2017 summer interns @ UQ Fire

Last summer, three groups of undergraduate students spent two months of their break working with UQ Fire. Their experience in the lab as described by each of the groups is shown in the blog below. Their time with us and outcomes of their work evidences once again the hard work and creativity from the Civil Engineering undergraduate students at The University of Queensland.


by Tristan Goode, Cam Wallace, and Moin Rahman

Being involved in the UQ summer research program and participating in projects lead by UQ Fire gave us the opportunity to participate and become involved in a wide scope of projects giving us countless unique experiences. Throughout the duration of the program we became involved in several projects under the supervision of Dr Cristian Maluk and Jeronimo Carrascal, including:

  • Setup and calibration of a novel fire testing apparatus
  • Measuring  the HRR of car parts
  • Design and construction of a turn table apparatus

Setup and calibration of a novel fire testing apparatus

During the first couple of weeks of the research program, we were responsible for the setup and calibration of a fire testing apparatus using radiant panels. Some of the tasks included in this process were:

  • Running blank tests using a heat flux sensor instead of concrete samples
  • Compiling and processing raw experimental data
  • Critical analysis of data to determine accuracy
  • Modifying experimental process to improve data accuracy (i.e. determining optimum reference points and eliminating potential influencing factors such as gas entrapment from insulation)
  • Altering the existing stand to accommodate concrete samples (i.e. placing steel plates to improve stand surface area , manufacturing insulation stands to protect unexposed concrete sides and assembling protective screens)

Measuring  the HRR of car parts

The second project we were involved in was the burning of car seats, doors and wheels. The aim was to determine an estimate of the heat release rate (HRR), temperatures and mass loss / mass loss rate for each part. This was done to assist in a larger scale project evaluating the effectiveness of automatic suppression sy
stems in tunnel fires. In the process of burning these parts we were required to:

  • Determine optimal methods offsetting up the apparatus and running the tests (i.e. how test objects were placed and method of ignition)
  • Use the larger scale fire lab equipment (i.e. gas analysers and large hood)
  • Run large scale tests
  • Process raw data into a useable format

Design and construction of a turn table apparatus

The third task carried out by us was the development of a heat resistant turn table for the purpose of evenly heating samples. For this project, we were given several parts including a metal box, motor, and a Lazy Suzan unit and then given free reign to create a design. As a result we:

  • Drafted a prototype design as a team
  • Using provided objects and spare materials created prototype design
  • Refined and remade design to optimise performance
  • Created an attachment capable of demonstrating fire wells or “fire tornadoes”
  • We also were responsible for helping in the cutting of small cubic frames with welded mesh to demonstrate auto combustion

Participating in this project educated us on the academic research process. We learnt that the process for completing tasks is much different when using methods and apparatus that are not commonly used by others (such as the linear motion system). As a result, it meant progress was made by brainstorming ideas to determine the best methods and then employing trial and error to improve on these methods where necessary. In doing so we also learnt to work with other bodies and individuals, such as experienced PhD studen
ts and various lab staff (including those from the structures lab, mechanical workshop and electrical workshop).

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by Nicola Oshea, Brendan Garvey, and Dongho Kang

Our project aim was to build a prototype gas analyser to be used for calorimetry purposes. This gave us a hands-on experience of what it is like to design, build and test a new piece of equipment that overcomes the limitations of existing equipment. Our project involved quite a bit of trial and error, as well as the multiple planning changes that come with it. It was a bit like delving into the unknown, however we were navigated by someone with such determination and confidence that we would succeed. It was a privilege to work under the supervision of Dr Juan Hidalgo, who provided an enjoyable learning experience while also encouraging us to have our own creative input.

Building a gas analyser began with drawing a system diagram of the major components and then working out the most efficient way to connect them. We also had to create our own code so that we could communicate with the analyser and display the data in an Excel Spreadsheet. We all started our project with almost no coding experience, however we were able to finish with a solid understanding of communication protocols. We were also asked to try to re-engineer the electrical circuit board. This was also something new and outside of our usual subject material, being civil engineering students. Even though we were unsuccessful, we still learnt each step in the process. We were also fortunate to be involved in the testing process, where we learnt that success in research is rarely achieved on the first try. This gave us the opportunity to learn how to deal with research problems where the actual problem itself is not always evident. We needed to devise our own testing procedure in order to isolate and detect the problem. This was proven to be challenging when more than one problem co-exists. So when progress was achieved, success was eminently shared amongst our team.

Being part of an inclusive and supportive atmosphere meant we were given the opportunity to help PhD students with their projects. As well as broadening our summer research experience, we were also able to learn how to use other lab equipment that we would not have been able to, had we been confined to our specific project. Working in the UQ Fire Lab meant that we attended weekly Fire Lab meetings, where we were able to listen to practice confirmation speeches from research students working in the lab. This, as well as being able to assist these students, gave us a great insight into the many options that are available for us after our Bachelor degree.

Undertaking the summer research program with UQ Fire was an exciting and valuable experience as we were learning in a real-life situation. It is definitely an enriching experience that we would not have received in a classroom. The summer research projects with UQ Fire are not only rewarding to us as individuals, but also because our projects were important and intended to make a contribution to Fire Engineering research. It was also an inspiring opportunity to be able to work in a team environment alongside our talented lecturers. The UQ Summer Research Program with UQ Fire is definitely something we would recommend to our peers. From the knowledge learnt and skills developed, to the friendships we have formed, we have plenty to take away from this experience, both as future engineers and young adults.

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by Kieran Jackson and Rahul Govind-Vanmali

Since December 2016, we have been helping Dr Luis Yerman to conduct various experiments with a focus on smouldering reaction dynamics. Smouldering technology works by heating up the fuel at the base of a smouldering reactor, before forcing air through the porous fuel mixture. It works in the same way that a cigarette works, where fuel is combusted via the energy given off when oxidating fuel lower in the reactor. It provides the opportunity to burn fuel that has a high moisture content, presenting a sustainable solution to waste management and resource recovery.

We ran experiments smouldering artificial faeces and drinking water sludge. We designed new experiments in conjunction with Dr Thierry Bore, to measure the moisture content profile in the fuel mixture as the smouldering front moved up the column. We also designed a setup that would allow us to capture the gaseous products of our smouldering combustion. This would allow us to collect gas samples and have them tested to see exactly what we were producing, with the possibility of producing syngas.

In our downtime, we did a lot of analytic work. We ran multiple proximate analysis tests to find the quantity of volatiles, fixed carbon, and ashes in samples. We also ran TGA tests to determine more characteristics of our substances, which helped us understand the combustion characteristics of each sample that we had worked with.

Towards the end of our summer at the fire lab we acquired a bomb calorimeter. This allowed us to run several tests to determine the amount of energy (per unit weight) present in samples from current and previous experiments. The calorimeter also allowed us to understand the combustion characteristics of these samples, much like the TGA and proximate analysis tests.

Unfortunately, the summer semester ended before we could complete a lot of our work. Our experiments with Dr Bore remain in their Intermediate stages, and the parts for our gas collection system had yet to arrive before classes resumed. Despite this, we hope to continue our work with the UQ Fire Lab and produce more results for our smouldering research. Working at the Fire Lab has been highly rewarding for us both, allowing us to experience research and development first hand.

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