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Rui Ni earns Kuo Early Career Professorship, furthering multiphase flow research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rui Ni, assistant professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering at Penn State, has been awarded the Kenneth Kuan-Yun Kuo Early Career Professorship.

Established in 2010, the professorship is designed to foster the success of young and talented faculty members whose research focuses on thermal sciences with application to propulsion, energy, combustion and the environment.

Originally trained as a physicist, Ni’s research focuses on multiphase fluids and their larger implications in engineering systems. “For most natural environments and industrial applications, the thermal fluid systems are never single-phased,” he explained.

A common example is power plants, especially nuclear power systems, which require a coolant, usually water, to keep the reactor cooled at all times. “Two-phase heat transfer is ubiquitous in many power plants,” he said. “That’s where my research would come in; you really need to understand the complex flow physics in different regimes to design the power plant that is inherently safe in different scenarios.”

He further added, “My research is focused on understanding the physics behind it all, solving the fundamental issues.”

Having joined the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering in 2015, Ni was surprised to be awarded the Kuo professorship. “Thanks to the donors, this is one of the greatest opportunities to improve our lab and multiphase flow research in our department,” he said.

Early career professorships offer support to promising young faculty members at a crucial time in their careers. The endowments allow faculty in the first 10 years of their career to establish a commitment to teaching by directing initial energies to the classroom.

Having met Kenneth Kuo, distinguished professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, who passed away in 2016, Ni said, “I’m inspired by his work. He was a true leader in high-pressure combustion, so it’s very important to me personally to help memorialize his contributions with my own.”

Karen Thole, distinguished professor and department head of mechanical and nuclear engineering, added, “Dr. Kuo created an important legacy in our department, one that we are excited for Dr. Ni to build upon.”

The professorship also provides startup funds for new areas of research and teaching laboratories, as well as offering early recognition for outstanding accomplishments.

“Early career professorships are a great way to recognize junior faculty and help them achieve new heights in their career,” Thole said.

A testament to this honor, Ni said, “This professorship will really help the department drive research in this area. We can leverage this to transform multiphase flow research and many downstream applications.”

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