Geophysicist and YCEI postdoctoral researcher Christopher MacMinn will join the University of Oxford in October as a University Lecturer in Engineering Science. The appointment comes at an exciting time, as the world looks for economically and environmentally viable ways to store captured CO2, just one potential application for his research into the physics of fluid flows in the earth’s subsurface.
At Yale, Chris has been working jointly with John Wettlaufer and Eric Dufresne on the flow-driven deformation of porous materials, the coupling of this deformation with hydrodynamic instabilities, and the mechanics of wave propagation in soft granular materials. His investigations built on his graduate work at MIT with Ruben Juanes, where he used theoretical models and simple experiments to study the migration and trapping CO2 in the subsurface.
Questions about the feasibility of carbon capture and storage underlie testimony by the heads of the EPA and DOE before congress last week, as well as the long-anticipated proposal limiting CO2 emissions for new coal-fired power plants. While representatives of coal-producing states dispute the economic viability of CCS as a way for the industry to operate under the new rules, MacMinn’s work is aimed at some of the engineering and environmental issues: Can we use traditional seismic technology to monitor how CO2 plumes move through an aquifer? Can we detect leaks, if there are any? Can we use traditional poroelastic theory to model damage to the rock near the injection well?
Chris expects that energy resources will play a big role in his continuing work. But he also foresees how the analytical and experimental techniques he has developed for investigating fluid flows in the earth’s subsurface could be used to study another porous material that interacts with fluids: the human body.
“The fact that your bones are porous and full of fluid plays a big role in how they respond mechanically to things like car accidents. Similarly, concussions happen when your brain, which is porous and full of fluid, crashes against your skull. It’s just like squeezing a sponge. There’s a big response from the fluid in response to the deformation of the solid structure. The skills I’ve been developing could transition quite nicely into some biological applications.”