Brian J. Cantwell

Fluid Mechanics, Propulsion, Aerodynamics, Similarity methods

Biographical Sketch

Brian J. Cantwell is the Edward C. Wells Professor Emeritus in the school of engineering at Stanford University. He received the B.A. and B.S. from the University of Notre Dame in 1967 and 1968. Following graduation he worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center where he participated in ground testing of the LEM ascent engine for the Apollo program. In January 1969 he joined the U.S. Army and served on active duty for two years. During military service in Belgium he received the diploma from the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics. After military service, he attended graduate school at Caltech completing the MS in 1971 and the PhD in 1976. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech from the Fall of 1975 to Fall 1978. He has been a member of the Stanford faculty since 1978 and served as department chairman from 2001 to 2008.

In our research we use theoretical and experimental methods to investigate the space-time structure of turbulent reacting and non-reacting flows. In the 1980s and early 90s the main emphasis was on the geometry of three dimensional flow fields including the similarity structure of organized motions in shear flows, the dynamics of turbulent fine scale motions and the flow fields of unsteady flames. This research included, in 1989, the first use of Particle Image Velocimetry to measure flow patterns in an unsteady jet flame. Research in the mid 1990s on the mixing and combustion of an oxidizer flowing over a solid fuel led to the first identification of a new class of fast burning paraffin-based fuels for hybrid propulsion. Heating from the diffusion flame over the fuel surface causes the formation of a thin liquid film that is driven along the surface by the oxidizer flow. For this class of fuels, the viscosity of the liquid is so low that droplets are lifted from the liquid-gas interface producing a spray that substantially increases the rate of mass transfer from the fuel surface. This feature greatly simplifies hybrid rocket design and opens up a wide range of applications, particularly those requiring high thrust. One oxidizer studied during this period was nitrous oxide which releases energy when it decomposes. This motivated research on N2O as a monopropellant for small space thrusters. As it happens, N2O is also a powerful greenhouse gas and an unwanted byproduct of the nitrification/denitrification process by which ammonia is removed from wastewater. In 2009 our research on nitrous oxide became the basis of a new area of interdisciplinary research in collaboration with faculty in CEE that joins space propulsion and environmental biotechnology. This research produced the first wastewater study where energy is derived from waste nitrogen. Since 2015 our hybrid propulsion research has been mainly concerned with the problem of ignition using laser heating or self-igniting materials. In 2018 a re-examination of models of boundary layer combustion used to analyze hybrid thrusters led to a renewed interest in the fundamental structure of non-reacting turbulent boundary layers. An important result of this recent research has been the identification of a new Universal Velocity Profile that accurately approximates pipe and channel flow as well as boundary layer flows with favorable and adverse pressure gradients. The profile is uniformly valid at all Reynolds numbers and this has enabled the study of the structure of turbulent wall flows in the limit of infinite Reynolds number. Most recently, this profile was used as the basis of a new method for rapidly and accurately determining the drag of wings and other streamlined bodies over a wide range of Reynolds numbers. Links to open-access papers on this subject are provided below.

Teaching duties have included courses on aircraft and rocket propulsion, propulsion design, compressible flow, turbulence, similarity methods and experimentation. Professor Cantwell was a member and deputy chairman of the AGARD Fluid Dynamics Panel from 1989 to 1997 supporting the aerospace technology needs of NATO. From 1994 to 2008 he served as a member of an Executive Independent Review Team overseeing the development of the F119, F135 and F136 engines for the Air Force Raptor and Lighting II fighters. He was given the excellence in teaching award by the Stanford student chapter of the AIAA in 1984 and 1988. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow of the AIAA, a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society a member of Sigma Xi and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is the author of four books including a textbook on Symmetry Analysis published by Cambridge Press in September 2002 (part of the series Cambridge Texts in Applied Mathematics). A link to software for finding symmetries of ODEs and PDEs is provided below.

Course Materials




Phone/Fax: 650-723-4825 / 650-723-3018
Office: Durand 379