Energy and climate change: To engineer or not to engineer?


Students and community: Service learning

Questions surrounding energy systems, climate change, and the transformation of learning have guided the work I have pursued.

To engineer

Combustion chemistry and pyrolysis of biofuels

Okay, I’m an engineer (and I studied aerospace engineering because of my fascination with space) who studies the technological cause of climate change: combustion.  Biofuels have been proposed as a technological response to climate change.  So I wonder, How do bio-based fuels change the combustion chemistry of traditional fuels when blended together in combustion and pyrolysis environments?  What kinds of air pollutants are suppressed in blends and which ones are formed?  Along with my colleagues at the University of Michigan, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory, I have studied the chemical kinetics of various biofuels and biofuel blends in idealized and realistic environments through experimental and computational studies.  


  1. Effects of new ab initio rate coefficients on predictions of species formed during n-butanol ignition and pyrolysis, 2015
  2. An experimental and modeling study of methyl trans-3-hexenoate autoignition, 2014
  3. Low temperature chemical kinetic and speciation studies of n-heptane, 2013
  4. On the combustion chemistry of n-butanol and n-heptane blends, 2012
  5. The effect of CO2/H2O on the formation of soot particles in the homogenous environment of a rapid compression facility, 2011
  6. On the chemical kinetics of n-butanol—ignition and speciation studies, 2011
  7. Observations of nascent soot: Molecular deposition and particle morphology, 2011
  8. Speciation studies of methyl butanoate ignition, 2011

Here is a simplified description of my combustion chemistry, followed by a visual representation:

Take fuels [the top two molecules--n-heptane and n-butanol, respectively] → add oxidizer [the red oxygen molecule] → inject into the University of Michigan Rapid Compression Facility → compress to high temperatures and pressures → sample intermediate products formed before ignition to understand air pollutant formation pathways → ignition! [beautifully blue homogeneous ignition]

Or not to engineer...or how to engineer?

Activist engineering and climate change policy

Most engineers seeking the “existential pleasures of engineering” (as Samuel Florman would say) remain siloed from addressing the fundamental economic and political causes--that is, the root causes--of climate change, social injustice and environmental degradation.  Young engineers must be activist engineers who apply the notion of praxis in engineering work to ask not, How will we technologize our way out of the problems we face? but rather, What really needs to be done?  What does engineering sensitive to social justice and ecological holism look like?


  1. Are there ecological problems that technology cannot solve?  Water scarcity and dams, climate change and biofuels, 2014
  2. Activist Engineering: Changing Current Engineering Practice By Deploying Praxis, 2014
  3. Sequential climate change policy, 2011

Students and community

Service Learning

Service learning provides a powerful framework for bridging students’ education with lived learning experiences in community-based settings.  Importantly, strong bonds between communities and students build communities’ trust, which can often be degraded because of wave after wave of exploitation by government, industry, and academia.


  1. Social Justice and Sustainability in Poor Neighborhoods: Service Learning in Southwest Detroit, 2014
  2. A Lesson in Service Learning and Community Engagement, 2013