Leventon Earns ASME and NIST Fellowships

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Ph.D. candidate Isaac Leventon explaining basic fire science to elementary school students from the America Reads*America Counts program.

Department of Mechanical Engineering graduate student Isaac Leventon, advised by Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) professor Stanislav Stoliarov, received an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Graduate Teaching Fellowship and a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)/ National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associateship.

The ASME partners with mechanical engineering departments to identify and support exceptional Ph.D. candidates who have demonstrated an interest in pursuing an academic career. After teaching a course for which he had full responsibility (one of the fellowship’s requirements), Leventon was invited to attend the ASME International Mechanical Engineering Education Leadership Summit, where he had the opportunity to meet department chairs and learn about some of the latest topics driving engineering education and industrial practice.

Leventon has been active in teaching throughout his time at the University of Maryland. He has introduced FPE to students from Women In Engineering’s Exploring Engineering summer school program, demonstrated basic fire science for elementary school students participating in the America Reads*America Counts program, and developed the FPE’s program for high school students, An Introduction to Math and Physics through Fire Dynamics, which he has run since 2013. In December 2014, he hosted members of the media at an event that illustrated why Christmas tree fires are more dangerous than people might imagine.

“It feels good to share what you love and see others understand that too,” says Leventon, who also coaches a peewee hockey team. “I would love to be a professor one day because it offers the chance to teach and think about interesting problems and to work with a really bright group of people as students and colleagues…it’s just something I enjoy.”

The prestigious and competitive NIST/NRC Postdoctoral Research Associateships Program provides two-year temporary appointments for outstanding scientists and engineers chosen through a national competition administered by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Leventon will be working with Dr. Rick Davis, leader of the Flammability Reduction Group in NIST’s Fire Research Division, on a project that will characterize and predict upward flame spread over synthetic composites and porous polymer foams used in a wide variety of products and buildings.

Flame spread, Leventon explains, is a complicated phenomenon involving a combination of time dependent processes in the solid and gas phases. While sophisticated computational models of the controlling dynamics of flame spread exist, obtaining parameters as inputs for these models remains difficult, and gas phase models could benefit from generalization that would allow them to be used for any material under a variety of circumstances. In a series of experimental studies, Leventon will use advanced measurement techniques that will collect flame spread data in greater depth. This new information will be used to improve existing models and could set the stage to characterize common secondary burning behaviors, such as melting, charring and dripping.

“Our goal is to develop the foundation necessary to predict the early stages of fire growth in buildings and other structures,” says Leventon. “Understanding and being able to predict flame spread over this widely used class of materials will help us reduce the frequency and impact of the estimated 1,240,000 fires that U.S. fire departments respond to each year.”

Published April 3, 2015