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  • Caltech doctoral student Nicholas Burali
    Nicholas Burali
    Credit: Caltech
05/31/2017 12:28:08

Caltech Graduate Student Awarded de Karman Fellowship

Nicholas Burali, a mechanical engineering student, uses computational tools to study combustion.

Nicholas Burali, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, has been awarded a fellowship from the Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust.

The trust was established in 1954 by Theodore von Kármán—the first director of what is now Caltech's Graduate Aerospace Laboratories (GALCIT)—in memory of his sister. Reserved for undergraduates entering their senior year and graduate students going into their final year of doctoral work, the fellowship was created to recognize and support outstanding scholastic achievement.

Burali was one of eight fellows selected out of 375 applicants. He is a doctoral student in the Turbulent Flow Oriented Research in Combustion and Energy (The FORCE) laboratory led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Guillaume Blanquart. In his work, Burali uses computational tools to investigate combustion problems; an overarching goal of his research is to better predict soot formation. Soot is a by-product of the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, he explains, and is the cause of many health and environmental problems. Breathing soot, for example, can lead to chronic conditions such as asthma or heart disease. Soot also has been linked to acid rain and climate change.

Burali's interest in computational fluid dynamics and combustion grew out of a lifelong fascination with aeronautics. "As far back as I can remember, I've had a passion for aviation and aeronautics," he says. "I come from Montenero d'Orcia, a very small village in Tuscany. There are wheat fields, olive trees, grape vines—it's exactly how you would imagine a Tuscan village. But there is no aerospace."

After completing undergraduate and master's degrees at Sapienza University of Rome, where he was a fellow of the Lamaro-Pozzani University College, Burali earned a second master's degree at Caltech in 2014. He says it is an honor to have received a fellowship created by von Kármán, whose work fueled major advances in fluid mechanics. Previously, Burali worked as an intern at the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium, performing measurements in plasma flows. "I think this is a testament to the many contributions of Dr. von Kármán," he says.

Burali, who has logged 25 hours of flight time piloting Cessna 172s, has trained to be a volunteer guide at Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino. He also practices Shotokan karate and serves as secretary and treasurer of the Caltech Karate Club.

In addition to the de Karman, Burali previously received the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense.