Chris Boyce Honored with NSF CAREER Award

Award will support his work on using MRI to characterize bubbly multiphase flows; could lead to revolutionizing technologies from sustainable mining to hydrogen-powered vehicles

Jan 20 2022 | By Holly Evarts
Chris Boyce

Chris Boyce, ​​assistant professor of chemical engineering, has won a 2022 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for his work on engineering structured bubbling patterns in multiphase flows and developing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to characterize these systems. These flows, in which bubbles rise through fluids that contain solid particles, occur everywhere in both nature and industry, whether as bubbles rising through lava in active volcanos or bubbles feeding air to bioreactors. Because the bubbles’ behavior is so chaotic, it has been difficult to study the dynamics of their flow and develop ways to control overall flow behavior.

Boyce’s group focuses on the physics of multiphase flows, using MRI and computational modeling to gain insights into complex systems. They recently developed methods to structure bubble motion by vibrating flow systems. The five-year, $619,094 award, one of the most prestigious NSF awards given to young faculty, will support the group’s work to further develop MRI techniques to characterize the interior of flow systems in 3D.

“We expect our research will give us unprecedented insight into the structured flow patterns formed, similar to how MRI has revolutionized medicine by allowing doctors to see inside the human body,” said Boyce, noting that MRI works just as well for other opaque 3D systems, such as chemical reactors, geological flows, and water purification devices. It not only creates clear 3D images but also monitors chemical reactions, temperature, mass transport, flow, and diffusion on a spatially resolved level.

He added, “The ability to see flow systems in 3D, coupled with our computational modeling, will optimize existing practices and generate exciting new technologies in energy, health, and the environment, from producing hydrogen reactors to power ships to pharmaceutical production to carbon capture.”

We expect our research will give us unprecedented insight into the structured flow patterns formed, similar to how MRI has revolutionized medicine by allowing doctors to see inside the human body.

Chris Boyce
assistant professor of chemical engineering

For the NSF CAREER project, Boyce’s group will use vibration and controlled gas flow to structure the bubble dynamics so that they follow periodically repeating dynamics. This will help improve characterization and modeling, and, ultimately, optimize industrial device performance. The team will also coordinate optical imaging and MRI with computational modeling of both the flow dynamics and MRI protocols to synergistically develop characterization capabilities while identifying ways to structure bubble dynamics. They will compare optical images in 2D systems and MRI in 3D systems to see how flow behaves in 3D multiphase systems and mechanisms and explore different bubble structuring in 3D.

Beyond his research focus on understanding the physics of multiphase flow and potential impacts on new technologies, Boyce is also deeply committed to enhancing diversity in STEM. This past summer, he worked with colleagues to organize the Amazon-SURE summer research program attracting undergraduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and this fall he helped establish a partnership for research and advising between Columbia and Tuskegee Universities. Through this NSF project, Boyce, who has a passion for photography and videography, plans to use visualizations of multiphase flows, particularly in 3D, to inspire middle- and high-school students from Harlem and the Bronx to pursue STEM studies at this critical juncture in their lives. The project includes the launch of a Visualization of Flow symposium, at which students will have the opportunity to present their images and videos, as well as lab, classroom, and online demos, together with personal narratives, that will involve students in Boyce’s lab, as well as young professionals from diverse backgrounds whose STEM education has led to a wide range of career opportunities in engineering, medicine, business, and policy.