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Keynote Lecture Series Archive

Spring, 2021

Releasing Insights from Data: Quarrying vs. Sculpting

Paul D. Ronney

Professor and Chairman
Department of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering
Los Angeles, CA

When Michelangelo surveyed a block of marble he saw a figure trapped inside; his goal was to release the figure that in his mind was already there. Research involves not only “quarrying” (obtaining) blocks of experimental, computational or theoretical data but more importantly releasing the insights trapped within. For example, every student of physics learns about the H atom spectrum - but why this block of data? Because, trapped within the spectrum is a critical, unequivocal insight - that energy levels of matter are quantized.

In that famous example the insight and its significance are “obvious” given the benefit of years of hindsight - but what important insights are trapped inside freshly-quarried data? The focus of this presentation is on examples of and methods for sculpting data into works of insight. Starting with the aforementioned case studiy and others the audience’s sculpting skill will be challenged with case studies from both the presenter’s own work (some not yet published) and elsewhere, with an emphasis on examples where the insights were both difficult to sculpt and led to counterintuitive insights.

Paul Ronney is a Professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA. Prof. Ronney received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology, and a Doctor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He held postdoctoral appointments at the NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center and the Laboratory for Computational Physics at the U. S. Naval Research Laboratory and a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University before assuming his current position at USC. Prof. Ronney was the Payload Specialist Astronaut (Alternate) for Space Shuttle mission MSL-1 (STS-83, April 4 - 8, 1997) and the reflight of this mission (STS-94, July 1 - 16, 1997).

Professor Ronney has extensive research experience in small-scale combustion and power generation, turbulent combustion, flame ignition by transient plasma discharges, micro-scale combustion, bioengineering (robotic insect propulsion), edge flames, flame propagation in confined geometries (Hele-Shaw cells), internal combustion engines, premixed-gas combustion at microgravity and flame spread over solid fuel beds. One of his experiments, a study of premixed-gas flames at low gravity, flew on three Space Shuttle missions.

Prof. Ronney has published over 80 technical papers in peer-reviewed journals, made over 250 technical presentations (including over 35 invited presentations at international conferences), holds 7 U.S. patents, and has received over $12 million in funding for his research projects. In recognition of his achievements, he is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Combustion Institute, an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. He has received the Distinguished Paper Award from the Combustion Institute (for a work published in the Proceedings of the Combustion Institute, Vol. 37) and the Starley Premium Award of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (for the best paper of the year published in the Journal of Automobile Engineering.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021
3:30 PM
Seaver Science Library, Room 202 (SSL 202)
The Zoom webinar is at

host: Plucinsky