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Behind the air curtain

20 September 2017
Air curtain to cease smoke flow without physical barriers

Leah Cooke’s industry internship in fire protection led her to a thesis that could have implications for building design and fire egress.

Leah Cooke’ industry internship in fire protection led her to a thesis that could have implications for building design and fire egress

Like many undergraduate engineering students, Leah Cooke used her industry internship as an opportunity to apply her knowledge and skills in a real-world environment, not realising that it would also lay the foundation for her honours thesis.

“I knew that I wanted to do my thesis in fluid mechanics after my summer internship in fire protection,” she said.

“I’m analysing different fluid flows specifically in a fire scenario. Mechanical engineering has quite a large focus on fluid mechanics in different applications, so by analysing it in this context I’m able to use pre-existing mathematical models.”

Leah’s focus is the air curtain, a unique device that uses a jet of air to prevent smoke flow rather than relying on a physical barricade.

“An air curtain doesn’t require a physical barrier to stop the smoke flow through different regions, meaning that people can escape a fire unobstructed instead of stopping at a doorway or reaching a complete blockage,” she said.

“The air curtain doesn’t destabilise when people pass through, which means that it still effectively stops smoke flow, reducing the time people spend in smoke filled areas.”

Leah hopes the air curtain could have significant implications for fire safety, especially in Sydney’s ever-growing collection of apartment buildings.

“It would be most effective in either tunnels or corridors or in doorways, where there is a clear opening which can feasibly be protected,” she added.

“This allows a safer place for people to queue while waiting to enter fire stairs or allow them to exit a tunnel before they are affected by the smoke.”