Making Mathematical Models for All Things Porous
Recently named a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Manolis Tomadakis helps propel technology from fuel cells to textiles forward
Manolis Tomadakis, head of Florida Institute of Technology’s chemical engineering department, says one most satisfying part of his research is seeing other scientists and engineers use the mathematical models he created to make improvements to technology in many areas ranging from aerospace to biotechnology.
His work is the fundamental research that forms the underpinnings of applied research in, as he says, “anything porous.” And a lot more is porous than might first be imagined. Tomadakis, who was named a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers this summer, builds advanced computer code. He develops mathematical models, computer simulation methods and algorithms for estimating mass and energy transport, reaction and the nuclear magnetic resonance properties of porous, fibrous and composite materials. We encounter these in a variety of modern technology applications and biological systems.
Mathematical modeling helps to understand in more depth why something happens as it does. It creates the root of a process to guide researchers in the right direction for their experiments. “Most rewarding is when my work is applied in various R&D studies that contribute to technological advances and make a positive impact on our lives,” Tomadakis says.
Tomadakis has witnessed his models and simulations tested, validated and applied by many other scientists around the world. He has seen applications in the U.S. space program, automobile industry, geochemistry, radiation oncology, biology, medicine and biotechnology. The definitive honor for him is citations. When other scientists apply his research to their projects and credit his published work, he knows that “what we discovered on the computer is valuable and helps technology move forward.” Tomadakis has earned hundreds of citations from other researchers. He has had feedback from NASA, crediting him with positively affecting the properties of space shuttle tiles, made of fiber-reinforced composites.
His work has also advanced nuclear magnetic resonance applications in oil extraction—assessing in real-time the feasibility of extracting oil from porous rock. Creating reliable models saves time and money, eliminating the need for extensive experimentation. The ability to understand and predict the molecular transport and surface interactions in fibrous porous materials is valuable to the broader fields of textiles, filtration, paper, fuel cells and tissue engineering, for example.
Today, hundreds of fuel cell researchers, including General Motors, use Tomadakis’ models for the transport properties of fuel cell gas diffusion media in hybrid cars and other alternative energy systems. The models he and his graduate students create, however, can only be known and used if they are published. It is his challenge to make time for that, while also meeting the day-to-day demands of heading one of the university’s fastest-growing departments.
“As much as I love the educational and leadership aspects of my job, I cannot imagine my professional life without research.”