UH engineering professor joins Society of Scholars

by Al Greenwood

Daily Cougar Staff

Johns Hopkins University recently named UH mechanical engineering Professor Fazle Hussain into the Society of Scholars.

"It's mainly a prestige," said Leslie Rice, a media relations representative in the office of news and information at Johns Hopkins University.

Rice said the university gives the award to graduates who have completed a post-doctorate fellowship from Johns Hopkins University and have become leaders in their field of research. "(Hussain) was nominated by Joseph Katz," Rice said.

Katz, a professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, said, "Anyone in the area of fluid dynamics knows who Fazle Hussain is. He's a leading authority in turbulence and vortex dynamics."

Rice said, "There were 15 scholars elected this year. Currently, there are 341 people in this society."

Hussain heads the Aerodynamics and Turbulence Laboratory in the Cullen Engineering Building at the University of Houston. The lab conducts research in vortex technologies and fluid flows. Fluids can be liquids or gasses, such as air. The vortex technologies include a liquid piston engine and a bladeless helicopter, both researched in collaboration with Mikhail Goldshtik, a UH mechanical engineering research professor.

In the liquid piston engine, "liquid not only acts as the piston, but also as a flywheel," Hussain said. Because it lacks moving parts, "it is free of wear and tear and potentially twice as efficient as what takes place in internal combustion engines. The engine would be much smaller and much lighter."

The research group also developed a technique called holographic particle velocimetry, which measures the speed of fluids, Hussain said.

The device works by taking two holographic pictures of a flowing liquid or gas at different time frames. The group then uses the hologram to develop a reconstruction, which gives them a three-dimensional view of how the liquid or gas moves inside or around an object.

The method has several applications, from measuring fuel inside a combustion engine to measuring blood flow inside an artificial heart, Hussain said.

Blood can flow too quickly or too slowly in an artificial heart. If it flows too quickly, the red blood cells can rupture as they pass through the valve. But if it moves too slowly, the blood can clot .

Holographic velocimetry can determine where the blood will flow too quickly and too slowly, allowing designers to fix the problem, Hussain said.

The technique can also determine how well fuel mixes inside a car's combustion engine. By improving an engine's design, "we can have more complete combustion, which will result in more energy and less waste," Hussain said.

"We are also developing a bladeless helicopter," he said. The helicopter works by creating a low-pressure area or vacuum above the vehicle. This area creates a lift, which raises the helicopter above the ground, he said.

The bladeless helicopter will use 50 percent less gas than the current models, Hussain said. It's also more quiet because this model uses no blades, he said. Unfortunately, students won't see the helicopter or the liquid piston engine any time soon.

"We were funded heavily by basic research funding from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation," Hussain said. "Recently, there has been a shift in funding priority from basic to applied research."

The shift caused the lab to lose at least half of its budget. Before the shift, the lab received about $1 million per year; in 1995, the lab received about half a million, Hussain said.

Private industry is not making up the slack from government reductions, he said. "You can do it if you do Mickey Mouse testing or technical institute work, but that's not appropriate for a university. They're getting cheap labor out of university people," Hussain said.

Companies like McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Bell Helicopters are interested in these projects, but they're cautious, Hussain said. "This is a radical, new technology. It will take some time for them to be convinced," he said.

For example, "it will take from five to 10 years before the liquid piston engine hits the marketplace," he said.

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