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Research Facilities

Although independent research is required only for graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees, undergraduate students, and graduate students pursuing the masters degree are also encouraged to participate in ongoing research programs. A sufficient number of elective courses are allowed for this purpose so that a student can get meaningful research experience in a relevant area of his choice.

Specialized laboratory facilities in the traditional areas, such as heat transfer, combustion and propulsion, fluid mechanics, and materials form the central core of the research work. Professors Stephen C-Y. Lu, Yan Jin, and Firdaus Udwadia conduct research at the IMPACT (Improving Manufacturing Productivity with Advanced Collaboration Technology) Laboratory and Professor Paul Ronney heads the Combustion Physics Laboratory. In addition, interdisciplinary laboratories for biomechanics research, computer-aided design, dynamics and controls, and robotics address relevant technological problems. A listing of current research areas follows.

The University maintains a number of excellent libraries. Notable among them is the Seaver Science and Engineering Library, which contains major collections in engineering, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. The general collection is housed in the Doheny Memorial Library, which also includes the Undergraduate College Library. A recent addition to USC is the Leavey Library which is an up-to-date and a technologically advanced electronic resource center for education and research.

Research Areas

The following list of major research areas shows the breadth of basic fundamental research activities of the department. Most of these investigations are aimed at improving our understanding of and providing solutions to a variety of relevant technical problems facing us. For example, the combustion related research problems involving propellants and droplets are aimed at increasing the combustion efficiency of burners and reducing the emissions of both gaseous and particulate pollutants to the environment. The research in Geophysical Fluid Mechanics helps us better understand the dynamics of weather patterns and predicts the dispersion of man-made pollutants in the ocean. Research topics in Nonlinear Dynamics and Controls, Robotics, Computer-Aided Design, Microprocessors and Materials also have important practical implications in manufacturing methods, high technology materials and mechanical design. Research in Heat Transfer, Two-Phase Flow and Combustion addresses the problems associated with thermal pollution, particulate emissions from engines and more efficient use of thermal energy for producing useful work.

Aerodynamic and Kinetic Processes in Flames

Experimental and numerical studies of the effects of flow field nonuniformities and unsteadiness on the ignition, propagation, extinction, and kinetic structure of flames are being carried out. The results relate to the efficiency of internal combustion engines.

Alloy Design

Current research involves the application of basic metallurgical principles to the design of alloys with useful properties and the design of dilute solid solution alloys suitable for creep applications.


Current research topics include experimental and numerical studies of the effects of flow field nonuniformities and unsteadiness on the ignition, propagation, extinction, and kinetic structure of flames; experimental simulation of premixed turbulent combustion and extinction using aqueous autocatalytic chemical reactions; numerical simulation of turbulent combustion using front-tracking algorithms; microgravity combustion; and flame spread over solid fuel beds; and absolute/convective instability of diffusion flames.

Computer-Aided Design

Efforts include analysis and synthesis of mechanisms, studies of optimization techniques, computer graphics, and development of a microprocessor-based system to aid all phases of the design process and the interface with manufacturing, e.g., numerically controlled machines.

Control of Mechanical Systems.

Theoretical and applied studies in control of dynamical systems are being carried out. New methodologies to design control systems for flexible and high precision automated systems are being developed. Applications to robotics and space based large mechanical systems are studied. Algorithms for attitude control of large spacecraft in low altitudes are being developed.

Conventional and Alternative Fuels

Experimental numerical studies on the combustion characteristics of the fuel components used in practical blends and oxygenated compounds which can be used as fuels of additives to gasoline. Research includes liquid straight chain hydrocarbons, aromatics, methanol, ethanol, and relates to combustion efficiency and pollutant emission.

Detailed Modeling of Reacting Flows

With the use of supercomputers and state of the art numerical algorithms, the modeling of complex reacting flows with detailed description of the elementary processes of chemical kinetics and molecular transport is being carried out.

Dynamics of Rigid/Flexible Multi-Body Systems

Constrained/combined continuous dynamic systems are being studied. The major issues are transfer function and Green's function modeling of continuous dynamic systems, poles and zeros of system transfer functions, time delay relations, eigenvalue inclusion principles, closed form evaluation of system responses, and stability analysis.

Fluid Mechanics

Research activity in the area includes penetrative convection, convection in rotating stratified fluids, nonlinear waves and instabilities, global instabilities in spatially-developing flows, Gortler flows, dynamics of two-dimensional turbulence, application of fractal measures and wavelet analysis to problems in fluid dynamics, Hele-Shaw and interface dynamics, sediment re-suspension and sediment gravity currents, low speed and unsteady aerodynamics; interaction of flow with solidifying interface.

Drops and Bubbles in Microgravity

Investigations are being carried out on the fluid dynamics and heat transfer associated with drops in low gravity. Research is also being conducted on thermocapillary flows in drops levitated by acoustic and/or electrostatic fields.

Formation and Destruction of Combustion Generated Nitrogen Oxides

Detailed experimental and numerical investigations of mechanisms forming nitrogen oxides in flames are being conducted. The results are of interest in terms of pollutant emission regulation in stationary power plants, automobiles, and large marine diesel engines.

Geophysical Fluid Dynamics

This area of research involves the study of fluid motion in which rotation and/or stratification are important dynamical influences. Current research includes the use of rotating flow experiments to simulate the flows observed during intense convective events, in convection driven mean flows, and in ocean currents. The motions of fluid having vertical density stratification are also being examined in the laboratory and in theoretical/numerical studies. The aim is to understand the thermal structure of lakes, oceans, and atmospheres. Important applications of the research are the modeling of typical flows in which pollutants are dispersed and oceanic mixing processes.

Heterogeneous Processes

Detailed investigation of the interaction between solid walls and reacting gas-phase streams are being conducted. The results are of relevance to internal combustion engines and catalytic converters.

Internal Combustion Engines

Research focuses on lean-burn engine control with the goal of reducing throttling losses, resulting in improved fuel economy and emissions performance. This work has also led to experimental and modeling studies of knock and misfire limits in IC engines.

Laser Doppler Velocimetry and Particle Image Velocimetry

These experimental techniques offer the advantage of non-intrusive probing for the determination of flow fields in high temperature reacting flows.

Long Period Microtremors

A laboratory for the observation of long period microtremors has been established. Mitigation of earthquake hazards in major metropolitan areas is investigated through these studies.

Mechanical Properties

Current areas of interest include high-temperature creep, superplasticity, brittle and ductile fracture, plastic instability, cyclic and static fatigue, and growth of cavities in creep and fatigue. Experiments are performed on a wide range of metals, composites and advanced structural ceramics.

Microgravity Thermal and Fluid Science

Several research projects are in progress. In the area of combustion, the effects of buoyancy on ignition, propagation, and extinction of flames in premixed gases and solid fuels are being studied. In the area of fluid mechanics, experiments on radiatively-driven hydrodynamic flows and instabilities, with application to astrophysical flows, are being conducted. In addition, thermocapillary flows with drops and bubbles in low gravity are being studied.

Modelling, Identification and Analysis of Mechanical and Structural Systems

Modelling of dynamic systems undergoing vibratory motions subjected to deterministic and probabilistic excitations is being carried out. Investigations into the dynamics of uncertain systems, their identification and modeling are being conducted. Applications of neural nets, nonlinear optimization theory and probabilistic methods for the identification of structural and mechanical systems is being undertaken. Dynamics of large-scale systems is also an area of current interest.

Nonlinear Systems Analysis

Research areas include stability analysis of nonlinear dynamical systems, application of point mapping and cell-to-cell mapping techniques to study global behavior of nonlinear mechanical systems and for bifurcation analysis. Coupled nonlinear dynamical systems are also under investigation.

Two-Phase Flow and Heat Transfer

Investigations are currently under way into the flow and heat transfer properties of granular materials and dense fluid particle systems.

Studies with Levitated Drops

Theoretical studies are being conducted on the fluid-mechanical and thermal behavior of drops levitated in acoustic and/or electrostatic fields. The main purpose of this effort is to develop a system for measuring the thermophysical properties of materials in an under-cooled state that is achieved in a containerless environment. Specific investigations include the prediction of Maragoni flows associated with levitated drops for various thermal stimuli. Current investigations also include levitation studies under microgravity conditions.

Wave Propagation

Studies include the diffraction of elastic waves and dynamic stress concentration by scatterers of arbitrary shape. Systems of two and three- dimensional multiple dipping layer structure are examined. The concept of resonance in sedimentary basis both theoretical and experimental investigations.