Forecasting Phase Changes: Illinois Tech Professor Receives NSF Grant for Groundbreaking Research



By Casey Moffitt
Shuwang Li

A grant from the National Science Foundation will fund an Illinois Institute of Technology researcher to embark on a project that will result in a unified mathematical framework to predict reactions of interacting fluids.

Shuwang Li, professor of applied mathematics, was awarded $242,677 from the NSF to build a model that will forecast the phase changes of interacting fluids that are out of equilibrium. Predicting these reactions will have beneficial applications in biological, physical, chemical, and engineering systems.

“Recent advances in modeling and computational methods by my group and others now make the modeling and computing feasible,” Li says. “I plan to develop and apply state-of-the-art adaptive numerical methods to large-scale computations, and perform analytical, numerical, and modeling studies of important constituent processes.”

Fluid reactions become complicated when driven out of equilibrium. The reaction becomes a nonlinear and nonlocal fluid-structure interaction problem. This reaction is essentially an open system, and there are no conserved quantities. The evolving junction between the fluids will become complicated depending on the initial condition, materials used, and the driving force. This open system cannot be predicted solely by an equilibrium phase diagram, and it requires a new mathematical model.

“A mixture can be deliberately driven out of equilibrium,” Li says. “The formation of solid-like gels at water-oil interfaces during oil recovery processes can be unfavorable because gel build-up can clog wells and pipelines. On the other hand, gel formation can be beneficial in flow diversion processes by diverting the flow away from porous rocks and enhancing oil recovery.”

Li says results from this project will also be incorporated into cross-disciplinary courses at Illinois Tech for students who are working toward mathematics degrees as well as chemical and material engineering degrees. The research component of the grant also can be used to develop an undergraduate course on complex fluids as part of Illinois Tech’s Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under
Award No. 2309798. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.