Research Beat: UConn Professor Forecasts the Future

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Georgios Matheou is mechanical engineering professor at UConn. His current project works toward answering how clouds affect climate and how they may look in the future. Photo courtesy of: me.engr.uconn.edu

At UConn, Dr. Georgios Matheou, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering, and his Computational Fluid Dynamics Group are working towards answering how clouds affect climate and how they may look in the future. With the help of large-eddy simulation, these researchers seek to better understand how clouds develop and transition from one conformation to another. 

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) involves the application of mathematical models to better understand fluid flows and motion, often with the help of powerful computers and programs. CFD can be used to analyze and make predictions about a variety of flows–from the airflow around aircrafts in flight to blood in the arteries and, as is the case with Dr. Matheou’s group, turbulence, clouds, and storms in the atmosphere. The use of CFD in this context can call for large-eddy simulations (LES), which reduce the high execution time associated with solving the complicated equations that make up the foundation of these simulations.  

“Clouds… are very reflective. The sun sends energy to the Earth, and about a third of this energy gets reflected, it gets sent back out to space,” explained Dr. Matheou, in an interview with The Daily Campus.  

Armed with this knowledge about clouds and the effect that an increase in energy absorbance might have on atmospheric warming, Dr. Matheou and his lab set out to develop a simulation for future changes in clouds, specifically with regards to area coverage.  

Dr. Matheou’s research allows for more accurate weather predictions during a time of changing patterns and widespread uncertainty regarding the future climate.  

“It’s essentially a weather forecast that runs for hundreds of years in the future,” Dr. Matheou  says.  

The conclusions from this research could also enable scientists and engineers to come up with ways to control a cloud’s reflective properties in order to slow down atmospheric warming, according to the professor. Though this might seem quite futuristic, the translatability of Dr. Matheou and his group’s work is incredibly apparent.  

As an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Matheou laid the scientific groundwork for his current research, focusing on “how the atmosphere works and how clouds work in the atmosphere.” Now, he incorporates more engineering techniques and computational methods into his research.   

Dr. Matheou recently received an NSF CAREER award of $425,395 for his ongoing contributions to this field. He is one of 10 recipients of this award at the University of Connecticut this year, and one of three recipients within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. 

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