Josiah D. Knight


Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Josiah Knight, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is Co-Director of the Energy and Environment Certificate, a program that prepares students to confront complex problems in providing safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy. The curriculum brings together students from arts and sciences as well as engineering in a series of courses spanning natural science, social science and technology, culminating in a capstone course in which multidisciplinary teams design, build, test and evaluate energy system prototypes. In the process, students learn to communicate across a spectrum of backgrounds and interests, as they must do to address energy problems in the larger world.

Knight's current research interests are in solar thermal energy and alternate propulsion methods for ground transportation. Solar thermal energy, in addition to direct uses for space, water and industrial heating, has been shown to be an efficient means of electricity generation. Much progress has been made in recent years on fault-tolerant solar thermal collectors, and integration of such systems with distributed power generation is a promising path toward low-carbon electricity.

Alternatives to the gasoline and diesel internal combustion engine have potential to expand the range of fuels that can be efficiently used for transportation and stationary power. A major issue in the development of biofuels for ICEs is that much of the heating value of the biomass is consumed in transforming the solids to liquid fuels. Burning solid biomass directly delivers greater net energy, but must be done in external combustion. Activity in this area is presently focused on optimizing performance of external combustion engines by using adaptive intake and exhaust porting and closed-loop valve control. The area is rich in both applied and basic questions that couple thermodynamics and electro-mechanical dynamics in nonlinear regimes.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
  • Faculty Network Member of The Energy Initiative

Contact Information

  • Office Location: 175 Hudson Hall, Box 90300, Durham, NC 27708
  • Office Phone: (919) 660-5337
  • Email Address:


  • Ph.D. University of Virginia, 1986
  • M.S. University of Virginia, 1982
  • B.S. University of Virginia, 1980

Research Interests

Fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and dynamics

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • P.M. Ku Award. Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. 2005

Courses Taught

  • EGR 95FS: First Year seminar in Focus
  • EGR 424L: Energy and Environment Design
  • ENERGY 395-1: Connections in Energy: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • ENERGY 396: Connections in Energy: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • ENERGY 795-1: Connections in Energy: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • ENERGY 796: Connections in Energy: Interdisciplinary Team Projects
  • ENRGYEGR 490: Special Topics in Energy Engineering
  • ME 331L: Thermodynamics
  • ME 461: Energy Engineering and the Environment
  • ME 490: Special Topics in Mechanical Engineering

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Plaut, RH; Virgin, LN; Knight, JD, Predicting critical speeds in various rotordynamics problems, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part C: Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, vol 231 no. 21 (2017), pp. 3913-3922 [10.1177/0954406216659680] [abs].
  • Knight, JD; Virgin, LN; Plaut, RH, Predicting Critical Speeds in Rotordynamics: A New Method, Journal of Physics: Conference Series, vol 744 no. 1 (2016) [10.1088/1742-6596/744/1/012155] [abs].
  • Virgin, LN; Knight, JD; Plaut, RH, A New Method for Predicting Critical Speeds in Rotordynamics, Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power, vol 138 no. 2 (2016) [10.1115/1.4031308] [abs].
  • Jr, RDDB; Jenkins, DH; Karakash, JT; Knight, J; Mccreery, LR; Nemestothy, KP, Wood Energy: The Dangers of Combustion Response, Science (New York, N.Y.), vol 324 no. 5933 (2009), pp. 1390-1391 [10.1126/science.324_1390b] [abs].
  • Richter, DD; Jenkins, DH; Karakash, JT; Knight, J; McCreery, LR; Nemestothy, KP, Resource policy. Wood energy in America., Science (New York, N.Y.), vol 323 no. 5920 (2009), pp. 1432-1433 [10.1126/science.1166214] [abs].