Research Highlights

Bushfire researchers nominated for Eureka Prize - 13 August 2013


Plume attachment thresholds for fire spread in canyon-like geometries

Jason Sharples

Research into bushfire related accidents around the world has consistently identified a link between very intense and rapid fire propagation (known as fire eruption or fire blow-up) and steep, confined topography. In particular, a number of accidents that have resulted in the grievous injury or deaths of fire-fighters have occurred in canyons or on steep slopes. In many of these instances, surviving witnesses describe the sudden onset of an ‘upslope wind’, which immediately precedes the escalation in fire behaviour. This sudden upslope wind is typically assumed to be the main contributing factor driving the fire eruption, even in cases where weather conditions prior to the eruption were relatively benign or even windless. 

Structural fire-fighting research conducted in the aftermath of disasters such as the 1987 King’s Cross Underground fire in London has demonstrated the existence of two distinct buoyant flow regimes in rectangular trenches. Moreover, the most devastating fire behaviour was found to be associated with a flow that is attached to, and confined within, the inclined trench. The attached flow was found to occur whenever the trench was inclined above about 26º.

To investigate the effects of variable trench geometry on plume attachment thresholds a number of laboratory experiments were conducted in August 2010 as part of a research collaboration between the Applied and Industrial Mathematics Research Group and the Centre for the Study of Forest Fires, University of Coimbra, Portugal.

The experiments involved fires in an idealised ‘V-shaped’ configuration, which were set using several different patterns of ignition. The canyon geometry was defined by prescribing two angles: the angle of inclination a, and the angle d describing how ‘closed’ the canyon is.

The flow regime/fire behaviour in the V-shaped canyon was found to be critically dependent upon the parameter a. When a = 30º the plume was consistently observed to be separated from the canyon surface, whereas when a = 40º the plume tended to attach to the canyon surface and the flames were mainly confined in close proximity to the canyon’s waterline.


Resonant x-ray diffraction reveals hexadecapole order

The rare earth borocarbides exhibit a wide variety of ordered phases. These include superconductivity and different magnetic orders ranging from those with very long wavelength sinusoidal modulations to triple-k antiferromagnetism. Perhaps most interesting are the rare earth borocarbides with the three lanthanides that exhibit an ordering of the 4f orbitals (that is, Tb, Dy, and Ho). In TbB2C2, the (ferro-) orbital ordering is coincident with the magnetism, whilst in DyB2C2 the (antiferro-) orbital ordering occurs before a combined magnetic/orbital phase. In HoB2C2 there is an incommensurate magnetic phase before a reorientation transition occurs to a commensurate antiferromagnet accompanied by the onset of orbital order.

We study the Ho 4f multipoles in the combined magnetic and orbitally ordered phase of HoB2C2 combining soft x-ray resonant diffraction, non resonant x-ray diffraction and neutron diffraction. We show that the magnetic and orbital orders have distinct temperature dependences and that the low temperature phase is dominated by hexadecapole order.

Hexadecapole order dominates
the Ho 4f electronic shell

Andrew Princep, Annemieke Mulders, Wayne Hutchison, J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 24 075602, featured in IOP LabTalk.


The elusive crystal at the bottom of the well

Strontium titanate (SrTiO3) turns into an electrically polarised system when normal oxygen-16 is substituted with its heavier isotope oxygen-18. It is normally accepted that this substitution should have no effect and experiment has not been able to reveal how the atoms are arranged in the polarised system. We solved this problem using a computer cluster for simulations of atomic motion. Normally at absolute zero temperature atoms reside in the deepest hole that they can find in the energy landscape. Nevertheless, the atoms move around very slightly in these holes even at absolute zero (as the quantum-mechanical uncertainty principle requires). In strontium titanate there is a slight distortion to the shape of the holes so that even zero-point atomic motion prevents the atoms from reaching a final stable configuration. The trick is that because oxygen-18 atoms are slightly heavier than oxygen-16 their zero-point atomic motion is correspondingly less so that in this case the atoms find the final stable configuration. But what is this configuration? For a number of reasons this is difficult to determine experimentally so we analysed the atomic vibrations to find the direction in which the atoms would move as the zero-point atomic motion is quenched. We obtained atomic positions that are not only stable, but also give a structure of strontium titanate that displays the same properties as those so far observed experimentally in strontium titanate containing oxygen-18. 
Maciej Bartkowiak, Mohana Yethiraj, Don Kearley, Annemieke Mulders. Phys. Rev. B 83, 064102 (2011).


Perturbed Angular Correlation Spectrometer


One of the two new Perturbed Angular Correlation Spectrometers at UNSW@ADFA produces first results.
Jake Warner (PhD student), Dr Wolf-Dietrich Zeitz (Visitor to Science), Dr Laura Gladkis, Assoc. Prof. Heiko Timmers and Dr William Kemp debate how to improve the detection sensitivity of the new perturbed angular correlation spectrometer. In 2010 the spectrometer produced data leading to the discovery of a dopant-defect complex in germanium. The identification of such defect complexes improves new crystallisation techniques for germanium materials that are developed for the next generation of semiconductor devices.