Fire testing may have started some 2.5 million years ago when one of our ancestors stuck his hand into the first flame and “scientifically” determined that the temperature was too hot to bear. Since that primitive beginning, humans have been on an unending quest to understand, measure and exploit the behavior of fire—and most importantly, to improve our ability to protect life and property from its ravages. Fire testing at NIST, a staple of the agency’s research since the early 1900s, has helped provide much of the data, insights and knowledge demanded by that pursuit. Research has run covered everything from fire safety engineering and fire fighting to fire investigation and fire testing to fire data management and intentional burning.
“In experimental fire research, some of the most compelling data you can get is the visual data from video and photography,” says Matt Hoehler, a research structural engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “So we’re always trying to get closer to the fire.”
With a prototype camera system developed by Hoehler and his colleagues at NIST’s National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL), he has succeeded not just in getting close to a fire, but inside it. So far, the system has captured mesmerizing 360-degree video from a burning room, a mock-up of a museum collection storage room, a kitchen fire and, most recently, a forest fire. The footage allows a viewer to immerse themselves in the scene and shift their gaze in any direction to look at different aspects of the fire.
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