Student Scholar Award

The Student Scholar Award was established in 2006 by the Board of Governors of the SFPE Foundation to recognize students who are performing research to advance the science and practice of fire protection engineering. The Foundation's Board of Governors makes the selection annually. Nominations are accepted from undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students and are judged on scientific quality and relevance of their research to the fire protection engineering profession. The recipient of this award receives a $1,000 honorarium from the SFPE Foundation.

2020 Recipient

Matthew Bonner
Imperial College London

Past Recipients

Combustion, Fire & Fire Safety Research Group Department of Structural Engineering, Ghent University

Study of the Importance of Non-Uniform Mass Density in Numerical Simulations of Fire Spread over MDF Panels in a Corner Configuration


The distribution of mass density through the thickness of Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) panels is known to be non-uniform. A few studies have previously investigated the influence of this non-uniform through-thickness density distribution on the thermal behavior of MDF panels in small-scale tests. This study assesses the significance of this material property on flame spread simulations in a medium-scale set-up, namely that of Single Burning Item (SBI) corner fire tests. Simulations are performed using FireFOAM 2.2.x, considering both uniform and non-uniform MDF material density profiles, using model-effective material properties determined from bench-scale pyrolysis tests conducted in a Fire Propagation Apparatus (FPA). The heat transfer from the gas phase is modeled by means of empirical expressions with adjusted parameters. The simulations are assessed against the results of several SBI experiments with MDF panels and a test with Calcium Silicate (CS) panels. When the non-uniform nature of the through-thickness density is taken into account, the fire growth prediction in terms of the total Heat Release Rate (HRR) is considerably different (20% higher peak HRR), mainly due to the characteristic high peak mass loss rate at the initiation of pyrolysis of MDF material, resulting from the higher mass density near the surface of the panels. Furthermore, total heat fluxes on the panels, lateral flame spread, surface pyrolysis and through-thickness char formation visibly depend on the non-uniform distribution of mass density, particularly in regions further away from the corner where the influence of thermal attack from the burner is less dominant. A new diagnostic is proposed for determining the pyrolysis front location and spread on the surface of the charring panels.

D. Zeinali, A. Gupta, G. Maragkos, G. Agarwal, T. Beji, J. Degroote, and B. Merci, "Study of the Importance of Non-Uniform Mass Density in Numerical Simulations of Fire Spread over MDF Panels in a Corner Configuration," Combustion and Flame 200 (2019), Pages 303–315, DOI: 10.1016/j.combustflame.2018.11.020.

2018 Selena K. Chin, University of Maryland

2017 Nicholas A. Traina, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2016 Aoife Hunt, Ph.D., University of Greenwich for research on Simulating Hospital Evacuation

2015 Karl Fridolf, Ph.D., Lund University for research on Rail Tunnel Evacuation

2014 Alistair Bartlett, University of Edinburgh for research on Charring Rates for Cross Laminated Timber Under Standard and Non-Standard Heating Scenarios

2013 Isaac Leventon, University of Maryland

2012 Axel Jonsson, Lund University

2011 Kurt J. Schebel, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

2010 James O'Neill, University of Canterbury

2008 Rani A. Kady, Old Dominion University

2007 Kevin LaMalva, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

2006 Allan Jowsey, University of Edinburgh