Combustion and chemically reacting flows research and education at USC


The Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California has a dynamic and growing program in traditional and emerging areas of combustion research involving three faculty, 20 graduate students and 6 postdoctoral research associates. Sponsored research funding exceeds $1.5 million annually. The graduate program of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is ranked 6th among U. S. universities by U. S. News and World Report.


What is combustion and chemically reacting flows?


Over 80% of the world’s energy production and use is based on the combustion of fossil fuels.  Combustion is ubiquitous in traditional energy conversion systems such as automotive engines, stationary and aircraft gas turbines, rocket and space propulsion, electrical power generation, industrial furnaces, and home and institutional space heating.  Moreover, emerging technology areas such as hypersonic propulsion, microscale power generation and material synthesis depend critically on chemically reacting flow processes.  The world’s dependence on combustion processes has led to many technological challenges including air quality, energy efficiency, global warming, and fire/explosion safety.


The combination of fluid mechanics, heat and mass transport and chemical reaction results in an enormous range of temporal and spatial scales.  Simulation is inherently challenging since the governing equations describing chemically reacting flows contain gradient terms such as convection and diffusion, volumetric source terms such as chemical reaction, and non-local terms such as radiation.  This makes direct numerical simulation of complete systems such as internal combustion engines impossible, thus simplified models are essential.


While in the past “combustion” and “chemically reacting flows” have been nearly synonymous, today this subject includes not only of flames in fuel-air mixtures but also topics as diverse as materials synthesis by exothermic self-sustaining chemical reactions, free-radical polymerization, and the dynamics of swarms of motile bacteria and biofilms.


USC’s research group in combustion and chemically reacting flows contributes in a variety of ways to the solution of these technological problems, both by the development of improved models of combustion processes, experimental data, and the discovery of new phenomena.  With the broad base of theoretical and practical knowledge obtained during their USC education, graduates of our program have taken positions in the aerospace industry, government laboratories and academic institutions.


Information for prospective students:



Degree requirements

Financial aid


Postdoctoral research positions may be available in selected areas of research. Contact faculty members directly for information. All available positions are also posted on the Combustion Institute’s jobs page.


Experiment images:






Opposed-jet flames studied in Prof. Egolfopoulos’s laboratory. Top: gas-phase flame; bottom:  particle-laden reactive flow.

Top:  All-plastic “Swiss roll” combustor built and tested in Prof. Ronney’s laboratory. 
Bottom: pulsed corona   discharge used for enhanced flame ignition.

Materials produced and studied in Prof. Wang’s laboratory.  Top: 10 nm x 2 Ķm x 100 Ķm MoO3 nano-ribbon, Bottom: 10 nm phase-pure anatase TiO2 nanoparticles.




Fokion N. Egolfopoulos: Research areas include aerodynamic and kinetic processes in flames, propulsion, microgravity combustion, pollutant formation, particle-laden reacting flows and laser diagnostics. Prof. Egolfopoulos is Deputy Editor of the journal Combustion and Flame.  He is a recipient of the Silver Medal of the Combustion Institute, the USC School of Engineering Junior Research Award, the Fred O’Green Assistant Professorship and numerous teaching awards at USC.


Paul D. Ronney: Research areas include micro-scale power generation and propulsion, transient plasma ignition of flames; biophysics and biofilms, turbulent combustion, internal combustion engines and low-gravity phenomena. Click here to go directly to research overview page.  Prof. Ronney is an Associate Editor or Editorial Board member of the journals Combustion Theory and Modelling, Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, Microgravity Science and Applications, and Combustion and Flame and a recipient of the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award.