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News Release

Flames "On Edge" wins big at Research Expo

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Research Expo 2018 winners pose with Jacobs School Dean Albert P. Pisano.

San Diego, CA, April 24, 2018 -- The research presented at Research Expo 2018 was “on fire” thanks to UC San Diego mechanical engineering graduate student Luca Carmignani. He took home the top prize at Research Expo for his work to understand the spread of fire over real-world 3D shapes.

Carmignani is in a joint Ph.D. program between UC San Diego and San Diego State University. He was awarded the M. Lea Rudee Outstanding Poster Award as well as the Katie Osterday Best Poster Award for the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

His work explains what happens to flames spreading over 3D geometries and shapes such as edges or angles. Previous fire safety research has focused on quantifying how flames spread over flat, two dimensional surfaces, which doesn’t have immediate application to real-world structures.

“It’s well established how fast a flame is over a flat surface, and various models work well for 2D flames—flames over flat fuel,” Carmignani said. “The question is what happens when you have the effect of a finite sample—say edges close to the flame? If you know how the flame propagates along edges and along real geometries in the real world, you know how much time it will take to burn something real.”

Quantifying the velocity and direction of downward flame spread has applications both here on Earth and in microgravity environments like space. On Earth, understanding how flames spread over real objects and structures could influence building design. Carmignani’s research only investigated small-scale samples, but found that cylinders burn an order of magnitude slower than shapes with edges. Fire burning on a material with an edge spread five times faster than on material with no edges.

“If you’re trying to design a place that is safer from a fire safety point of view, you’re going to need to avoid certain shapes and certain geometries.”

In space, this could translate into more tailored action plans in the event of fire. While it’s true that microgravity environments have less oxygen mixing—a key ingredient for fire—than Earth because of the absence of buoyancy, human habitats like the International Space Station still have air circulating through them.


“Right now there’s an emergency procedure on the Space Station that if there’s a fire onboard, they have to leave the Space Station,” Carmignani said. “But if you have one minute versus one hour until the fire becomes uncontrollable, that changes a lot.”

Through this research, he aims to better understand how quickly and in what direction fires spread to be able to tailor policies like this. As part of this project, Carmignani and his colleagues created a MatLab-based tool to calculate the spread rate for central and edge flames, which will be made available online for researchers to access. 

Carmignani works under the direction of Professor Kalyanasundaram Seshadri at UC San Diego, and Professor Subrata Bhattacharjee at San Diego State University.

Collaboration is Key

Carmignani was one of 209 graduate students to present their work to a group of almost 90 judges at Research Expo 2018, an annual opportunity for alumni, industry partners and faculty to connect, collaborate and recruit graduate students. In addition to the six department Best Poster winners highlighted below, this year’s event featured the first Ignite Prize for Most Commercial Potential, an award from the UC San Diego Office of Innovation and Commercialization.

The inaugural winner of this commercialization award was Ashley Victoria Kroll, the Department of Nanoengineering best poster winner, for her research on a cancer vaccine that can be used to train the immune system to recognize and eliminate malignant tumors. This vaccine is made using an innovative recipe that turns nanoparticles into cancer-fighting agents. Nanoparticles are coated with the actual membranes of cancer cells, which trigger the body to launch an immune response against a variety of cancer antigens—traditional vaccines either only target a specific antigen or have limited efficacy. The nanoparticles in the new vaccine are also packed with a substance that boosts this immune response. So far, the vaccine has been successful in tests on mice. Kroll’s work caught the interest of various Research Expo judges and attendees for its pharmaceutical applications.

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Ashley Victoria Kroll, winner of the inaugural Ignite Prize for Most Commercial Potential, explains her poster to a panel of judges.

“While these initial results are promising and exciting, my hope is that this work will ultimately lead to the stage where we can take any tumor from a patient and create a personalized cancer vaccine,” Kroll said.

Albert P. Pisano, dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering, said the School’s focus on research relevance, commercialization, and collaboration with industry were key strategies for delivering on the schools’ efforts for maximum impact for the public good. In March, the Jacobs School rose to the #7 rank among public engineering schools in the U.S. News Best Graduate School Rankings.

“The great engineering schools of the next decade are going to collaborate their way to relevance,” Pisano said. “The purpose of this whole event is to showcase our graduate students, but beyond that we want to connect our students and faculty with industry. Because that goes right back to the relevance issue—if you don’t have a connection, you don’t know what to do to be relevant.”

One way the Jacobs School maintains connections with industry is through alumni. Three alumni in particular—Silvia De Dea, Bill Proffer and Sam Knight—held their second Research Expo poster presentation workshop this year to coach students on how to put together and present a poster that serves as a bridge between a graduate student research project and an audience from outside their technical sub-field. And for the second year in a row, the grand prize winner was an attendee of this workshop.

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Research Expo Outstanding Poster winner Luca Carmignani with alumni Bill Proffer, Silvia De Dea and Sam Knight, who hosted a poster presentation workshop.

“There’s a fundamental difference between an academic conference poster and a Research Expo poster,” Knight said. “The audience is different. If you don’t understand that, you won’t speak well to the audience. So what we teach is how to at least understand the audience, and then the students’ execution is up to them. Even a brilliant student can’t speak as well if they haven’t learned who the audience is.”

Research Expo is hosted by the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering Corporate Affiliates Program. The Jacobs School gratefully acknowledges all the alumni, friends and partners who served as poster judges, as well all the sponsors for Research Expo 2018. This year’s sponsors are Viasat, ASML, Cubic, Leidos, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UC San Diego Extension, and the UC San Diego Office of Innovation and Commercialization.

Award Winners

Shu and K.C. Chien Best Poster, Bioengineering Best Poster

Resuscitation From Hemorrhagic Shock With High Molecular Weight Polymerized Hemoglobin

Presenter: Alexander Thomas Williams

Advisor: Pedro J. Cabrales Arevalo


Computer Science and Engineering Best Poster

Resistive Cam Acceleration For Tunable Approximate Computing

Presenter: Daniel Nikolai Peroni

Advisor: Tajana S. Rosing


Electrical and Computer Engineering Best Poster

Metal-Clad Semiconductor Nanolasers For Dense On-Chip Integration

Presenter: Suruj Sambhav Deka

Advisor: Y. Shaya Fainman



Katie Osterday Best Poster, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Best Poster

Flames "On Edge": What Makes Them Dangerous

Presenter: Luca Carmignani

Advisor: Kalyanasundaram Seshadri


NanoEngineering Best Poster

Cancer Cell Membrane-Coated For Anticancer Vaccination

Presenter: Ashley Victoria Kroll

Advisor: Liangfang Zhang


Structural Engineering Best Poster

Finite Element Modeling Of The Nonlinear Seismic Response Of Reinforced Masonry Structures

Presenter: Andreas Koutras

Advisor: Benson Shing


UC San Diego Library's Best Literature Review Award

Simulink-Based Multiscale Model Of The Viscoelastic Properties Of Skin

Presenter: Andrei Pissarenko

Advisor: Marc A. Meyers

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering