College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ChemE post-doctorate takes on ME assistant professor position

For Alberto Passalacqua Alberto Passalacqua, transitioning from his position as a postdoctoral assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering to assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering is definitely an adjustment. But he feels his research emphasis in computational fluid dynamics of multiphase flows will help make for a smooth move.

Passalacqua began his education in the field of chemical engineering at Politecnico di Torino in Italy, where he was introduced to computational fluid dynamics and performed computer simulations of gas-particle flows in circulating fluidized bed reactors with a research group at the university.

After five years in the joint undergraduate and master’s program, it seemed logical for him to begin his doctorate with the same group. His research quickly became more advanced, consisting of two major parts.

The first involved incorporating a more complete description of what happens in a dense gas-particle flow, where particles come in contact with one another and create friction.

The second aspect of his work consisted of adopting the Large Eddy Simulation (LES) approach, a technique used to describe the turbulence of fluid phases in a model for flows with a lower particle load. LES aims at directly resolving the large-scale fluctuations of the fluid phase, modeling only the smallest fluctuations and reducing the computational cost of the simulations without sacrificing their accuracy.

In 2008, after being selected as a postdoctoral assistant funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Passalacqua began at Iowa State, working with distinguished professor of chemical and biological engineering Rodney Fox. In this position, he focused on developing the next generation of models for gas-particle flows, creating a computational code that incorporates these models.

“The position at Iowa State was a natural step for my research,” says Passalacqua. “I was able to work on cutting-edge developments while continuing the research I enjoyed doing.”

More recently, Passalacqua contributed to a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy involving uncertainty quantification, which included studying how errors in the input of a model transmit to the outputs. The new methods Passalacqua developed along with the results of this research are important to ensure computational models are reliable.

“I did a longer postdoc in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering because I was very interested in the project I was working on,” explains Passalacqua. “This past year, I heard about the opportunity to become an assistant professor in mechanical engineering here at ISU, so I decided to apply and fortunately was selected.”

Passalacqua is teaching the numerical and analytical methods course in chemical and biological engineering this fall and will begin teaching in his home department, mechanical engineering, next spring. He will also continue to mentor two graduate students and is looking forward to hiring PhD students to work on developing multiphase flow models.

Excited to continue the research that interests him most and remain among the faculty of the College of Engineering, Passalacqua also recognizes the position comes with great possibilities.

“I am looking forward to the challenges a tenure-track position offers in creating my own research group, as well as inspiring students and teaching them to do research in computational fluid dynamics,” he says. “There are many new things to learn and new ways to use my expertise. I’m really looking forward to every single step.”