Assistant Professor with University of Maryland, Michael Gollner

Times they are a changin’, and so is the fire protection industry. We’ve been checking in with engineers and researchers who are at the forefront of innovation and progress in fire protection engineering, and this week we’re highlighting some of the projects and education happening at the University of Maryland (UMD).

Ongoing research

Assistant Professor Michael Gollner, who has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, San Diego, has about three years under his belt at UMD. His introduction to fire protection was an undergraduate internship with Schirmer Engineering (now AON Fire Protection Engineering Corporation) working on warehouse fire safety, which sparked his interest in the field and led to some of his current research interests.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes in the industry has been an overall shift in building materials, like using composite instead of lumber, which Gollner says, “breaks down and loses strength under heat.” Structures that are built to be environmentally sustainable are particularly ripe for fire protection research, and Gollner has joined forces with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Professor Brian Meacham to investigate and address some of the fire risks associated with green buildings.

“In some areas the fire protection industry is playing catch up and in other areas we’re really trying to be at the forefront,” Gollner said. “This is our effort at trying to be ahead of the trend.”

The project is funded by a $1 million grant from Homeland Security, which began in August 2013 and ends in July of this year. Gollner’s role has been primarily focusing on ventilation, and the risks that come with constructing a building with naturally ventilating areas instead of using HVAC systems.

“Natural ventilation means everything is open, which opens yourself up to all sorts of smoke and fire spread,” Gollner said.

Dedicated codes for green and sustainable buildings don’t yet exist, Gollner said, but he is urging Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a green building certification program, to include fire safety measures.


Like we’ve heard from many of the industry folks we’ve featured, Gollner said one of the biggest challenges in recruiting students is simply trying to get the word out about what fire protection engineers do. He wants prospective students to know that fire protection covers a broad spectrum, from designing sprinkler systems to, “some of the cutting-edge research that our faculty are doing.”

Current outreach efforts at UMD include Introduction to Math and Physics through Fire Dynamics, a program for 10th and 11th graders, which exposes high school students to fire protection engineering and how they can use math and science skills to solve real-world problems. Spring 2016 classes are already underway, but for more information check out

Gollner said a lot of young students have preconceived notions about engineering in general—high school kids may look at engineering and think it’s too difficult, or even boring. But in its outreach to potential students, UMD tries to present fire protection engineering in a way that appeals to kids who are interested in science.

“Students may say they always wanted to be aerospace engineers and there’s no science in fire, but actually there is a lot of science in what we do, and we use a lot of very similar methods,” Gollner said. “In our case there are actually a lot of really cool unsolved problems.”

One of those “cool unsolved problems” that UMD students have addressed is the design of a woodstove that is efficient and has low emissions. Stay tuned for a future post about that project and the business that emerged from it.