fields. In this first out of two blogs in the series of thesis related posts I asked a couple of questions to six of my classmates – Alejandra, Juan, Khai, Mathieu, Mingcian and Monica. The variety of their choices, and their enthusiasm for their work is really impressive! Enjoy reading about it:
Can you tell me what is your master thesis topic and why did you choose it?
Alejandra: “The implications of fatigue during deep metro evacuations”. I found it interesting because it shows that fire safety can be linked to other research fields; In this case, ergonomics and human kinetics. I was also interested in learning how to conduct experiments as it requires a lot of planning and I like doing so. Additionally, my thesis requires to use the experiment results in evacuation modelling, this is particularly exciting for me as it means that I’m collecting data that could help to increase our knowledge on the effects of fatigue on people, and this data can even be used to modify certain characteristics of the software to improve them.
Juan: The master thesis topic I selected is “An experimental study of effective width through openings using Kinect”. I chose this topic due to the lack of experimental data regarding the dimensions of the boundary layer that defines the effective width through openings, therefore it becomes of interest to study these dimensions which are commonly used for flow calculations in prescriptive codes.
Khai: “Interaction between Tunnel ventilation system and water mist system”. I chose it as it is my favorite topic, and relevant to my future job. The topic focuses more on fire dynamics and the practical side of system design therefore it’s quite relevant to engineers.
Mathieu: My topic is “Comparison of flow field measurements in tunnels with CFD simulations”. Originally the thesis was meant to be about measuring the flow field in hot conditions, which, of course, was going to be amazing. And also, I wanted to do my thesis with the company FESG. But, as everything in construction, there is huge delay so we instead chose to do cold tests in a tunnel.
Ming: “Fire Safety of PV panels”. It looks really interesting to me.
Monica: My topic is “Acceptable fire safety level in prescriptive and performance based designs, case study of a shopping mall”. One of the reasons I chose this thesis topic is because of the opportunity of having a summer internship in Fire Engineered Solutions Gent (FESG) which is an IMFSE sponsor, employer of several IMFSE alumni and known for its relevant work in the fire safety field. Definitely a great experience.
How has your thesis experience been so far?
Alejandra: Great, I honestly could not have chosen a better topic considering my personal interests, it doesn’t feel like work at all. My supervisors are really supporting in all the steps and their feedback is right on time and useful.
Juan: So far, the thesis has involved a lot of programming and learning about the device. The Microsoft Kinect is a camera-like sensor composed by infrared (IR) emitters, depth sensor, RGB camera, and a 4-element microphone array. This sensor can be used for pedestrian tracking using the depth sensor to retrieve the body index and skeleton data of specific body joints, generating a coordinate system using the sensor as the reference point. The objective is not only to assess experimental data but also determine the possibility to use the device in larger scale experiments. Thus, the magnitude of memory required, capacity to collect data on real time and accuracy must be considered. At this stage, simple experiments with a single pedestrian walking through three different opening configurations have been performed successfully and data processing is being performed. Next stage will involve group experiments with the same configurations, this will allow to assess the capacity of the device to measure multiple pedestrians at the same time as well as providing more realistic data regarding effective width of openings during evacuations.
Khai: Long learning process, even when I’m already fluent in the software. Lots of trial and error and problems often won’t come up until you made some progress.
Mathieu: By now, the original thesis concept has changed 10 times, but it’s fun to research about a specific topic. The combination of tests and theory is in a nice equilibrium so I can’t complain. For faster data processing I started writing a small GUI with TKinter, which is something I had never done before.
Ming: There is a lot to learn. Including how to write a thesis and the knowledge of the topic as well. Writing a thesis is more like a self-learning process, but with the help of the supervisor and a PhD student. It is interesting to learn new things but also stressful sometimes.
What is your desired outcome from the thesis?
Alejandra: I’m highly motivated by the learning process. This past 2 months have been a challenge and I know that this is helping me to gather more knowledge in the field and to grow in my career which is my everlasting goal.
Juan: Using the Kinect, I attempt to assess the effective width through openings for individual and group settings, this will hopefully provide some insight on the dimensions of the boundary layer in openings and possibly validate experimentally the numbers provided by the codes (i.e. the 15cm suggested by the SFPE handbook). Additionally, after the thesis is completed it will be possible to assess how useful the device can be for larger scale experiments.
Khai: To produce a good quality report with significant breakthrough. To be more knowledgeable in terms of tunnel fire safety design.
Mathieu: The desired outcome would be that I can make the CFD measurements more accurate in cold conditions so in hot conditions there is also a better accuracy.
Ming: I hope I can write a good thesis and obtain some nice research findings. I also want to be familiar with the skills of academic writing.
Monica: The main goal is to develop fire safety designs for the minimum acceptable risk of a shopping mall according to different legislations. To achieve this, prescriptive and performance-based solutions are proposed.
This master thesis is part of a PhD Research project that has the objective of developing of a quantitative risk assessment methodology for fire safety of people in complex buildings. The shopping mall case will be part of the testing of the mentioned methodology.
Do you see any interesting future research related to your thesis?
Alejandra: Yes, absolutely. While doing the literature review, I could see that a lot of research has been made regarding descending evacuation, however this is not the case for ascending evacuation and there’s even less information on ascending evacuation while carrying weight. This is a relevant research field as now metro stations are being built and expanded even deeper than before.
Juan: As I previously mentioned, effective width through openings has hardly ever been studied experimentally. Therefore, it is possible to continue studying this subject.
Khai: Yes, tunnel fire safety is still an area waiting to be studied further. More and more research will emerge in the near future, CFD is definitely an efficient and accurate way to study more about tunnel since the fire tests are often too expensive to conduct.
Mathieu: Future research can be the more detailed research on how a fan can be modelled in FDS.
Ming: Of course. In fact, my thesis topic is part of a research project, so there are more things to dig in.
Monica: Recognizing the differences in the criteria used by 3 different countries to determine acceptable risk in fire situations is very interesting. This project will show the main differences but also their influence in the acceptable safety level. Deeper analysis can be done in the future including more countries. As a result, it will be clear which countries have more demanding criteria and its differences in the fire safety level. In the future, research could even have an impact on the safety regulations and improvements in the designs.
Do you have any advice for future students on how to choose and conduct a good master thesis?
Alejandra: Choose a topic that you love from the beginning and start early. Use your summer to read a few papers or even start a project plan if it’s required. Contact your supervisors on time! They have a lot of experience in the field and they will guide you, but you need to keep in touch with them.
Juan: Choosing a dissertation topic for which you are truly interested is fundamental. One whole semester of work in something you are not fully captivated can be a struggle. Additionally, I recommend contacting the professor that would become your supervisor and briefly discuss the topic.
Khai: Choose the topic that interests you, have early meeting with your supervisor to know the expectation, be diligent on literature review and pay attention on the details.
Mathieu: Start early with reading literature, try to write stuff early in the thesis so you can rewrite it a month later and you don’t have the stress of doing this last-minute. Also, choose a topic that really is to your likings, otherwise it will be a tough few months.
Ming: Read the introduction of thesis topics carefully and choose what interests you. Do not hesitate to contact the thesis promoter if you want to know more about the topic.
Monica: Ask details about your topic. If it is part of a bigger research, topic changes and objectives are a possibility, considering they are given a year before. Is important to know those details in advance and always maintain good communication with your supervisor(s).