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On many days, you can find Ph.D. candidate A.J. Fillo in the School of MIME’s Niemeyer Research Group offices studying the turbulent combustion of liquid jet fuels.
While his current research is focused on numerical simulations using a supercomputer, Fillo explains that the Combustion, Ignition, Radiation, and Energy (CIRE) Lab, where he did his master’s research, is where he gets to “light things on fire for science.”
“Basically, I built a really fancy Bunsen burner that produces highly turbulent, premixed liquid jet-fuel flames,” Fillo said. “We can then use it to measure what's called the turbulent flame speed.”
Earlier this year, Fillo won first place at the College of Engineering’s Graduate Research Showcase for a presentation based on his thesis, titled “Impact of fuel chemistry and stretch rate on the global consumption speed of large hydrocarbon fuel/air flames.”
His research comes as the world’s dependence on hydrocarbon fuel remains high and interest in energy conservation and fossil-fuel alternatives gains traction. He cites U.S. consumption data from 2014 at 18.49 million barrels of oil a day, of which 70 percent is used in transportation.
“Despite their extensive use, the turbulent combustion of these fuels is poorly understood,” he said. He expects that his research will help alleviate this gap in knowledge and provide turbulent combustion data needed to improve the industry’s understanding and approach to jet engine design and analysis.
“My research has the potential to generate a new, affordable methodology for evaluating alternative fuels enabling reduced fossil fuel dependence and lowering emissions,” he said.
Yet, for all the attention on his own research and burgeoning career, Fillo has managed to carve some time out for a new project aimed at inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists.
Taking his knowledge of science and a knack for the theatrical—he subsidized his undergraduate education working as a professional magician and actor—Fillo has developed an educational video series called “LIB LAB,” short for Library Laboratory. The series is targeted at K-12 students to boost interest in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) concepts and activities.
In partnership with Corvallis videographer Yancy Simon, the Emmy Award-winning Video Dads production team, and the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, Fillo launched LIB LAB March 1. He’s also the star of the videos.
Clad in a lab coat and bowtie, a la Bill Nye, Fillo explores a variety of scientific fundamentals with playful experiments and demonstrations. The videos live online, enabling audiences around the world to participate in the experiments.
Each video will include directions for a related experiment that young viewers can conduct at home. The premiere episode, focusing on propulsion, includes directions for building an Alka-Seltzer-powered rocket.
As an added bonus for local residents, the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library will provide materials for the experiments, available at the Corvallis branch while supplies last.
“What we're trying to do is demonstrate that you can do really impactful outreach for a relatively low cost,” said Fillo. Still, he adds the caveat that good video production is key to making something that grabs and keeps kids’ attention, and he’s grateful to partner with a professional production team.
“Often, people have this idea that research has to be big and expensive,” he said. “And that makes it inaccessible to the general audience.” He’s hoping projects like “Lib Lab” can change that perception.
Fillo and the team are working on episodes about soft robotics (featuring ideas and research developed by Oregon State faculty), vortex dynamics, and this summer’s solar eclipse.
As the team continues to build out the project, Fillo hopes to partner with more faculty from across the university. He also hopes one day that the project will be large enough to sustain itself as a standalone organization.