BOZEMAN -- When water sprays from a hose or gasoline mists into a combusting engine, the interaction between the dispersing fluid and surrounding gas can become so complex that predicting the outcome takes a supercomputer days or even weeks to calculate, according to Montana State University graduate student Kristopher Olshefski.
"It gets complicated really quickly," Olshefski said. "It's a frontier area in engineering."
Olshefski, who has won a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, said the award will allow him to be even more ambitious with his research as he starts his doctoral degree in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in MSU's Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering.
For three years, fellows receive an annual stipend of $34,000, along with $12,000 to help cover tuition and fees, allowing them to focus on research. "It opens up the opportunity for us to try and do something a little bolder," said Olshefski, whose research adviser is Mark Owkes, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
The research will involve developing new computational methods for modeling the behavior of atomizing jets, which break up liquid into a spray of very small droplets. The research results, Olshefski said, could help improve vehicle fuel efficiency, create new propulsion systems for spacecraft and improve computer modeling across a range of engineering disciplines.
"The value is being able to model something instead of building it and seeing if it works," which can reduce the time and cost needed to develop new technologies, Olshefski said.
Currently, modeling atomizing jets requires intensive computing resources, such as MSU's Hyalite Research Computing Cluster, which is the largest supercomputer in Montana and an often-used tool at the state's flagship research university. The Hyalite Cluster consists of more than 1,000 computer processors connected together on multiple, refrigerator-sized racks. The system is cooled with special HVAC equipment to prevent over-heating while the processors run at full capacity day and night on a variety of research tasks.
"There are so many applications (for atomizing jets), but not a good way to model them without the expense of large clusters," said Owkes, who received a prestigious, $500,000 CAREER grant from NSF in April to pursue related research about simulating the interactions between liquids and gas.
According to Owkes, Olshefski is a model graduate student who is making the most of his classes, reading scientific articles to develop knowledge in his field and seeking guidance about how he can be most effective with his research.
"He has really embraced graduate school," Owkes said.
Olshefski said his research will involve challenging mathematics, computer coding and problem solving, the combination of which he enjoys "because it's hard."
A native of North Carolina who enlisted in the U.S. Navy after high school, Olshefski earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering at MSU last spring. During his senior year, he conducted research with Owkes.
"I got done with undergrad and was still hungry to push the bounds, to do something new, to contribute to the scientific community at large," Olshefski said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge of making that a reality."