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Fire Safety Engineering Education at University of Science and Technology of China
Date: 2014-12-11   Author:   Source:

   The State Key Laboratory of Fire Science (SKLFS), which is located at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), is the only national level research institution in the field of fundamental fire research in China. The mission of SKLFS is to study fire dynamics & key technologies of fire safety, train qualified personnel and endeavor to cater for the growing national demand in fire science research and make fundamental, strategic and forward-looking contributions to the national fire safety. To meet this mission, SKLFS has step by step established the fire safety engineering (FSE) education system during the past 20 years. SKLFS offers the Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.), Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) and Doctor of Science in Engineering (Ph.D.) degrees. What follows is a brief summary of the history and development of the FSE education at SKLFS.
History of the FSE education of SKLFS
   The program of FSE Education of USTC was promoted and initiated by Prof. Weicheng Fan at the Department of Engineering Thermophysics (later renamed as Department of Thermal Science & Energy Engineering) at USTC in early 1980s, although at that time the subject of FSE was not recognized as a high-level education subject in China. By the end of 1980s, although there had been four fire safety institutions respectively in Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang and Sichuan managed by the Ministry of Public Security of China, there was no institution or university which was devoted to the fundamental researches on fire safety. A major reason for the increased recognition of the importance of fire researches was the Wildland Fire in Daxinganling, Heilongjiang Province in May 1987. That huge fire last for nearly one month, from May 6 to June 2, leading to 1,330,000 hectares of forests burned. It was the most serious forest fire since the foundation of the People's Republic of China (1949). After that fire, Prof. Weicheng Fan submitted a proposal to the central government for establishing a national institution of fundamental fire researches. His proposal was rapidly approved by the government in 1988. SKLFS was established in 1990. After then, SKLFS was separated from the Department of Engineering Thermophysics and became to be a dependent research center at USTC for FSE research and education.
   From 1990 to 1998, SKLFS offered degrees in conjunction with the Department of Engineering Thermophysics in the subject of Engineering Thermophysics. Later, respectively in 1998 and 2000, SKLFS was authorized to independently offer the Master of Science Degree and Doctor of Science Degree in the subject of “Safety Technology and Engineering”. This was absolutely a big step in the right direction, because it significantly expanded the size of the FSE graduate education programs. Before that, only 5-10 master’s and doctoral students were admitted annually. In comparison, today’s SKLFS FSE graduate programs have 40-60 master’s students and 30 doctoral students admitted annually. During the past 20 years, SKLFS has conferred over 800 graduate degrees, including over 200 Ph.D. degrees and over 600 master degrees (including the M.S. and M.Eng degrees). Additionally, SKLFS offered the B.S. degree in the subject of Engineering Thermophysics before 2003, after then SKLFS began to offer the B.S. degree in the subject of Safety Engineering. Nearly 20 freshman students are admitted annually. In 2004, SKLFS established the Department of Safety Science & Engineering which manages the undergraduate FSE program of SKLFS.
   Currently, SKLFS has 41 full-time instructors, including 21 professors, 18 associate professors and 2 lecturers. At the same time, many professors from other universities
Education at B. S. level
   SKLFS pursues to keep itself at the very forefront of fire science discovery, for this SKLFS believes that for excellent fundamental fire research, the undergraduate students should acquire solid knowledge basis and capability of seeking deep understanding of the complex processes of fire dynamics which generally involve significant interactions among mass transportation, heat transfer, momentum transportation, chemical reaction, phase change etc. Therefore, the FSE education programs of SKLFS at B.S. level have tried to make the students get strong knowledge background of mathematics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer and combustion by courses design. The major courses for undergraduate students are summarized as follows.
   Firstly, the courses of Calculus (including Single Variable Calculus and Multivariable Calculus, 12 credits. Each credit is equivalent to 20 h lectures), Linear Algebra (4 credits), Function Theory of Complex variables (2 credits), Equations of Mathematical Physics (2 credits), Probability Theory and Math Statistics (3 credits), and Computational Method (2 credits) are provided as the basis courses of mathematics. Especially, the depth of these courses is designed to be in the graduate level, in order to make the students have solid mathematical background.
   Secondly, SKLFS provides courses in a broad range of topics concerning mechanics, including Mechanics and Thermodynamics (4 credits), Mechanical Engineering Drawing and AutoCAD (5 credits), Theoretical Mechanics (Statics and Dynamics, 6 credits), Engineering Thermodynamics (4 credits), Elementary Fluid Mechanics (4 credits, which mainly includes fluid properties, fluid statics, kinematics of fluid flow, basic hydrodynamics, incompressible flow, simulitude and dimensional analysis), Viscous Fluid Mechanics and Turbulence (3 credits, which mainly includes the concept of viscous fluid, compressible flow, boundary layer theory, turbulence, etc.), and Material Mechanics (4 credits).
   Thirdly, SKLFS requires the students to have solid knowledge basis on heat and mass transfer. For the course of Fundamentals of Heat Transfer (4 credits), SKLFS has used the classical textbook of “Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer” by Frank P. Incropera et al. for 20 years, and at the same time, SKLFS encourages the students to read other textbooks addressing the forced and free convections, the gas and flame radiation and mass transfer. The specific topics related to fire such as convection in enclosed spaces, heat transfer to ceilings and vertical walls, enclosure radiation exchange, zone model enclosure radiation exchange are included in the course of Introduction to Fire Dynamics (2 credits).
   SKLFS provides the specialized courses including Computational Thermophysics (4 credits), Combustion (3 credits), Introduction to Fire Dynamics (2 credits), Fire Detection and Control Engineering (3 credits), Introduction to Building Fire Safety Engineering (2 credits), Numerical Computation of Heat Process (3 credits), Forest Fire Prevention (2 credits), and Experimental Technique of Heat Engineering (2.5 credits). The flows in enclosure fire such as fire plume, ceiling jet and vent flow are included in the course of Introduction to Fire Dynamics (2 credits). As the basis of specialized courses, SKLFS also provides the courses of Fundamental Experiments of Thermophysics (4 credits) which introduces the variable measurements methods for fire research.
   In the course of Combustion (3 credits), SKLFS published its own textbook but at the same time it uses the classical work of Combustion (Fourth Edition) by Irvin Glassman and Richard A. Yetter as the reference book. The teaching program covers the combustion physics and chemistry fundamentals, the diffusive combustion, the laminar and turbulent premixed flame, ignition and extinction, flame stability, liquid and solid combustion, etc. For the course of Introduction of Fire Dynamics (2 credits), SKLFS also published its own textbook named “Introduction to Fire Science” by W. C. Fan et al. Also SKLFS encourages the students to use the works of “Enclosure Fire Dynamics” by B. Karlsson and J. G. Quintiere, “Principles of Fire Behavior” by James G. Quintiere, “Introduction to Fire Dynamics” by D. Drysdale, and “Fundamentals in Fire Phenomena” by James G. Quintiere as the reference books. The specialized courses cover broad topics such as limits of flammability and premixed flame, diffusion flame and fire plume, steady burning of fuel, ignition, flame and fire spread, spontaneous ignition and smoldering, flashover and backdraft, products of combustion and fire, production and movement of smoke, forest fire dynamics, active fire protection, passive fire protection, interaction between fire and people, and numerical and experimental research methods.
   For the B.S. FSE education, SKLFS tries to make the students step by step understand the roles of the designed courses in fire research. Therefore, SKLFS have some policies and activities to make the students achieve a strong linkage between courses learning and research activities. For the freshman students, SKLFS has a policy of “undergraduate tutor” for which each student chooses one teacher as his tutor. The responsibility of the tutors is to organize different activities on campus in order to make the students learn of the education and researches of SKLFS. This means that the students of SKLFS have the opportunity of participating in the research activities once they enter into the university. From the second year of the B.S. program, a program supported by USTC, named as “The College Student Research Program”, is open to all the students. The tutors will design some small research projects fitting to the taught courses for the undergraduate students, who are required to finish the project research within 3 months under the instructions of their tutors. Such projects help the students develop the experimental and theoretical analysis capability. From the third year, the students will have many opportunities of participating in the research projects of SKLFS. All the students are required to finish their theses and make the oral defenses by the end of the fourth academic year for getting their B.S. degrees.
Education at graduate level
   The master’s students of SKLFS are selected from several sources. For the M.S. degree, one part of the students is selected from the SKLFS undergraduate students according to their GPA grades up to the end of the 6th semester, and nearly 30% of the students can be chosen to directly enter into the graduate program with no examinations. The other part of the students is from other universities, selected by the Graduate Candidate Test. The program of M.Eng degree is designed for part-time students who must take two months each year on campus for learning courses, and take part-time study to finish their theses for getting their degrees.
   The doctoral students of SKLFS are mainly selected from the M.S. degree students, according to their academic performance within the first two years of the graduate program. The selection of doctoral students is very strict, because the tutors and the students both have the responsibility of evaluation of the potentials of the students for getting the Ph.D degrees within three years. The basic requirements for getting Ph.D degrees include the publication of at least two papers in international journals (indexed by SCI or EI), and at the same time at least one oral presentation in international conferences in the field of fire safety engineering.
   In courses design, SKLFS tries to make connection with the B.S. education program and further enhance the theoretical knowledge background for the graduate students. The major courses include Applied Mathematics (4 credits), Theory of Fire Plume (2 credits), Numerical Computation and Models of Flow and Combustion (3 credits), Experimental Fluid Mechanics (4 credits), Advanced Fluid Mechanics (4 credits), Computational Fluid Dynamics and Heat Mass Transfer (3 credits), Theory of Heat Conduction (3 credits), Turbulent Combustion (3 credits), Advance Heat Transfer (4 credits) and Introduction to the Software of Fire Simulation and Application (2 credits).


The SKLFS group attending the 2011 IAFSS Symposium in Maryland.

   The postgraduate students of SKLFS have many opportunities of academic exchanges with abroad universities and institutions. One method of support available is by the cooperation projects between SKLFS and abroad counterparts. Another method is by the program supported by China Scholarship Council (CSC), named “Postgraduate Study Abroad Program”. This program is a national scholarship program, launched in January 2007 by CSC, for financing outstanding Chinese students to study at top universities around the world. Annually 3-5 postgraduate students of SKLFS can be supported by this program, and the hosting universities and institutions include Princeton University, the University of Tokyo, NIST, University of Kentucky, University of Coimbra, University of Ulster, Kingston University, etc.
Challenges for FSE education at SKLFS
   Just as pointed out by Prof. Wanki Chow in this issue, “Fire Science and Engineering is a very small subject discipline. The number of journal papers published, and hence the number of citations, are much lower than other subjects. This is a big threat to local universities developing Fire Engineering programmes.” We also recognize this to be a serious problem for the research assessment of SKLFS and also for the FSE education at SKLFS. The researches of the faculty and students of SKLFS often face strong competitions of other disciplines which hold much more journals available for publication. Fire safety engineering is a typical interdisciplinary field, with many journals (e.g. those in the fields of chemistry and materials) which are “marginal” for fire science but with much higher impact factors than the core journals in fire safety engineering. SKLFS encourages the students to publish their consistent research results in the leading publications of fire safety field such as Combustion and Flame, Proceedings of the Combustion Institute, Fire Safety Journal and Fire Technology. However the space available from these publications is too limited. Therefore some students prefer to choose the “marginal” journals with higher impact factors to publish their papers.
   Another challenge faced by SKLFS FSE education program is how to make balance between fundamental research and applied research. As indicated above, the B.S. and graduate education programs of SKLFS both emphasize on the basic and theoretical knowledge background of the students. In comparison, the courses in the respective of applied research and engineering are not so strong. One reason for this is that the major mission of State Key Laboratories (SKLs) in China is for top-level basic research and applied basic research. This problem is expected to be solved from the respective of policies of SKLFS. Firstly, more strong linkage with industry should be developed in order to get more fundings in applied FSE research. Second, the academic assessment rules should be critically studied to encourage the researchers and students to participate in more activities for technology innovation and fire standard/code study. Finally, more course programs closely related to applied FSE research should be developed.

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State Key Laboratory of Fire Science, University of Science and Technology of China
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