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The Dover Math and Science Newsletter
Engaging. Interactive. Informative.
September 21, 2011
Welcome | New Releases in Math and Science | Spotlight on Engineering | Featured Interview: John Lienhard
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Author Interview: John Lienhard
John H. Lienhard, V is the Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. During more than 23 years on the MIT faculty, Lienhard's research and educational efforts have focused on heat transfer, desalination, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and instrumentation. He has also filled a number of administrative roles at MIT. Lienhard received his bachelors and masters degrees in thermal engineering at UCLA from the Chemical, Nuclear, and Thermal Engineering Department, where he worked on thermal instabilities in solar collectors and evaporating meniscus measurements for desalination systems. He joined MIT immediately after completing his PhD in the Applied Mechanics and Engineering Science Department at UC San Diego, where he did experimental work on thermally stratified turbulent flows. Since coming to MIT, Lienhard has worked on liquid jet impingement, buoyant instabilities, high heat flux engineering, electronics thermal management, glass fiber formation, and thermally-driven desalination processes. He has been the Director of the Rohsenow Kendall Heat Transfer Laboratory since 1997, and he is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He serves on the editorial boards of several international journals, including the International Journal of Thermal Sciences, Acta Mechanica, Desalination and Water Treatment, Experimental Heat Transfer, and Frontiers in Heat and Mass Transfer. Lienhard is the co-author of textbooks on heat transfer and on measurement and instrumentation. He has created new courses on desalination, on thermal modeling, and on compressible fluid mechanics. He has also received several awards at MIT for his teaching. At MIT, Lienhard has served as Associate Head of the ME department, Undergraduate Officer, Head of the Fluids, Energy & Transport Division of ME, and as chair or member of innumerable committees. Professor Lienhard is currently the Director of the Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy at MIT and KFUPM, and he visits the Arabian Gulf often.
Rochelle Kronzek is an engineering acquisitions editor for Dover Publications and recently published Drs, Lienhard and Lienhard's textbook, A Heat Transfer Textbook: Fourth Edition.

Rochelle Kronzek: Greetings, John. I'm delighted that you've agreed to spend some time with me today. I know that you've just come back from an overseas trip. Where were you and what were you doing?
John Lienhard: Thanks, Rochelle. I admit that I'm a bit jetlagged — I was in Korea and then in Australia, which is twelve hours ahead of us – and 30 hours of travel by air. I gave a lecture on our desalination research at KAIST in Daejeon, Korea; and then I went to Perth, Australia for the IDA World Water Congress. My group received a best paper award at the Congress.
Rochelle Kronzek: John, I originally wanted to chat with you regarding your heat transfer textbook but it sounds as though you're very involved with desalination as well. It is one of your main research areas. Please talk a little bit about the area and your recent activities.
John Lienhard: Desalination is the process of creating drinkable water from salty water, such as that found in the ocean. These technologies are increasingly important in the face of growing water scarcity around the globe. Why is scarcity growing? "Scarcity" simply means that the local demand for water, for household use or industry or agriculture, is nearly as large as the available water supply, which is basically the difference between precipitation and evaporation. Demand, on the other hand, rises as population grows or as developing countries move toward more resource intensive lifestyles. We have regions of water scarcity all over the planet – in India, the Southwestern US, the Middle East, Spain, Korea, Australia, and elsewhere. But the problem is most painfully acute in Third World countries. In poorer societies, where there is no water distribution system, the way that most people get their water is with a bucket — primarily by women and children walking several miles to get water, an activity that can take several hours every day.
My group's research is focused on technology for increasing the water supply by desalinating water that would otherwise be unusable. We've made good progress over the past few years, and together with an Indian commercial company, we hope to deploy a very low cost product within two years for use in typical Indian villages, communities of one to two thousand residents.
Rochelle Kronzek: Which countries are leading the way with desalination solutions and with water recycling?
John Lienhard: Singapore has done amazing work on building a system of seawater desalination and wastewater recycling. They have the goal of ending all water importation from nearby Malaysia by 2060. That's ambitious, but I think that they'll do it! Israel has long been a pioneer and a leader in the desalination and reuse of water. The Israeli town of Ashkelon has the world's largest reverse osmosis plant. They produce 330,000 cubic meters (or tons) of water per day, from seawater, and they do so with one of the lowest costs and highest energy efficiencies in the world.
Rochelle Kronzek: We are digressing. Can we go back to the beginning – your beginnings, and talk about your childhood a bit?
John Lienhard: Sure. I was born in Pullman, Washington where I lived until I was five when the family moved to Lexington, Kentucky. I stayed in Lexington through high school. As a child in Washington State, there was a large hydroelectric plant not far from us - the Grand Coolee Dam in Washington State. I learned to draw pictures of the dams, and their penstocks and turbines. After we moved to Lexington Kentucky, I was always curious about how things worked. I would take things apart, and I tinkered around with circuits, sockets, light bulbs, black lights, and the like.
I got involved with computers early on as well. I remember getting in trouble in school when I was in seventh grade – back in 1974 or 1975. As a punishment, my teacher assigned me to write an extremely long sentence of penitence ten thousand times! What did I do? I asked a student at the local university to create a "do-loop" (a Fortran program) on computer cards that printed the sentence ten thousand times. It came out on tractor feed paper, and I submitted it to the teacher the next day!
Rochelle Kronzek: Were any books particularly meaningful to you during high school?
John Lienhard: I enjoyed Voltaire's Candide, and I loved reading Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. In my high school, we had ongoing bomb threats (phoned in quite regularly when certain students had their lunch break…), and we had to evacuate the building whenever this happened. I thought it was a waste of time, and I used to sneak into the school library during the evacuations and sit in the stacks reading the Spoon River Anthology.
Rochelle Kronzek: What are your parents' vocations? Could you describe their influence on you and your siblings growing up?
John Lienhard: My father was and is a mechanical engineering professor. I spent a lot of time while I was growing up running around universities and seeing labs. My mother was a professional violinist who performed in symphonies and taught violin in our living room for many years. So I know the introductory violin curriculum pretty well – the Bach Double and all that.
Rochelle Kronzek: So you ultimately took your dad's path and vocation. Do you have any musical interests?
John Lienhard: Actually both of my parents were very musical. My dad sang in his church's choir and performed in several Gilbert and Sullivan productions – he was Ralph Rackstraw in H.M.S. Pinafore.
Rochelle Kronzek: And what about you?
John Lienhard: I played some guitar and piano. My brother is a professional jazz musician, in addition to his career in IT -- he got all the musical talent. But my son plays the piano, and my wife and daughter play the violin.
My father also had a dual appointment at the University of Houston as a professor of History and as a professor of Mechanical Engineering. He taught the history of technology at the University of Houston and started a long running NPR radio show: Engines of Our Ingenuity. It's a two-and-a-half minute spot on technology and culture that's been running for 20 years (more than 2,500 episodes by now – and four related books). So, we're a well-integrated bunch!
Rochelle Kronzek: So, you were always interested in finding out how things work. Take me from your high school to college years.
John Lienhard: I started college at the age of sixteen and went initially to the University of Kentucky. I was originally thinking of being a math major, but I was more interested in the applied end things and especially in how machines worked, so I moved over from mathematics to engineering. I transferred to UCLA where I did my undergraduate work and received my master's degree in engineering. I was at the top of my class at UCLA. I did my doctoral work at UC San Diego.
Rochelle Kronzek: What are the books and teachers that impacted you most during your years at University?
John Lienhard: The first book that comes to mind is an older book that I'd really like to see Dover bring back into print. It was Thermodynamics, written by Joseph Keenan in the 1940's. Keenan discussed the concept of available work. I applied the concept to beam buckling in my elasticity class at UCLA, and the professor actually had me teach one lecture on the ideas I had put together. Keenan's work was the foundation of what later evolved into exergy analysis, a powerful and now widely used tool for analyzing thermodynamic cycles. He developed a method for determining how much useful work one can produce in from a given system in a given environment.
Rochelle Kronzek: Why is this book important and what would make it still useful to readers today?
John Lienhard: The ideas of available work and exergy -- Keenan's ideas -- are being used to design desalination systems today! But more broadly, Keenan wrote with clarity and insight on many aspects of thermodynamics, with deep insights that in some cases have been simplified out of today's textbooks.
Rochelle Kronzek: Who are the other important historical figures that influenced the development of Heat Transfer?
John Lienhard: There are a number, but let me name just a few of the ones whose work directly or indirectly shaped the field.
(1) Jean Baptiste Fourier was a French mathematician and physicist who had the first correct theory of heat transfer. Fourier actually created the mathematical tools of Fourier Series Analysis so that he could solve problems of heat conduction.
(2) Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot was a French military engineer who in the early years of the 19th century gave the theoretical benchmark for the performance of heat engines (now known as the Carnot cycle), laying the foundation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He defined the limitations of converting heat into mechanical power.
(3) James Watt was an 18th century mechanical engineer whose changes to the steam engine helped to enable the Industrial revolution. What he did was to separate the steam condenser from the rest of the engine, simultaneously improving the engine performance and creating a piece of equipment specifically designed for transferring heat. Engineers are still refining the design of steam condensers today. In addition, the international unit of power, the watt, is named after him – you'll find it on every light bulb.
(4) Ernst Kraft Wilhelm Nusselt developed much of the basic the theory of how heat is transferred in fluids and during condensation during the first part of the 20th century. His theories are taught in every undergraduate heat transfer course in this country. He was, in addition, an avid mountaineer.
Rochelle Kronzek: Have there been any teachers that have influenced your thinking and career?
John Lienhard: I took a graduate course in heat transfer as an undergraduate student at UCLA. The professor was Tony Mills. He taught me a lot about heat transfer and certainly impacting my thinking in the area. I took several additional classes from Tony during my time at UCLA. He himself later wrote an excellent textbook in heat transfer, as well.
Rochelle Kronzek: John, why is heat transfer an important topic? Why have you chosen heat transfer as one of your main research areas?
John Lienhard: Almost every process that involves energy is impacted by heat transfer. Think about it. Early laptops used to get very hot as a result of their electrical power --- some would even catch fire. Cell phones get hot as they are being charged. Car engines burn fuel at very high temperatures inside the engine cylinders. Solar energy conversion is the process of converting the sun's high temperature heat radiation into electrical power. Roughly 85% of the power that we use in this country is created by some burning fuel, and of the fuel energy that is released, something like sixty percent is dumped as waste heat. What is my point? All of these processes involve controlling temperatures --- so that devices perform properly or simply do not melt --- by removing heat at a sufficient rate. Heat Transfer is the art and science of designing systems to remove, or provide, heat at the rates needed to sustain energy conversion processes or to hold temperatures at precisely defined levels.
Rochelle Kronzek: How did you come to be at MIT? Take me from your doctoral studies at UC San Diego forward.
John Lienhard: January 1988 was a very significant month for me. I defended my doctoral dissertation at UC San Diego, I got married, and I began my teaching position at MIT all within the same month! I've been teaching at MIT for almost 24 years now.
Rochelle Kronzek: John, why did you take the time to write A Heat Transfer Textbook with all of the research you are busy with? And four editions yet!
John Lienhard: I wanted to put the important ideas of heat transfer into writing formally. I think that it's an extremely important topic, and I wanted it to be explained clearly, and understood, and appreciated. I have taught the course at MIT for many years. It is a key course for all mechanical engineers. Our textbook was available on-line only for more than ten years. My father and I have updated the book more than thirty times during that period, and the book has been downloaded more than 250,000 times worldwide. I've had correspondence from appreciative students, teachers and practicing engineers from more than 150 countries and all seven continents -- including Antarctica. It is wonderful to inform, educate, and teach students around the world about this very important topic.
Rochelle Kronzek: You and your dad co-authored this book together. Please tell the reader about the experience and who did what?
John Lienhard: My father wrote the first edition – my role in it was terribly minor, the index and some numerical computation. In the second edition, I added a chapter, and in the third and fourth editions, I've been involved in every part of the book. It's been great to work on this together, and to have a joint project that we've developed together over a period of decades.
Rochelle Kronzek: John, which sections of your book would you recommend that our readers take a look at?
John Lienhard: I'd suggest that folks look at (1) Chapter 1, which introduces the basic concepts - Sections 1.1 and 1.2 in particular; (2) Section 10.6, on solar energy which discusses the energy balance of the planet; and (3) maybe also Section 5.6, where we show a Samurai making a sword - folks seem to get very interested in sword tempering!
Rochelle Kronzek: Do you have favorite websites and reading materials, John?
John Lienhard: I read the New York Times in print and online daily, the New Yorker magazine, and I regularly go to Google.
Rochelle Kronzek: How about hobbies and your life outside of the university?
John Lienhard: I practice Ashtanga yoga. I like to spend time with my family at home, and, sometimes, in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Rochelle Kronzek: Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, John.

A Heat Transfer Textbook: Fourth Edition
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Welcome | New Releases in Math and Science | Spotlight on Engineering | Featured Interview: John Lienhard
Puzzle Corner | Free Excerpt: Adaptive Control | The Back In Print Program| | Save 20% on Dover Math and Science Books | Contact Us