Allen's Work with Two-Phase Flow Garners NSF CAREER Award

By Kara Sokol

Jeffrey Allen, assistant professor in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, has received a five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award. His project will advance his investigations in capillary flow—how and why gases and liquids move (or fail to move) through tiny channels, such as those found in hydrogen fuel cells.

Two-phase flow, a branch of fluid mechanics, examines systems such as boilers, in which a gas and a liquid are present. Allen investigates two-phase flow through very narrow tubes, which has applications in microelectrical-mechanical systems, microscale heat exchangers, space-based processing, and thermal-control technologies, as well as fuel cells. Two-phase flow at this very small scale, he says, is not well understood.

"We've got a lot of data, all very qualitative, but we need to do quantitative analyses, get hard data," Allen says. "Currently, the means to study this in a quantitative manner does not exist. What we accomplish over the next five years will hopefully set the stage for this. Even if we don't reach the point of actually testing the models, we can provide the platform for future testing. I have two PhD students who will also benefit."

Ultimately, Allen expects to develop advanced technologies that will improve water management in fuel cells, an issue that remains a major obstacle to the commercialization of fuel-cell-powered vehicles.

On winning the award, Allen says, "It feels good. You're looking into the future and planning research ideas for the next five years. Winning the award is a real validation. It's a good feeling to know that the review committee liked the path I've laid out."

According to NSF, the CAREER Award supports "junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations."

Since 2000, fifteen Michigan Tech faculty members have been honored with the CAREER award.

Allen has also been honored with the 2009 Society of Automotive Engineers Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.