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Issue 471, 22 October 2001

Inaugural lecture

Professor Andy McIntosh
Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theor
Department of Fuel and Energy

Burning, Frizzling or Fizzling?

Thursday 1st November 2001 at 5.30pm.
Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, Michael Sadler Building, University of Leeds

What's so special about a flame? We've had flames long enough – don't we know all there is to know? Few realise that in our modern high tech-society, combustion is bound to be a very significant part of our infrastructure. There is likely to always be a big input by combustion into the national energy audit for power generation. Furthermore, large scale industries and aerospace are always going to need to use controlled combustion appliances. And there will always be processes involving hazardous materials where ignition was never intended, and potential disasters to be avoided.

The lecture will be a general introduction to the importance of understanding the fundamentals of combustion. One of the unifying themes will be safety from the danger of fire and explosions, and the aim of the lecture will be to make even some of the more difficult concepts accessible to the average lay person.

The lecture will be interspersed with simple demonstrations. It is not generally realised that unexpected possibilities can occur when a simple flame can suddenly become a dangerous explosion, or that a flame such as one gets on a gas cooker can (given the right circumstances – don't panic!) destabilise and accelerate to become a detonation travelling at supersonic speeds. In other situations, ignition of hazardous material may take days before a critical and dangerous situation is passed unnoticed.

Recent work will also be reported on, concerning the controlled use of explosions in some amazing naturally occurring creatures. These little creatures come complete with mini combustion chambers and a complex system of inlet and outlet valves. The modelling of such naturally occurring combustion devices reveals detail and precision hitherto unimagined.

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