FPE-Led Faculty Team Awarded Grand Challenges Research Grant

Three faculty members- Fernando Raffan-Montoya, Assistant Professor, Fire Protection Engineering; Arnaud Trouvé, Professor, Fire Protection Engineering and Lina Castaño, Assistant Research Scientist, Aerospace Engineering have been awarded a Grand Challenges Team Project Grant by the University of Maryland, as part of the $30 million award package to 50 projects addressing humanity’s grand challenges.The award recognizes the team’s proposed cross-departmental research on wildfires, which aims to use recent advances in technology, particularly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and fire imaging technologies, to bring much-needed observation data that can be used to increase the scientific understanding of Wildland & Wildland-Urban-Interface (WUI) fire behavior and provide innovative solutions to real-time incident response.

“This research is an exciting extension of many years of research on wildfires and WUI fire behavior in the department,” said Professor James Milke, Chair of the Department of Fire Protection Engineering. “The project highlights some of the multi-disciplinary talents needed to address this issue that is of importance internationally.”

Wildfires and WUI fires are known to cause severe problems to society. These fires have increased over the years due to ill-informed past land management policies, the increasing population in the WUI, and climate change. The team’s research will address some key barriers to mitigating wildland fire risk, attributed to the limited fundamental understanding of wildland fire dynamics caused by the lack of high-quality, time-resolved observation data. In particular, the study will focus on autonomously tracking the fire line and dynamically measuring the flux of firebrands produced during a wildland or WUI fire. These data will be assimilated into numerical models that can help forecast the behavior of wildland fires.

“Wildland and WUI fires are an increasing problem worldwide, in large part driven by climate change,” said Dr. Fernando Raffan-Montoya, Assistant Professor in the Department of Fire Protection Engineering and the lead researcher. “When the Grand Challenges Program was announced, I recognized the relevance of wildland and WUI fires in the context of climate change and immediately reached out to Professor Trouvé due to his experience in the field, particularly on the numerical modeling side.”

“We are grateful to the University for this support, and we hope to showcase the synergies between Fire Protection Engineering and Aerospace Engineering in attacking this problem in an interdisciplinary manner,” Fernando added.

The research is an interdisciplinary initiative, collaborating with Dr. Castaño, who will contribute her years of experience with UAVs and autonomous systems. The team has also partnered with the university’s MATRIX laboratory, https://matrix.umd.edu and the UAS Research and Operations Center (UROC), https://uroc.umd.edu, both of which will provide invaluable technical support in the development and integration of sensors and vehicles, as well as in testing the proposed solutions to address the problem.

The Grand Challenges Grants Program is the largest and most comprehensive program of its type ever introduced at the University of Maryland. This grant program aims to support projects that address emerging societal issues, including climate change, social injustice, global health, and education disparities. More information on this program and the research project can be found at https://research.umd.edu/gc and https://research.umd.edu/wildfires-uavs.







Published March 7, 2023