Faculty Spotlight: Bryan Quaife

| Thu, 08/17/23
Bryan Quaife, an associate professor in the Department of Scientific Computing and a faculty associate in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute
Bryan Quaife, an associate professor in the Department of Scientific Computing and a faculty associate in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute. Courtesy photo.

Bryan Quaife is an associate professor in the Department of Scientific Computing and a faculty associate in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute, both part of Florida State University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Quaife’s research encompasses computational fluid dynamics, a branch of science that uses computer models to produce quantitative predictions of fluid-flow phenomena based on preexisting scientific laws. Understanding computational fluid dynamics allows Quaife to study a wide range of topics from burn patterns or prescribed fires to the movement of red blood cells.

Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to FSU.

I am originally from Alberta, Canada, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2004 and master's degree in 2006, both in applied mathematics, from the University of Calgary. I first became interested in computational science during my master’s program, and this is one of the reasons I enrolled in the applied and computational mathematics doctoral program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. During my doctoral studies, I developed new methods to solve differential equations that arise in fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. After graduating in 2011, I moved to the University of Texas where I was a postdoctoral fellow for four years, and I then joined FSU's Department of Scientific Computing in 2015.

What inspired you to choose your field of study?

Computational science is an interdisciplinary field that harnesses computing capabilities, including algorithms and computer hardware, to study complex systems. This means that computational science can be used to understand answers to problems in physics, hydrology, forestry, biology, engineering, linguistics and more. I was inspired to study computational science by the opportunity to collaborate with researchers with a broad range of interests. I have collaborated with engineers, mathematicians, biologists, and atmospheric scientists throughout my career.

Can you break down your areas of interest for us?

My research revolves around three areas, all utilizing computational fluid dynamics. First, I explore suspensions of membranes such as red blood cells and vesicles, which are structures within or outside a cell consisting of liquid or cytoplasm enclosed by an external layer. Second, I investigate flow in porous media, such as groundwater flow, to determine the effects of mechanical and chemical erosion. Third, I study fire dynamics with a particular interest in prescribed fires that are used for land management.

What do you want the public to know about your research? Why are your topics important?

Among my three research areas, fire science is the most relatable to the public. When envisioning wildfires, people often picture large uncontrolled fires that destroy communities and forests. However, when used appropriately, introducing controlled fire in landscapes has numerous positive outcomes. The most obvious benefit is removing buildups of flammable material, thereby mitigating the risk of uncontrolled fires. Other benefits include maintaining habitats for native species that are fire-dependent and removing invasive species that would overrun the landscape if left unaddressed.

Tell us more about your role as a faculty associate in FSU’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program?

I became a faculty associate of GFDI shortly after joining FSU. Established in 1967, the GFDI is an interdisciplinary effort undertaken by faculty from the College of Engineering and five departments in the College of Arts and Sciences — the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Department of Mathematics, Department of Physics, Department of Scientific Computing, and Department of Statistics. It is also home to FSU’s geophysical fluid dynamics doctoral program. At first, GFDI connected me with faculty from other departments who shared a common interest in fluid dynamics. The director of GFDI was creating a new Fire Dynamics Program when I first moved to FSU, and this new area of research piqued my interest. I am one of three faculty supervising students in FSU’s Fire Dynamics program — a formal doctoral framework studying fire as a dynamical phenomenon that has complex physical, chemical, and turbulent interactions with the environment. My previous doctoral student, Dr. David Robinson, recently became the first Fire Dynamics Program graduate.

What is something unexpected you’ve learned through your research?

During my doctoral and postdoctoral studies, I primarily collaborated with my advisers. However, my perspective shifted upon joining FSU, and I discovered an appreciation for collaborative work. In my opinion, interdisciplinary collaborations are the best way to make significant impacts on consequential problems.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy collaborating with other researchers at FSU and around the world. I particularly enjoy working with junior scientists such as undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral fellows. I have been fortunate to work with a great group of enthusiastic students who show passion for their research, teaching and outreach endeavors.

What experience has been the highlight of your career so far?

I was on sabbatical in Spring 2023, and I took the opportunity to work with a senior fire scientist at the University of New South Wales Canberra in Australia. I visited his group for five weeks, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities between fire science research done in the United States and Australia.

Are there any exciting projects or goals you’re working on?

There are many interesting directions in fluid dynamics that I am actively working on, but I also have side projects that are more closely tied to my mathematical roots. One project that excites me is developing a method to simulate longtime behaviors of diffusive processes, which can include many processes like biomolecule transport in plants and animals. I recently published a paper on this work with a collaborator and a doctoral student, and another one will soon be submitted.

If your students only learned one thing from you (of course, hopefully they learn much more than that), what would you hope it to be?

I hope they learn that science and collaboration with others is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. I am always pleased to receive updates from former students who share news about landing their dream job or acceptance into a graduate program.