MAE Colloquium: Professor Michael P. Burke


B11 Kimball Hall × B11 Kimball Hall ×


Combining Multiscale Physics and Data for Complex Reacting Systems
in Energy and the Environment


Understanding and being able to predict the outcomes of complex reaction systems would be invaluable to varied scientific and engineering disciplines, ranging from enabling future energy, aerospace, and chemical processing technologies to understanding the Earth’s climate and the potential origins of life beyond Earth.  Yet, unraveling and making predictions of complex reaction systems, which often proceed via ~100s of intermediate chemical species and ~1000s of intermediate reactions, are notoriously challenging tasks.  A common theme is that physics and data from a single scale are rarely sufficient to enable definitive explanations and reliable predictions.  For example, purely macroscopic reaction models are often too inaccurate to be used as predictive design tools for engineering devices like gas turbine engines.  Fortunately, combining modern ab initio theoretical chemistry, data science, and experimental automation into a holistic multiscale physics-based, data-driven approach aids in overcoming such challenges.

These themes will be illustrated primarily via our studies of nitrogen oxide (NOx) formation during hydrogen combustion, which is a major technical challenge for gas turbine engines powered by renewable fuels as part of a stable, sustainable electrical grid.  To illustrate the generality of these ideas, our applications to other domains (e.g., atmospheric photochemistry and PFAS destruction) will also be explored.  I will close with our vision that linking automated versions of the methods discussed (which is rapidly becoming a reality) would effectively create a “robotic scientific community” of experimentalists, theoreticians, and modelers that collaborate to advance scientific understanding of complex reacting systems at an accelerated pace and push the limits of autonomous learning.


Michael P. Burke is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University, where he also holds affiliate appointments in Chemical Engineering and the Data Science Institute.  Prior to joining Columbia in 2014, Burke earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 2011 at Princeton University, where he was a Wallace Memorial Honorific Fellow, and he worked as a Director’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division at Argonne National Laboratory.  Burke is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER award, the Combustion Institute’s Research Excellence Award, the Combustion Institute’s Hiroshi Tsuji Early Career Researcher Award, and the American Chemical Society’s PRF Doctoral New Investigator Award.  His publications have been featured in the “News and Views” section of Nature Chemistry, selected as the Feature Article in Combustion and Flame, and chosen for the Distinguished Paper Award at the 31st International Symposium on Combustion.

 Sadaf, Perrine Pepiot, Tom Avedisian, Dmitry Savransky, Floyd Davis (in chemistry).