15th Da Vinci Competition 2020 Winner

Pedro M. de Oliveira

(University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering, UK)

"Ignition and propagation mechanisms of spray flames"

Pedro M. de Oliveira - winner of
15th Da Vinci Competition 2020


  • Which year did you win? What was the topic of your PhD thesis?

I was awarded the da Vinci Medal of 2020 for my work on two-phase reacting flows. In the thesis, I explore how small-scale flow phenomena driven by fuel droplets affect the “birth” of a flame.

This problem is characteristic of aeroengines and cryogenic rocket engines, for example, and involves a series of interdependent phenomena such as atomisation, droplet evaporation and mixing under turbulent conditions, and, most importantly, their interaction with a hot plasma generated by the spark. In aeroengine gas turbines, these phenomena control the process known as high-altitude relight of the engine. Any small changes to the physicochemical properties of the fuel arising from the use of alternative renewable fuels, for example, might greatly impact the flame behaviour in the combustor, if compared to kerosene – the fuel on which the aviation industry built its know-how over the last 50 years.

  • What did winning mean to you? What impact did the award have on/will have on your career?

It meant a great deal. All works presented in the competition were of the highest calibre; the prize committee and the audience posed challenging reflections to the speakers, which made the event very stimulating. Winning the da Vinci Medal caught me by surprise, as I considered that being amongst the five finalists to present at such a notable event was already one of the highlights of my career. The prize is the most prestigious award in fluid mechanics in Europe given to a young researcher, so I was honoured, of course, and excited that my work “sparked” interest in the ERCOFTAC community.

Naturally, such a prize opens many doors which are key at this stage. For that, I am grateful to the prize committee chaired by Professor Hickel and to the local UK Pilot Center committee, chaired at the time by Professor Leschziner, that first nominated my work to compete for this award out of the UK’s Osborne Reynolds Day. Thinking back, one of the great things that followed the award was the encouragement I received from colleagues, especially those who were instrumental for the development of the research. They motivated me keep working with my own approach to science, with attention to detail and focus on long-term goals. Since winning the award, they have been most supportive of my endeavours.

  • What advice would you give to this year’s winner?

Whoever wins the 2021 prize, it is unlikely they will need any advice from me as they have already achieved so much! Just my sincere congratulations and wishes that this prize brings motivation in times of scepticism in science, and encouragement to carry on with their excellent research. They will be following in the footsteps of previous laureates since 2006, who are now successful academics in leading institutions pursuing unique and exciting research topics in all fields of fluid mechanics, from interactions between flow and microorganisms to modelling of geophysical flows. Becoming part of this group is a remarkable achievement.



A video of the thesis can be accessed at:





Due to Covid-19 pandemic the 15th Da Vinci competition final took place on the 22nd April 2021 during ERCOFTAC Spring Festival 2021 as an online Zoom meeting.

Date: ERCOFTAC Spring Festival 2021, 22nd - 23rd April 2021
Hosted by PC United Kingdom: University of Cambridge, Online Zoom meeting