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Researcher Spotlight: Thomas Cubaud, Ph.D.

Associate Professor Thomas Cubaud, Ph D., joined Stony Brook’s Mechanical Engineering Department in 2007 after working as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the University of California. He is interested in the development and the application of methods to produce and control interfaces at the microscale. Here’s a Q&A with Professor Cubaud.

What interested you in joining the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook? 

I was interested in joining Stony Brook as it is a strong academic institution, which belongs to the prestigious Association of American Universities, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering has a long legacy of excellent education and innovative research. In addition, the location of Stony Brook on the Long Island shore near NYC and the quality standards of the State University of New York in terms of public education were a big plus.

In what area is your research focused?

My research areas include fluid dynamics and miniaturization. I am particularly interested in multiphase flows and hydrodynamic instabilities at the small-scale. In general, the field of microfluidics deals with the manipulation of minute amounts of fluids and offers many opportunities for innovative technological developments and new scientific inquiries. For instance, my research group examines the formation and evolution of bubbles, droplets, threads, jets, and stratifications for a wide range of fluid and flow conditions.

Thomas Cubaud 

Figure caption: Transition from droplet to wave regimes in liquid/liquid multiphase flow in microfluidic systems

What initially interested you in your type of research?

Fluids are everywhere around us, yet many aspects of their behavior remain mysterious. While flows are dominated by inertia and gravity at the large scale, viscous forces and surface tension play a central role at the small scale and new methods are needed for the precise manipulation of liquid and gas in miniature systems.

What are some practical applications for your area of research?

My research centers on the development of techniques for the microflow management of thick and thin fluids in microfluidic platforms. Examples of applications include advanced control of emulsification and mixing processes with high-viscosity fluids, such as oils and polymers, and improvement of chemical reactions. The possibility to mix, separate, and enrich viscous multiphase fluids in miniaturized systems is important for the formation of new materials with tailored properties and has a range of applications in medicine and biochemistry as well as in the petroleum and power generation industry.

What was your experience like as the Undergraduate Program Director?

Well, I like to think that stony brooks make large rivers, so to speak, and it’s a rewarding experience to see the ingenuity of our students throughout their academic career. The Undergraduate Program Director typically ensures a good adequacy between students and the various steps needed to complete the path to graduation. In addition to helping students figuring out their recommended course sequence and making sense out of our academic requirements, I also find it interesting to work with our team of experienced educators and administrators across campus to constantly improve students’ experience and success as they develop solid foundations for their career in mechanical engineering and beyond.

What courses are you teaching right now? What is your favorite part about teaching?

I currently teach the undergraduate laboratory course in thermal sciences and fluid mechanics. In the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stony Brook, we have leveraged a comprehensive series of experiments in the thermal/fluid area to cover all basic aspects of heat transfer and convective transport phenomena, from the flow of liquid and gas in various ducts to the conduction and radiation of thermal energy. I enjoy teaching experimental laboratory classes as this is the place where theoretical concepts meet physical reality, which helps better understand one another. Students are taught to effectively measure a range of mechanical and thermal properties using both classic and modern instrumentation so they can learn to acquire and interpret data and therefore become independent scientists and engineers.

What career advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming a Mechanical Engineer?

I would recommend students to learn to be students, in the sense that the universe is vast and full of unknowns and the better you prepare yourself and keep an open mind, the better you’ll be equipped to face challenges and succeed. It is indeed difficult to develop a passion or a talent for something that we don’t know yet, our curriculum in mechanical engineering, however, offers a broad range of options for specializations in design and robotics, solid mechanics, fluid dynamics, and energy sciences so students can develop new levels of understanding and appreciation and take on new exciting professional projects.

What is one of your proudest professional moments?

The most satisfying moments for me are when after working on something for a long time, I finally observe the intended result with an added value that wasn’t expected at the beginning. This could be in the context of an exploratory experiment where a new phenomenon reveals itself, during the analysis or modeling of experimental data with the development of new perspectives, or during the programming of computer routines with the appearance of new functionalities. In general, I guess I can say I’m proud when I plunge into the unknown and come back with some new knowledge or, more prosaically, when I make progress in my research. Sometimes, the discoveries of some are well-known facts for others. At other times, new findings are universal discoveries for all of us. In this case, we can all be proud of those who make good use of the human mind.

What do you enjoy doing the most in your free time? Are there any “fun facts” about yourself that you’d like to share?

I like to spend time with family and friends, listen and play a little music, read a book or two, and watch a good movie here and there. I also enjoy kayaking and observing wildlife on the Long Island Sound.