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Jason Martinez

College: City College
Awards: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2014

Keeping Fire from Traveling

There are few things scarier than a fire in a building - especially, Jason Martinez believes, when it happens in a building that isn’t designed with sufficient knowledge of what happens when fire travels.

“Most buildings are designed based on stationary fires, which stay in one room or compartment,” says Martinez (City College, B.S. in civil engineering, 2013), who received a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support his research. “We don’t know enough about what happens in a building when fire travels horizontally or upward.”

Working with 3-D computer models, he seeks a fuller understanding of how fire moves from one part of a room to another and from one part of a building to another. “I’d like to see if current designs and guidelines are adequate to resist traveling fires.” Asked why this hasn’t been researched thoroughly before, he gives a verbal shrug. “That’s the big question I’ve been asking.”

The end result of his research could be life-saving changes geared to high-rise buildings, which have long evacuation times. “If we don’t understand how fire travels, we can’t ensure that a building will stand up long enough to evacuate people and ensure the safety of firefighters.”

Martinez found this topic last year after he began studying with assistant professor Ann Jeffers at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where he intends to earn dual master’s degrees in civil and mechanical engineering on his way to a Ph.D.

At City College, he worked with assistant professor Huabei Liu, who focuses on geotechnical engineering, including static and dynamic soil-structure interactions, reinforced soil structures and hazard response, among related topics.

There, Martinez was involved with the characterization and testing of the interface of soil and geomembranes (synthetic barriers with very low permeability that line solid-waste landfills). He says the experience left him with a deep appreciation for research and a desire to continue his studies in civil engineering. He credits both professor Liu and City College for his early success in graduate school.

The National Science foundation Graduate Research Fellowship is the most prestigious for graduate studies in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This federal grant provides $132,000 over three years for doctoral-level research.