During this semester, we had big Easter holidays and most of IMFSE students decided to dedicate this time to traveling. Norway, Spain, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Slovakia and many other countries were visited by my groupmates. Some of them agreed to share photos of their trips for my blogpost.
So, Tanveer, Ayyappa and Farah have visited Poland and Slovakia together. As I know from their stories, they are highly inspired and impressed by what they have seen in these countries.
Dheeraj, Balsa and Jaime have visited Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. And though they did not have much time to spend in each city, they also enjoyed.
What about me, I have visited Oslo with Gerard and by the end of the break I joined Farah in her Italy trip. Together we visited Milan and lake Como. My journeys were full of good moments and kind memories shared with my IMFSE soulmates.
Now we all are back to Lund, we are full of energy and ready to work hard for the rest of the semester.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the Spring break done and dusted, I reminisce the last break we had which was Christmas (seems like ages ago!). I had spent my Christmas break in London where I was excited to visit… nope, not the Buckingham Palace, not the Big Ben but surprise surprise, the Monument to the Great Fire of London (to be fair, it is a legit tourist attraction in any guidebook). Having heard of the Great Fire from almost all our courses in Edinburgh, it would be a shame to not visit it when in London.
The monument is situated near Pudding Lane (well, 202 ft away from Pudding Lane to be exact as represented by the height of the monument) where the fire allegedly began at a baker’s house on Sunday 2nd September 1966. However, it was only extinguished on Wednesday 5th September but not before devouring houses, streets, the City gates, churches, public building and even the old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was rebuilt and is now another tourist attraction in London). For a more dramatic recount of the destruction that was brought about by the fire, a Latin inscription with the English translation can be found on one side of the monument (pardon my poor camera resolution):
The Latin inscriptions
The English translation
It is interesting to note that it was reported that the only buildings to survive were those that were made of stone. At this point, it has to be emphasized that the monument was not only erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London but also to celebrate the rebuilding of the City for as part of the 1667 Rebuilding Act, Charles II declared that:
No man whatsoever shall presume to erect any house or building great or small, but of brick or stone
This reformed building regulations placed an importance on the materials used for building construction with respect to fire safety, a concept that continues till date though the complexity has evolved as we grapple with different construction materials and fire resistance of the buildings we are designing for. Should we ever decide to neglect, forgo or simply be ignorant to these aspects of building design, let the Great Fire of London (as remote and ancient it may sound now) be a reminder of the disastrous consequences that it could result in.
Well, lets lighten things up with some more cheerful information on the monument. Firstly, as you approach the monument, try to spot the sign on the wall describing the site’s relevance to the Great Fire and a quirky fire themed restaurant called “The Hydrant” (in case, you miss the 202 ft monument towering over you).
What makes the Monument a permanent feature in a tour of London is that other than taking pictures of the monument at all angles at ground level while trying to fit it within your lens, you could scale the monument though an narrow internal spiral stairs and after 311 steps, you would reach a viewing platform for a panoramic view of the city. Looking up towards the center of the monument, you could also get a peek of the drum and copper urn from which (not real) flames emerge, symbolizing the Great Fire (just in case the awe of the views makes one forget the reason the monument was erected in the first place). As you make your way down, a staff would hand you a certificate to certify your achievement of scaling the 311 steps of the monument but also provide you information about the fire and the monument. I would say £3 well spent.
Another monument to the Great Fire of London was the Golden Boy of Pye Corner which marks where the fire stopped which is about a mile away from the Monument. Although I have intended to visit it, my legs just couldn’t bring me there after that climb up the monument and public transport do not run during Christmas in London. However, what is curious about this monument is its social-political significance to the cause of the fire. The monument consisted of a 2ft statue of a standing boy gilded in gold made to look portly for it was suggested that the Great Fire had been a punishment from for the city’s residents being so gluttonous as explained in an inscription:
This Boy is in Memory put up for the late Fire of London
Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony.
Funny how the cause of fire could also be explained in such non-scientific terms….
Returning to Edinburgh, I went in search for a fire-related monument to see what else I could learn from the histories of fire and that’s when I found a memorial at Edinburgh’s Parliament Square of James Braidwood, the man credited with the development of the modern municipal fire service. At the age of 24, he was made the Master of Fire Engines though 2 months of after his appointment, he was faced with a major test: The Great Fire of Edinburgh. Although the Great Fire of Edinburgh was the most destructive fires in the history of Edinburgh, it launched the world’s first municipal fire service led by James Braidwood, determined not to let such a disaster happen again. Although his team was heavily criticised for their handling of the fire, they were eventually exonerated by an inquiry as investigations did identify a lack of a clear directive as to who was in command since police officers and municipal officials had all been issuing often contradictory orders in during the fire fighting operations. This incident led to consequently passed a now commonplace law giving the firemaster, or his deputy, complete command of all firefighting operations. Braidwood continued to revolutionarise fire fighting operations placing emphasis on the training and welfare of his fire fighters, conceptualising the idea of fire fighters entering buildings to tackle the heart of the fire, using of ladders to rescue people etc…. operations that we take for granted these days. He was not only a directive but also a practitioner as shown by the many accounts of heroism he exemplified when fighting fire directly. I could go on and on about his accolades but I shall stop here before this blog post becomes an essay.
This walk down memory lane has got me thinking… what legacy shall the fire safety industry of our generation leave behind? Are we doing enough to continue the evolution of fire safety that our forefathers have started? Are we exemplifying the James Braidwood of today, actively coming out with innovative and impactful solutions to improve fire safety and fire fighting? Or are we just waiting for the next Great Fire to happen?
Almost every city has at least one Great Fire story in the past that has changed the course of its future. Even my own city state, Singapore, had the disastrous Bukit Ho Swee fire which ravaged Singapore’s squatter settlements post independence in 1961 but led to an earnest, efficient and, above all, safe public housing scheme that we still enjoy today. The Great Fires of yesteryear seems to have brought about much changes that has transcended generations such that we rarely hear of similar Great Fires today. However, we should not neglect the fires we see all around the the world. Though incomparable in scale to the Great Fires, these smaller fires are generally localised, more frequent and with considerable impact especially in terms of fatalities. The challenge for our generation would be to push the boundaries of our knowledge in fire safety and continue to question our fire safety designs motivated even by the smallest of fires such that we could leave behind a legacy of a proactive and rigorous approach towards fire safety for the next generation to follow.
There are plenty of ways to gain knowledge. For sure, a classroom setting full of theories and equations is not enough for holistic learning. For what is knowledge if it will not be applied? This first period of the semester in Lund University did not fail to give us the avenue to learn outside the conventional method. Professors gave us tasks to be worked on independently, a chance to find out by ourselves the answers to the questions that we have.
Our course about Human Behavior in Fire tackled the psychology behind why humans act the way we do in disaster situations especially fire. One area of this course is about pedestrian movement. This subject area, same as human behavior in general, is random in nature although we can still find values statistically to quantify it such as speed, density, etc. Data about human movement is very little so in our class we designed a field experiment to observe people and collect data. Our group went to the city center of Lund – cameras set up, sat in a bench for a good three hours under the sun to at least keep warm on a 2°C-weather, and started classifying people groups and quantifying their movement.
For our Advanced Fire Dynamics, each group was tasked to formulate their own scientific question and have it tested in the Fire Laboratory’s 1/3 ISO room cone calorimeter setup. Challenging your group’s hypotheses and seeing trends about what you are observing is both relieving and fulfilling at the same time. While waiting for the room to cool down for the next round of the experiment, we sat in front of the monitor and watched videos of real and experimental fire. Firefighters, although they have trainings, sometimes still get into trouble with fire because of its very unpredictable nature. I guess it is not bad to say that burning things for science is actually fun because this is how we study our enemy and find ways to defeat it.
Solving equations longhand is quite time-consuming even for just a simple problem. How much more is a very complex one? The answer is in technology through the use of computers. Simulation of Fires in Enclosures is another interesting course where we learn the theory behind fire modelling and apply it by coding several fire scenarios. I might add that programming also takes a lot of time but at least more complex problems can be solved, an obvious limitation of hand calculations. However, always remember that garbage in equals garbage out, that computer programs are just tools to help us make things easier and faster and we still have to go back to the books to explain the results.
In the end, the classroom is not the only place where we could learn. Be exposed to the world around you. Feed your curiosities. Explore and discover things.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Sunday of 25th of March, the tragedy has occurred in a Russian city Kemerovo. Almost 70 people could not escape from the mall and died from the fire and suffocating smoke. Most of the victims were children.
The cause of fire is still unknown, it may be either the defect of electric wiring or an arson.
The real reasons and causes that led to the fire will be investigated soon. However, the most terrifying fact is the negligence on basics of fire safety regulations of the mall.
The person responsible for the fire safety was a cook.
The building passed all inspections and was allowed into operation.
The last inspection was in June 2016 and took 20 minutes instead of prescribed 2 hours.
No sprinklers, no heat & smoke vent systems were implemented.
Emergency exits were blocked.
No alarm or notification about fire was made. On one account the guards turned it off to prevent panic, on another one – the alarm system was broken or absent at all.
Many people tried to escape jumping out of windows and breaking doors in attempt to escape from the rapidly spreading fire and smoke.
Some people were trapped on the roof, waiting for the arrival of rescuers for 40 minutes.
Group of children accompanied by a teacher came to the mall for the premiere of the cartoon. The teacher left pupils during the movie alone in the cinema hall to do shopping. She asked cinema employees to close the doors not to let children to go out. During the fire, all cinema staff escaped left children in the blocked room. They all died unable to get out. Some children were able to call their parents and say that they cannot breathe and they cannot leave the hall. The teacher was able to escape.
No words to express bitterness and sorrow. But this tragedy learned me something and reminded me of what we are doing here, why we are studying and what role fire safety engineer decisions plays on human lives.
Let’s not forget as fire safety engineers that best practice guidelines are required for a reason, we should carefully analyze the assumptions and the design characteristics with a clear goal, life safety of innocent lives. Let’s not forget our role in the whole process, not only on the initial design but also the reliability that our fire safety solution can have in real life.
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).