June 04, 2015, BY Matt Hughes

A partnership between the Brazilian government and Bucknell University is helping send Professor Charles Knisely '75, mechanical engineering, to Brazil on a Fulbright Award.

Since 2011, Bucknell has been a host institution for the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, a Brazilian government program providing one-year scholarships for talented undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields to study abroad at the world's top universities. Knisely's Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award is co-sponsored by the Fulbright Program and Brazil, and is only open to faculty at schools that participate in the scientific mobility program.

He is one of three Bucknell Professors to receive Fulbright awards in spring 2015.

Professor Bill Flack, psychology, will be a Fulbright Scholar at Ulster University's Magee and Coleraine campuses in Northern Ireland during the fall 2015 semester. He will be doing research on violence in dating relationships among university students, and teaching about psychological trauma at the International Conflict Research Institute, is a joint project of Ulster University and the United Nations University.

Professor Doug Hecock, political science, will spend the the 2015–16 academic year in Mexico doing research on the politics of foreign direct investment. Hecock is interested in how local political contexts affect where investment goes in Mexico, including why some investors prefer border states while others seem to privilege states that are further from the U.S. but very well-governed. He will be affiliated with the Center for Economic Research and Training in Mexico City.

Two members of the Class of 2015, Lisa Hubbard and Jared Eister, were also awarded Fulbrights.

Knisely will spend the fall 2015 semester further investigating, in collaboration with Brazilian colleagues, an engineering question he's been asking for 30 years: How does the interaction between flowing water and structural dynamics of gates on rivers cause these gates to vibrate, and sometimes fail?

Knisely said these vibrations have contributed to several dam failures, including a July 1995 incident at Folsom Dam in California. Workers were opening a spillway gate on the dam to maintain flow of the American River when it began to quake. A strut in one arm of the gate failed, causing the 87-ton metal door to swing open, dangling from its support chains in a matter of seconds.

"It was very fortunate it was early in the morning so there were not people out on the river; if there had been, there probably would have been fatalities," Knisely said. "The big thing was that it happened in July, and there were no emergency gates backing up the one that failed, so they lost something like two-thirds of the reservoir of Sacramento for the summer. There was a water shortage."

Professor Charles Knisely '75

Why the Folsom and other dams failed in such a way is a particularly relevant question for Brazil, which is among the top five producers of hydroelectric power and home to Itaipu Dam, the world's second-largest hydroelectric dam by output.

"They also have multiple additional hydropower projects planned and some underway, and there is a lot of discussion in Brazil over the cost they are paying for moving into a technological age," Knisely added. "People will be interested in the research that we're doing."

Knisely hopes to visit several of those dams during his semester in Brazil, though his research is primarily theoretical. He plans to collaborate with colleagues in Brazil, in addition to two longtime research partners in Japan, to develop a computer model to assess  the dynamic stability of hydraulic gates during design.

"We could supply this code to people who design gates to run their first designs through, it will tell them if the design has the potential for dynamic instability," he explained. "If it does, we would advise them about how to fix it, and then run it through the simulation again."

He will also be teaching at the Federal University of Uberlândia in southeastern Brazil, and hopes to reconnect with former students who studied at Bucknell through the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program.

"A large part of what I know about Brazil is through them," he said.