Theofilos Sotiropoulos-Michalakakos (EngSci 1T5)

This summer I had the privilege to work on a project that studied capillary rise in porous media at the BP Institute for Multiphase Flow at the University of Cambridge. The BP institute is an independent academic institution at the University of Cambridge that conducts research on surfaces, particles, and fluid dynamics. The institute consists of a diverse group of post-doctoral researchers, undergraduate summer students, masters and PhD students who are working on projects with topics spanning over five different departments (Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Engineering, and Applied Mathematics).

There was always an opportunity to learn new things at the BP Institute. Students would hold weekly seminars discussing their research and on several occasions visiting researchers from other institutions would present their findings. In addition a culturally diverse group of individuals would gather in the lunch room every morning to enjoy a cup of tea, an English staple.

My supervisor, Dr. Jerome Neufeld was an Eng Sci graduate and currently holds the position of Junior Research Fellow at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge. Dr. Neufeld’s research focuses on analyzing geophysical systems using analytical, experimental, and numerical techniques. The research topic relevant to my project is geological carbon dioxide sequestration which is the capture and storage of large volumes of CO2 in porous rock. My interest in this topic stems from my concern for climate change and how it will affect people and ecosystems.

The research project consisted of an experiment that modeled fluid flow in a porous medium. The objective of the project was to understand the physics behind the saturation of a porous medium undergoing capillary rise. This was done by conducting experiments with different porous media and by the development of image processing techniques capable of producing saturation profiles of the experiment. The end goal would be to develop a theoretical explanation as to how pores, in a porous medium of varying pore sizes, are filled as a function of time and height. This theory could then later be applied to modeling the behavior of sequestered carbon in porous rock. The experiment can be best visualized by relating it to dipping a piece of paper in water and observing how the liquid creeps up the paper due to capillary forces. All image analysis was done using the computational software MatLAB.

This project helped me develop very useful experimental techniques that involve image processing and the use of LabVIEW software to control the instruments. One particularly notable aspect of image processing is that it is relatively cheap when compared to other forms of measuring and analyzing data. In addition, I further developed my skills using MatLAB which has proven to be an incredibly useful tool in my studies so far.

This experience has taught me that research involves encountering problems and issues that, as students, we are not exposed to in solely a classroom setting. In our studies we are given problems which we are certain to have answers to. However, when conducting an experiment it is imperative to ask precise questions based on observations, and in more cases than one you might not get what is expected.

Cambridge is a wonderful place for study and research. The rich history of the campus is evident everywhere you look, whether it was the several hundred year old books at the library or walking by Stephen Hawking’s office on my way to eat in the same dining hall as Watson and Crick. The highlight of my stay there was getting to see the many different colleges all with their own unique architecture and history.