Interview – Oriol Rios Rubiras

It’s always pleasant and encouraging seeing how IMFSE alumni grow through their careers, and work in inspiring companies all around the World. One of great examples of that is my master thesis co-supervisor Oriol Rios Rubiras who was a part of the second ever cohort of IMFSE master program. I had a pleasure of interviewing him during my recent visit to CERN. We discussed Oriol’s IMFSE experiences, working in CERN, current fire safety engineering world trends and many other interesting topics!

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and about the steps that lead you to enrolling IMFSE?

Oriol: My background is in physics (bachelor + master). When I was done with that, I wanted to go more into application of that, because I wanted to move away from theoretical physics. At that time, I was a volunteer firefighter, and I thought it would be sexy to study fire from a scientific point of view. 😊 Actually, the thing was that I looked for any Masters related to fire and I saw IMFSE. When I realized that it was a part of Erasmus Mundus I applied, got selected, and started it! I was only the second cohort of IMFSE students. At the time I applied, the first semester ever of the program was going on.

Surrounded by the mighty Alps, CERN is certainly a magnificent place for mountain lovers!

Me: How was your IMFSE experience overall, and what were the best things about it?

Oriol: Really good memories from the IMFSE. That was an amazing entry point to fire safety engineering. For me, I take a lot of friends, fire safety engineers that are spread around the world. And it’s really a great network when you start working, or doing your scientific career, because you have contacts for any kind of issues you may have. That is really powerful. And as well getting to know many teachers, professor, and key players in fire safety engineering world. I realized after the two years that I knew almost half of the people from the fire safety engineering active world just because I was in the master.

Me: How were your experiences from each of the universities you attended? What is the best single thing about each of the universities (Gent, Lund, Edinburgh)?

Oriol: I went to all three of them. I would say depends on what you look for, each university has its strong points. From Edinburgh I remember high fire safety science lectures, really inspiring ones given by Guillermo Rein. He started teaching after Jose Torero left. He is really enthusiastic and it was great motivation into the field. From Edinburgh I remember as well, the activities around the university – social and outdoor activities in Scotland were impressive.

From Lund, it was a really well-organized semester. All the facilities that university offers and all the lab work were really good and smooth. On top of that we did really interesting visits to research institutes and FSE companies (SP, DBI, WSP etc.). It was really pleasant to study there.

And from Gent, I remember also some demanding and really enriching subjects, specially the explosions subject, with some interesting visits on site and external labs.

On site visits are always fun

Me: Are you still in touch with the people from your cohort, or with other IMFSE related people – teachers, staff etc.?

Oriol: Yes, we are still keeping up the connection (mainly email and messaging groups). We are trying to keep up with all the cohort. Both for social activities, whenever we visit each other, or professional activities whenever we have any doubt. You just send a mail to the list, and in few minutes, you get really interesting replies from all over the world. So, for me that’s a priceless resource.

Me: Did you ever consider pursing an engineering career in industry, or you always knew that PhD was “the only right way” for you? 😉

Oriol: I was definitely hesitating. But I thought that with my physics background, I could benefit a little bit on research so I really wanted to give it a try in the fire safety research field, and that’s why I went for a PhD to try to apply some physics concepts into a fire science, which from my regard was like a young science, so still a lot of room for development and improvement. That’s why I got hooked into the research field. Afterwards, I wanted to move in a balance between research and industry (and I think I found it!).

Moving on to PhD was really smooth, because I pursued a PhD on the same topic as my master thesis in IMFSE, because I really wanted to explore a topic that is not covered in the master – wildfires.

IMFSE crew in CERN – Oriol, Melchior, Patrick and me

Me: How was your experience with conducting a PhD in fire engineering, and would you recommend it to future IMFSE graduates and students?

Oriol: The experience is great, because the good thing is that it’s not a super big family, so if you move enough, you get to know all of the key players, and that’s great because you have the feeling of really following all the field, and you know all the faces. The experience was enriching, being able to contribute on expanding the fire safety science field is an honour. Although I would say that a PhD is not always “sweet happy flowers” time, I definitely had hard times doing a PhD, and I would only recommend it to those people who believe in research and have some endurance. It can sometimes be difficult to keep up with research itself, if you are not really convinced of your willingness to contribute to science.

Me: What are the essential research fields that fire science community needs to focus on in near future in your opinion?

Oriol: First, what I am working on now, modelling. That’s actually the state of art and it is being applied more and more. We need to get sounder applications of modelling because otherwise it becomes kind of a wild jungle if everyone just uses models without a sound knowledge and properly defendable outputs of your model. So, modelling, validating and testing is one of the fields – especially in compartment and industrial fires.

Then the field without doubt is wildland – urban interface (WUI), which is hot topic, and will become even more hot. Big wildfires go over extinguishing capacities and over planning capacities, so they impact to human areas and then we have devastating consequences. We have seen this in Canada, Chile and US (among many others) last summer. Science, in my opinion, has a lot to say about this in terms better tools for preventing, understanding and fighting it.

At least we are certainly “fire-safe” up in the deep snow of Mont Blanc 🙂

Me: How did the CERN opportunity occur, and how challenging is it working in the most renowned scientific institution in the world?

Oriol: I was finishing my PhD, and thanks to the friends I made in IMFSE, I got the information that CERN was looking for a FSE. Since Lund University was already collaborating with CERN, I decided to apply. As a physicist, I never thought they would look for a fire safety engineer. I only knew CERN because of physics, and not because of fire. So, I applied, and I got selected, so that’s how I started.

When you work in CERN, you hallucinate a little bit because of the magnitude of everything. I have never seen so many tunnels, cables, cable trays, cabinets and other hazards put together in the same place and underground. So, it is really challenging at the beginning. For example, first task I was given was a circular tunnel, which you never thought of how to simulate the ring tunnel. We do have unique problems, but also, we have unique resources – computational resources, opportunities to train ourselves, learn, network and collaborate. I think those two aspects are really engaging and motivating.

The mind-blowing antimatter factory

Me: What is your main field of work now in CERN?

Oriol: On one hand, working on FCC study – that’s Future Circular Collider. The project on the continuation of CERN. This project foresees a tunnel of around 100km length 400 meters below ground. I am contributing to the fire study of the conceptual phase that is being done at the moment. As you can imagine, 100km long tunnel, located 400m below ground can pose some headaches in terms of safety and evacuation.

And then I contribute generally on safety aspects mainly dealing with simulation around the CERN areas. And for the future, I am quite excited, because we are launching a project called FIRIA – Fire Induced Radiological Integrated Assessment. That’s a project that aims to do the risk assessment coupling fire and radioactivity. So, what would happen if radioactive material would burn, and how could we simulate that and how could we simulate radioactive smoke. That’s a really singular problem which I am interested to start tackling.

Me: What makes a good fire engineer? Which skills and abilities?

Oriol: First, knowledge. You need knowledge on multiple fields, from the theoretical fluid dynamics to computers to scripting to generally industrial and general engineering. Then, you need really critical mind in terms of being able to properly understand the problem. For me what is crucial, you will need to simplify a problem being still in the correct safe side. Our main task should be to limit as much as possible the safety factors we put whenever we don’t have knowledge and we have uncertainty. For me those are the key points, being able to strike a problem, in a simplified manner, still being accurate and correct.

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CERN fire engineering team with the guests from DESY (Germany) and Lund University

Me: Any message for the current and future IMFSE students?

Oriol: Profit well from these two years, because they are really enriching and you can take a lot from them. Not only on knowledge but try to take as much as possible in all domains. Then, keep up all the contacts you make during those two years, because they will be a great tool for your future career.


IMFSE Master Thesis – what, why, how etc? part II

Can you tell me what is your master thesis topic and why did you choose it?

Darko: The title of my thesis is “Identification and characterization of design fires to be used in performance-based fire design of CERN facilities”.

After enjoying two fire dynamics courses during my first two IMFSE semesters – Fire Dynamics in Gent and consequently Advanced Fire Dynamics in Lund, I was quite interested in conducting a thesis related to that field. When I found out that Lund University collaborates with CERN, and that they proposed a topic related to fire dynamics, I decided to look no further.

Not too many places on earth are as mind-blowing as CERN 🌟

Kunsulu: My topic is “Numerical simulations of pressure effects in passive houses during fire”.  So, I will perform validation study of experimental data from a passive house facility built in Mons. Before choosing the topic, I decided that I will consider those related to FDS, as I wanted to develop my skills in using FDS. I chose this particular topic because currently there is a tendency towards energy efficient buildings and near-zero energy houses, and for me it was interesting to discover that there can be an evacuation problem and even a structural damage due to pressure rise during fire in well-insulated dwellings. Therefore, the topic seemed fascinating to me.

Melchior: I’m currently working on multiscale modelling of the accelerator tunnel located at CERN in Geneva. The accelerator ring is 27km long and impossible to model completely using 3D CFD. The mutliscale refers to the fact that I only model ± 500m using a 3D domain, while the other 26.5km is modelled using a much faster 1D approach.

I chose this topic as I’ve always been interested in fluid dynamics, and of course the opportunity to work with a world-renowned organization was a nice plus.

Julia: “Ignition of polymers under transient heating.”

I have always had a great passion for experiments and laboratory. Moreover, from the beginning I knew I preferred the focus of FSE at the University of Edinburgh. After a thorough view on the topics offered there, I decided that this would be the very exciting one!

Habib: The title of my thesis is “Validation and testing of full probabilistic quantitative risk assessment methodology for life safety in complex buildings”.

This thesis is more about testing an interpolation and response surface model to estimate FED simulation result, so the objective is developing a model that could estimate the simulation result in a certain case. In the end, we can reduce the computational time.

Arjan: My Topic is to make a cost benefit analysis of compartmentalization in logistic buildings, i.e. large floor areas. The analysis is made in essence for the private investor but also looks at the bigger picture of societal welfare and risk mitigation measures.

As I got the Rockwool sponsorship – half of my tuition fee was waivered and in return the thesis topic was based upon the company’s needs.


How has your thesis experience been so far?

Darko: Very interesting and unpredictable. Gathering and reading all the existing scientific papers on a certain matter and thereupon figuring what has not been done, and what should be done is a great challenge! Also, organizing custom experiments that include ordering and shipping a number of different gadgets and equipment from abroad can be quite tricky. I learned to always expect the unexpected.

Many thanks to Patrick and Dan from Lund University, but also to Oriol and Saverio from CERN for their selfless help whenever needed.

Kunsulu: It has been good so far. I am in the learning process: by trial and error (in writing codes especially); by asking questions and trying to find answers/explanation; with help and guidance of my supervisors. I just finished doing the study of leakage modelling methods in FDS where I considered how pressure and leakage flows can be affected by changing some parameters of leakage modelling in FDS. Now, I am starting the actual validation part.

Kunsulu pic
Kunsulu getting all the love and support needed for thesis from her dearest classmates 🙂 

Melchior: Not without the usual moments of wanting to throw my laptop out of the window, but overall more than positive. Also, thanks to the guidance both at CERN and LTH.

Julia: Some days are very productive and I manage to perform lots of experiments, whereas in other days several problems pop up and you cannot have a good progress. My experience has shown that activities usually take longer than we expect, mainly when working with experiments. Small problems will always come up, and most of them are unpredictable. However, finding solution for them is a very interesting part of the work.

Habib: It’s been very dynamic and demanding, but certainly enjoyable. Most of the time I run many fire and evacuation simulations, analyze the results, and then modify the prediction model.

Arjan: It took me a long time before I finally got started but once I got going the urge for more knowledge only grew. I can finally start writing the analysis tool now and I’m curious about the results it will give me.


What is your desired outcome from the thesis?

Darko: To produce a good paper that will be useful for CERN, but also that will comply with my expectations. To get satisfying results from my experiments and to have the test results obtained with different methodologies match!

Kunsulu: I want to deliver quality work and to be more confident user of FDS.

Melchior: To get a fully functional multiscale model, which will be able to resist experimental validation.

Melchior not sure whether he should laugh or cry after realizing what he needs to simulate in FDS 😅

Julia: The aim of the thesis is to find a trend that can lead to a new criterion – ignition criterion for transient heating conditions. Nevertheless, an important point is the knowledge that is acquired through the whole progression of the work, i.e. what I am learning with literature review, solving problems, understanding the uncertainties and limitations, and so on.

Habib: A prediction model, so that in the future if someone wants to obtain the result of similar case characteristic, they can use my model instead of running many simulations, so that they can save computational time.

Arjan: Finishing with a thesis that is up to standards, i.e. something of which I can be proud.


Do you see any interesting future research related to your thesis?

Darko: Yes! As CERN is such an enormous facility, this thesis produced design fires only for the major combustibles present in CERN (electrical cabinets, racks, magnets, klystrons, transportation vehicles). Further development of design fires for e.g. cables and cable trays, transformers etc. would allow more precise input for future FDS modeling.

Kunsulu: Yes, I do actually. I think there is a potential of future research both experimentally and numerically. For example, I think more tests could be conducted with solid fuels and realistic fire scenarios. Also, more work can be done in characterization of building air-tightness and ventilation configuration. To illustrate, sensitivity analysis of some default values in leakage modelling and quantification of uncertainties of ventilation flows can be useful.

Melchior: Yes, there is a lot to be improved upon, as the level of detail I’m currently using is relatively low. Also the implementation of current 1D modelling in FDS is not optimized yet.

Julia: Yes. The current ignition criteria are based on constant incident heat flux, which is not realistic in a real fire. If new criteria can be established based on transient heat flux, simulations will be more accurate and fire spread prediction will consequently be more precise and realistic.

Multitasking Brazilian 🔥

Habib: If we use the prediction model to predict other cases, it might result in high errors. So, the challenge is building a generic prediction model, so that we can apply it to many cases. It might be done by modifying the result model in this research.

Arjan: If the thesis is a success it should provide Rockwool with a tool they can use to advice/convince their future clients on installing compartmentalization.


Do you have any advice for future students on how to choose and conduct a good master thesis?

Darko: Make sure to choose a topic that seems interesting and useful. If you can’t decide between several topics, do not hesitate to contact the thesis promoters and further discuss the thesis possibilities. Contact with your potential future supervisor will probably solve all your doubts, and choice of a perfect topic will not be a problem anymore.

Start reading the literature related to your topic well on time and contact your supervisor occasionally with any questions. Ideally by the time when thesis semester starts (January), you will more or less have a clear picture of what you should do, and how will you make it happen!

Kunsulu: To choose the topic, I would recommend first to select areas you are most interested in or the ones you want to develop your knowledge in. Also, try to talk to the supervisors before selecting the topics and ask for more information. Regarding how to conduct a good master thesis, ask me in May-June after I will finish mine😊

Melchior:  Choose a topic that interests you, without looking at the location too much. You’ll have to work on the topic for several months and if it doesn’t interest you, those can become a really long four months.

Julia: It is important to firstly have an overview of the focus of each university. You also have to bear in mind what area you prefer (simulations, material burning, structures under fire, etc.).

Once your topic has been accepted, contact your supervisor. You can start reading papers and works related to what you will study and gather some ideas. When your last semester starts, try to get in touch with people involved in the same area, e.g. PhD students. And don’t forget, organize your activities! Before starting, set your objectives and keep in mind what you want to do and how much time you have for each step.

Habib: The most important thing that we need to take into account when we choose master thesis is our interest. By choosing the one that accords with out interest, it makes us more excited in doing the research, even though we face many difficulties during the research.

After that, we have to also understand the details concept of the research. We could discuss with the supervisor regarding the research topic if it is needed. So that we could prepare ourselves before doing the research and we are sure that we are able to complete the research.

Habib and his appealing model 👨🏻‍💻


  • Start as soon as possible
  • Don’t forget: it is/are your last year/months as a student. Enjoy it while it lasts, upgrade your social life and explore all the ins and outs of the city you’re in.
  • Don’t be afraid of your supervisor
  • Don’t think you don’t have enough material to set up a meeting with your supervisor, there’s always something to discuss
  • Study/work outside of your apartment. Go to the library or find some cool pub where there is an all-you-can-drink policy for tea or coffee, e.g. Caley Picture House Edinburgh.
  • Learn how to work efficiently with MS word a.s.a.p.
Our Belgian adrenaline junkie is getting inspired high above the ground 🛩️

IMFSE Master Thesis – what, why, how, etc?

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.

Alejandra exhausting other people for her experiments – no wonder why she enjoys her thesis so much 🙂

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.

Juan and his Kinect – it was love at a first sight 🙂

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.

Khai getting energized for the thesis work at the top of the Arthur’s seat

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.

Our only Ghentian, Mathieu, looking content working on his thesis in his hometown

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.

Ming and the Edinburgh crew with IMFSE scholar Richard Emberley and Prof Grunde Jomaas

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).

Monica, Kunsulu and Habib at a recent SFPE conference in Rotterdam

Into the Scottish Highlands

End of the exam period last December in Edinburgh wasn’t special only for the fact that, of course, the exams were over and that a 3-week vacation could start. What made it so joyfully anticipated was the fact that my brother Boris and one of our best friends Danijela were coming for a visit! Being adventurer as I am, and having two like-minded people on my side, it wasn’t hard agreeing on making a road trip around the famous Scottish Highlands!

As we left Edinburgh, there were a few essential spots to visit in close proximity to the city, before starting the long way! Our first stop was an adorable village of Queensferry, connected to its opposing partner – North Queensferry, by the iconic Forth Bridge. Apart from having the second longest single cantilever bridge span in the world, and being one of the most famous symbols of Scotland, this bridge was featured in numerous television programmes, films and video games including one of my all-time favourites Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas!

GTA San Andreas
Should have been named – GTA Edinburgh!
mos 2
Blue sky and a beautiful bridge make you forget how cold it actually is

Only a couple of miles away our next stop awaited. Standing 30 meters high, two horse-head sculptures also known as The Kelpies, represent the World’s largest equine (relating to horses) sculptures. The Kelpies name reflected the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 100 horses – a quality that is analogous with the transformational change of Scotland’s landscapes, endurance of Scotland’s inland waterways and the strength of Scotland’s communities.

Trio as powerful as the Kelpies!

The last, but not least stop on the start of our trip was the engineering wonder called The Falkirk Wheel. It’s the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and it indeed left us speechless!

I could watch this for the whole day

As we moved up north, in a couple of hours we found ourselves at the gate of Highlands. The first sight to arrive at was the famous Glen Coe. This lovely valley surrounded by breath-taking mountains immediately gave a meaning to the name of the region – the Highlands.

Highlands baby
Favorite valley of most Scottish people, no wonder why
Highlands 3
Couldn’t be happier 🙂

As the winter days this north are extremely short, we wasted no time, and we continued towards our next stop. If you have ever seen a Harry Potter movie, then you will immediately recognize this stunning bridge.

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Hogwarts express line!

The best thing about the Glenfinnan Viaduct is that the bridge is not the only beautiful thing around. The bay that the bridge is overlooking makes this whole place completely miraculous.

Glenfinnan bay
When you make a postcard out of this one, please do mention the author!

And finally, deep in the night, we arrived to our final destination – the Isle of Skye where we spent a night in a hostel in the largest town of the island – Portree, counting approximately 2300 people 😱!

As we woke up the following morning, exploration of the Isle of Skye could officially start! Having met quite a few friendly Scottish people on our way (most of them are indeed), we got the first-hand tips about the best places to see on our two-day visit to this remote island. Only 10km away from Portree, our first “must-see” spot awaited – The Old Man of Storr. A steep rocky hike was extremely difficult at this time of the year, due to the huge amounts of ice along the whole path. Nevertheless, we managed to make about a half of the full climb which was more than enough to experience some spectacular views of both the stunning Storr rocks and the bay beneath us.

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It’s all good!
Old Mann of Storr
Smiling in this winter wonderland 🙂

Without further ado, we continued further north making a circle around the whole island, having numerous stops just to appreciate the scenic views surrounding us.

Snowy Skye
Its truly super hard focusing on driving a car with the views like this – great job Danijela 😉

To sum up the day, a visit to Talisker – the distillery of my brother’s favourite whisky was inevitable. Learning all about the whisky production process and eventually tasting this fine single malt gave a special flavour to this truly Scottish day.

Talisker 11
Seems like Scots are born obsessed with whisky – eyes of the girl are just shining!
So do our eyes!

Waking up early the next day, in order to make the most out of it, we headed to the western most point of the Island – the Neist Point. High terrifying cliffs, no people, strong winds and a lighthouse at the very end of the island, next to the open ocean seemed like a perfect setting for a spooky movie 😱! Notwithstanding, these 3 brave Serbs still managed to fully enjoy this scenic area having fun like they were in a comedy movie rather than a spooky one 😉

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Another postcard, you’re welcome!
Daca skye
Photo credits – big brother – not bad 😉
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People are such a minority in Highlands!

As the clock was ticking, we knew it was time to slowly head back towards the capital. On our way back, we encountered several beautiful castles, which felt like an ordinary thing in Scotland. But why I’m even more proud of this brave trio is the fact that we even managed to get to the Loch Ness without being eaten by the Nessie! 😊

Castle collage
The notorious Loch Ness

And oh yes, I almost forgot, we managed to do 1600km in 3 days with this beast!

This cutie didn’t betray us, super proud!

Finally, in late night we arrived back to Edinburgh. Overwhelmed by how beautiful Scotland can be even in the middle of winter, we all agreed that this country deserves plenty of visits in future, as there are still countless unexplored beauties waiting to be discovered!

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Back at that panorama of all the panoramas!

Interview – Grunde Jomaas

One of the key reasons why IMFSE is managing to maintain such a high quality are certainly all the people involved in making it happen – from professors and teaching assistants, to all the staff members and of course the students. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Grunde Jomaas at the University of Edinburgh, and we talked about IMFSE, fire engineering world and many other interesting topics.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and how you entered the world of Fire Safety?

Grunde: I was always fascinated by fire, by building fires and bonfires and things like that.

I had gone to Math and Science in High School so a lot of my friends were studying engineering. One friend was actually studying in Haugesund, Norway, where they have a program in fire safety. It seemed like a great program, so I applied, started there, and from there on it really caught me.

Already during the 1st semester in Haugesund, I met lecturer Bjarne Christian Hagen. He was very inspiring, with lots of energy and always being funny and easily approachable. He had studied at University of Maryland, and some friends and I started to look into studying abroad.

Having heard about University of Maryland being mentioned in many chapters of the literature I read, and following Bjarne’s example, I decided to continue my studies at the University of Maryland, and that’s when it really excelled.

Back where it all started – Norway

In the 1st semester I had Jose Torero for one of my Fire Classes. After the first, very inspiring semester, I started working with Jose, and ended up working with him for 2.5 years in the FETS (Fire Engineering and Thermal Sciences) Lab until I graduated!  At UMD, I also took a class called Fire Risk Assessment Methods with Fred Mowrer. It was a lab class, where you conduct fire lab experiments and consequently write lab reports. Somewhere similar to the lab class IMFSE students have in Edinburgh. That’s when I really felt the “Oh I really love this” sensation. The feeling of being able to study things, and then apply and examine your theoretical knowledge and connect things was just great!

Me: How did you get involved with IMFSE?

Grunde: As I have known Jose for some time, I heard about the IMFSE already in the planning phase, and with time I met Patrick and Bart at conferences and through my job at DTU (Technical University of Denmark).

I have also recommended IMFSE to students. A student that I supervised for his BSc thesis at DTU, Rolff Leisted applied to and completed to program. It turns out that was a ‘good investment’ as Rolff came back to study for a PhD at DTU in Copenhagen. Then in 2016 I came to Edinburgh, and I became the local Program Director. I have really enjoyed getting more directly involved with the program and the IMFSE students.

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Welcoming lunch for the IMFSE students at the University of Edinburgh

Me: How was the IMFSE experience so far from your perspective and what do you expect from it in future?

Grunde: I’ve truly enjoyed spending time with the students. Currently, I do not teach in the program, but I have the privilege of being in charge of the welcome week. I meet the students, we have social activities. I am the personal tutor to all the students and I assist them with any issues they might have.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the interviews that we did, as it allowed me to interact with many of the very talented people that are applying to the program. And then graduation, I’ve been going to couple of graduations, where I also had the pleasure of giving the commencement speech. Thus, even though I haven’t been with all the cohorts seeing them trough, I have seen sort of both the beginning and the end already. Also, here in Edinburgh, we have PhD students from the program, we see that they succeed.

If you look at where the program is going, currently we are in the process of reapplying for the funding from the EU. We hope and think that there is space for growth in the program.

We have very good students and a very high graduation rate. So far students from approximately 60 countries have been in the program. So, it clearly shows that we attract talents from all over the World and that we’re truly a global program.

Hopefully we will continue to attract talent from all over the World, and we hope that many of the graduates go back to their home countries and contribute to improve and promote fire safety engineering there.

Grunde Profil
Representing IMFSE high above the ground – conducting experiments in parabolic flights

Me: Where is IMFSE as a program in comparison to the rest of the world? How competitive and ready are IMFSE graduates for fire safety engineering careers after obtaining their degrees?

Grunde: The classic answer to that, which is also the true is: we’re second to none. It means that we are not necessarily saying that we are for sure the best, but there is no program that is better. We can compete in quality with anybody at the Masters level.

Obviously, Lund and Edinburgh have very long traditions for Fire Safety, and they have bigger fire safety groups. But the quality that Ghent has with Bart and his colleagues is also impressive. And it is great that they have hired the incredibly talented Ruben van Coile recently.

Furthermore, the universities themselves are all very old and prestigious, with the latter being constantly confirmed in international rankings. It’s important to mention that we were labelled as a success story by the Erasmus program. And this is something that all of us have received recognition for from our respective universities. Of course, we work hard to make the program the quality it is, but we get the support from our respective universities because they believe it is very strong.

Signing the Professorial Roll at The University of Edinburgh

Given that the program is a top program, and being recognized as such, it is proven that most students have the job before, or very shortly after graduating. If you want to define a good quality program, you need to see how employable the program’s graduates are, because the students are the product, so that’s a real measure. And, IMFSE students get jobs, and the jobs are often secured before graduation.

Talking about jobs, after studying in 3 or 4 countries over 2 years and interacting with all these various people, you become more open minded and you are not so afraid to apply for a job in a new country – you have the world at your feet!

So, by nature of the program you see opportunities, you become explorers, you become confident in your abilities to manage new settings. And you seek opportunities that you might otherwise not have sought. Hence, it enables you to get a wider range, and quite possibly, more interesting jobs.

 Me: What do you think is important for the future career of a fire engineer – which skills and abilities?

Grunde: Rather than just skills, I would say competence is the key.

In undergraduate studies (BSc), the focus is often on knowledge and skills. Once you get on to MSc program, we still teach you some skills – technical skills and knowledge you did not have, but we want you to have confidence in your abilities to face new, open problems. That’s how you implement skills and knowledge into making a good engineering decision and making it work, and that’s how you become truly competent.

So, it’s obviously a need to have this broad foundation that you can understand the problem, and then you can make a competent answer. So, all of the skills and the knowledge makes that you can see a problem from different angles, and I think that’s the strength you gain.

Furthermore, inherently in the program, as you are going to Lund, Gent, Edinburgh, you get different views on things, different teaching styles, and different ways of approaching a problem. Additionally, throughout the program we try to connect you with industry so you really have a feel for how to implement what you learned.

More and more people try to define what competence is. Our program has been developed, both in collaboration with industry and other academics, to ensure that we have the base to provide the competence that will enable you to provide unique, safe solutions to real challenges in the built environment!

Prof Dougal Drysdale with Prof Grunde Jomaas and IMFSE 1st year students

Me: What do you think about the fact that IMFSE accepts students with various different engineering and scientific backgrounds?

Grunde: That has to stop immediately!! 😉.

On a more serious note, I think – feeding back to the previous answer, it’s a strength. The way it works in my impression is that the students work very closely in the program. You get to see the view of others, you get to see how all different people think and approach problems.

Fire safety is really a field where you have to work with different stakeholders at all points. You’re not there as a standalone person. You have to work with all the other branches of engineering. I think that coming from different countries and different backgrounds increases the flavour and it ensures that things are not overlooked. If you become more and more narrow-minded, you see only what you see and you can become too focused on certain details, and that’s the easiest way to overlook something.

Celebrating Prof Jomaas’ Inaugural Lecture at the University of Edinburgh

I think this mix of people enriches the program and makes us question things and repeat constantly one of the important questions, I saw it at board of the dean at DTU,
Could it be otherwise? That’s a good question to think about. My way is not all the time correct. Somebody else with slightly different background might have a better solution.

Me: What do you think about where Fire Safety Engineering is nowadays? How acknowledged is it in the world in general?

Grunde: We’re still fighting to get the appreciation, status and the position that we should have. I’ve heard that in some languages Fire Safety Engineering does not even exist. Some say: “In my home language that would be a made-up word. People wouldn’t even know what that is.” From a global perspective that gives you an insight.
The statistics ( also show that there are countries, in different places in the world, that have a factor of 10-20 times (or even more) higher fatality rates than more developed countries. So, there is obviously a lot of work to be done.

Fire safety engineers are often seen as somebody that only adds cost and doesn’t add value. That could actually be seen as the definition of not getting the recognition. Many people don’t see the meaning of what we do until an accident happens.

However, if we weren’t doing our work, we would have accidents and huge fires happening much more often. Of course, some recent events have put a focus on fire safety as a field and that there is a lack of competence. It is our job to inform politicians and all stakeholders in the built environment that we have competence and we can supply competence. As such, we need to get recognition as the ones who provide the competence in Fire Safety Engineering. And that should be done through education at universities. And, as mentioned we provide a first-rate fire safety engineering education.

Presenting the fire lab – where all the magic happens!

Me: Is Fire Engineering being developed and researched as much as it should be? What about the less developed world where fire engineering is on quite a low level. How could we impact that?

Grunde: The program is obviously trying to impact that, and any educated person has a responsibility to share his or her knowledge. Some of the knowledge we see as basic is not available in many countries. For example, the severity of fires in the textile industry in Bangladesh and in Informal settlement can be significantly reduced with existing knowledge. In fact, we have a project entitled “Improving the Fire Resilience of Informal Settlements to Fire” (IRIS-Fire) at the University of Edinburgh ( That’s a way to contribute. Actually, one of the PhD students in that project is an IMFSE alumnus, Mohamed Beshir. In general, when we are in education we pledge to share our knowledge. We should share it with the whole world, and research wise we should try to follow up. There is simple or basic knowledge that could go far in a lot of countries.

Me: Any message for the current and the future IMFSE students?

Grunde: Keep being the good ambassadors. Keep talking to people and mention the program. You also have the role to spread it to the world. Some of you are maybe the one of very few in your country doing fire safety. So, keep spreading the word about the quality that program has.

1st year students celebrating successful accomplishment of the 1st semester

But also, do well and keep doing well. The program is approaching its 10 years anniversary; thus we’re getting to the point where some of the early graduates will assume leadership positions. Once you moved up in the rank, remember also where you came from, and that the IMFSE program probably played a small part in your success. Keep recommending the program to people because that’s how we build up the pyramid. We need numbers. We need more students and more graduates. Because there is plenty of fire safety engineering challenges in the world that is in need of competent fire safety engineers like the IMFSE graduates!

Me: Tell me 3 first words that come to your mind when you think of IMFSE

Grunde: Bart Merci, Jose Torero, and international quality education!

And where would we be without BRE? 🙂



One perfect day in Edinburgh

When you study abroad, you certainly want to make the most out of your time in a new country.  Therefore, whenever you have some spare time, you try to take a chance and explore some new interesting places. When you are lucky enough to study in the capital of Scotland, you don’t need to travel far. All you need is to set off and discover the numerous beauties of the city of Edinburgh. As the blog about the nice places to visit in Edinburgh would probably be 20 pages long, I’ll try to summarize how I think that a day in Edinburgh can be spent most efficiently, and what are the places I take my friends to, when they come for a visit!


As the city is built on seven hills, among which the most famous is certainly the Arthur’s Seat, it’s always a good idea to start a day with a hike up to this 250m high extinct volcano. Although it might seem like a tough hike looking from distance, the peak is actually quite reachable with a lot of different paths approaching it from all sides. From the bottom to the top, in no more than 25-30 minutes you will find yourself having some spectacular panoramic views of the whole city and overlooking the region of Lothian. These views will certainly help you in comprehending the city structure better, and planning your day easier.

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As you get down from the hill at the northern side, you will come upon the famous Holyrood Palace standing next to the Queen’s Gallery. A lavish summer residence of her Majesty and the Gallery are open to the public for a “bargain” – £16.60, so me, as well as, I assume, many students, prefer admiring their exteriors (them from the outside). Luckily, right across the street from the palace stands the new Scottish Parliament building. Apart from admiring this impressive building from the outside, you can actually enter it for free. What’s even more interesting, also for free and without booking in advance, the public is allowed to attend the parliament sessions held in the debating hall. This can end up being really engaging, as the only time I went for a debate, a turbulent discussion about the Scottish Fire Safety Regulations was held, with reflections on the terrible Grenfell Tower fire that happened in June this year in London.

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The Debate is ON

After you’re done with the parliament, and you probably already start to miss climbing a hill, don’t worry any further, and head towards the Calton Hill! Although way smaller than the Arthur’s seat, this lovely hill in the heart of the city is equally impressive. Many great monuments can be found on this Hill, but that’s not what it’s the most famous for. This hill is actually called “The Birthplace of The Panorama”. Namely, Irish painter and a master of perspective from the late 18th century, Robert Barker, visiting the Calton Hill one day came up with the idea of the panorama. Using some self-designed apparatus, the artist managed to sketch out a 360-degree view of Edinburgh from the hilltop which happened to be the creation of one of the most popular painting forms at the time.

Panoramic view from Calton Hill

After you get down from the hill, you will find yourself at the beginning of Edinburgh’s most famous shopping street – the Princess street. Even if you’re not into shopping, this lively street is always a nice place to walk through, especially when you add the magnificent views of the castle. If you happen to be in Edinburgh during the Christmas time, you will be lucky to experience the Christmas street at its finest – all immersed in the Christmas market.

Castle square

Just a small detour from the west end of the Princess street will take you to another “must visit” place – the picturesque area – the Dean Village.


After you’ve seen all of this, a small circle below the Castle hill will get you to the Grass Market which is located next to several important “Harry Potter” related places. First of all – The Elephant House bar where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, then the Victoria street which served as the inspiration for the Diagon Alley, and finally the Greyfriars graveyard where grave of the notorious Thomas Riddell (Lord Voldemort) can be found.

The Diagon Alley – get your Nimbus 2000 half a price 😉

If you still have some time and energy, in no time you can get to the Edinburgh’s attraction #1 – the Castle of Edinburgh. Although the entrance fee is £17, personally I’d say it’s worth it, and if like me you plan on staying a bit longer and visiting some more Scottish castles, than a £42 yearly pass to all the Scottish castles is absolutely the best option.


Finally, as the night comes you can head to some of the various gin/whisky bars or just the regular Scottish pubs, and in the later hours make sure to end up in the famous Cowgate where all the nightlife secrets are kept!

Fire Science Laboratory Course

Being fire safety engineering students, clearly, we are all interested in the whole theoretical background of fire science, but more than anything we love actually conducting the laboratory experiments and thus seeing some proper fire live! That is the reason why probably the majority of the IMFSE students are looking forward the most to the course “Fire Science Laboratory” given by Prof Rory Hadden at the University of Edinburgh during the 3rd semester of our program.

The course consists of 5 laboratory sessions followed by a detailed report about the whole experiment. Another great thing that students usually like about the courses such as this one is that there is no exam, but the performance on the 5 laboratory sessions, together with the lab report, is assessed, and those scores combined give the final grade.

IMFSE crew with PhD student and our lab supervisor Nikolai Gerasimov

The first lab deals with a particularly interesting, and maybe not that well known phenomena of “spontaneous ignition”. Basically, in simple words, some materials, if sufficiently porous can undergo an exothermic reaction (reaction of releasing heat) generating heat faster than it can be lost. If the process lasts sufficiently long and the favorable conditions have been met, the material can auto-ignite.

In our lab, we used Milk Powder as the sample and one of the interesting things we discovered was that the bigger the size of the sample was, the smaller the auto-ignition temperatures were. In fact, apart from the ambient temperature, the most important factors determining the auto-ignition temperature are the size and the shape of the body of material involved. That’s why when transporting or storing material prone to auto-ignition it should be kept in smaller packs, rather than piled up!

The second lab was dedicated to examining two interesting terms – firepoint and flashpoint. For all the readers who are not familiar with those terms (maybe even future IMFSE students) and that are wondering what these two might mean, I highly encourage you to look them up on internet!

During the lab session, an unknown fuel was given to us, and by finding its fire and flashpoints, we were able to identify the mysterious fuel 😊


Laboratory number 3 was named “Ignition of Solids and Heat Release Rate”. It was an opportunity to work with the famous cone calorimeter! By varying the heat flux imposed by the heater to our PMMA sample, we arrived to the critical heat flux needed for our sample to ignite. Apart from being quite familiar with how a cone calorimeter apparatus works, which can be quite handy, we also saw some nice flames coming out of our PMMA sample which certainly put enlightened smiles on our faces 😉

Belgium, Coasta Rica and Brazil having fun with the Cone Calorimeter

The fourth lab was dealing with the “flame spread”. By analyzing this crucial fire characteristic, we learned a lot about all the factors and conditions affecting the flame spread positively or negatively – orientation, thickness, width, thermal properties of the sample, environmental effects etc. And yes, as we used way longer PMMA samples for this lab – we witnessed an even bigger fire this time! 🔥

The last, but not the least, lab number 5 was dedicated to the Pool fires! By burning Heptane and Diesel fuels, we analyzed how well do the theoretical correlations and calculations for the average temperature, flame height, heat release rate and air entrainment actually meet the reality. P.S. This time the fire was so big that we even had a few PhD students stopping by to see it!sdr


All in all, after taking the course, I can say that I feel like I have deepened my fire engineering knowledge, but also that I became quite familiar with working in lab and writing proper lab reports! All of that will be more than beneficial both for my Master Thesis, but also for my future Engineering career, and a potential PhD!