by Karen Herland - this article originally appeared in the Concordia Journal
This year's Governor General Gold Medal goes to PhD recipient Ramin
Motamedi. His extraordinary work in the Department of Mechanical and
Industrial Engineering put him at the head -- not just of his class -- but
of all Concordia graduate students at this fall's convocation.
Every year, the Office of Graduate Studies circulates the names of
about 80 graduate students whose dissertations were deemed excellent or
outstanding. Each Faculty determines which two of their eligible
students should be selected and a committee of representatives from all
four Faculties makes the final choice.
"When I saw he was on
the list of eligible students, I wanted to recommend him because of both
the completeness of his thesis, and the usefulness of this research,"
says Motamedi's supervisor, Associate Professor Paula Wood-Adams.
Motamedi's research project, Microcantilever-based Rheology of Liquids,
developed a methodology to determine properties of minute amounts of
higher viscosity fluids. Motamedi took five years to complete his
research, which required major modifications to the atomic force
microscope (AFM) in Wood-Adams's Laboratory for the Physics of Advanced
His research has just recently been published in
the Journal of Rheology
. Wood-Adams is sure that his methodology
will have wide applications, especially where the liquid to be analyzed
is only available in minute amounts. For instance, with biological
fluids. By developing a systematic and extensive set of data on such
fluids, researchers might be able to synthetically produce biological
liquids for use in medical interventions.
The AFM is
essentially a blind microscope. While most microscopes use lenses and
magnification to capture images, the AFM allows researchers to analyze
the exterior of any material, natural or synthetic, through virtual
touch. The AFM's tiny sensors tap the material and relay information on
how hard, elastic, smooth or reactive its surface might be under various
Motamedi's challenge was that liquids don't
really have surfaces.
He describes the research project that
Wood-Adams proposed as the most intriguing among the ones he was
presented when applying to doctoral programs in Canada. Wood-Adams had
seen similar research dealing with gases, but no one had attempted to
work with liquids more viscous than water.
His system modified
the AFM to actually plunge the sensor into the liquid, measuring its
properties while moving through, instead of resting on, the material.
Motamedi, whose background is in fluid mechanics, had to figure
out how to adapt the equipment, purchased with Canadian Foundation for
Innovation funds shortly before he started his research, for studying
liquids. His entire project was really a matter of perseverance.
"It was so difficult at the beginning," recalls Wood-Adams. "The system
was hard to modify and it took a lot of courage."
assess the movements of the sensor in the liquid, Motamedi also had to
become proficient at solid mechanics, a field in which he had limited
experience during his previous academic work. He also studied rheology, a
science that deals with the reactions of complex materials when force
is applied. "Think of a tube of toothpaste; it's solid, and becomes
liquid when you apply pressure," explains Motamedi. He also developed
ways to collect and measure data with his modified equipment, and to
learn more about data processing.
Wood-Adams is impressed with
the breadth of Motamedi's research. "People who are good in one area
are generally are not very good at the other."
his multi-faceted approach in stride, "it is not very easy to find a
subject that deals with only one science," he says. "You have to combine
them, which means learning another field."
To accept his medal, he flew in from Calgary, where he's already
using his newly acquired knowledge of reology in the oil industry.
Potential drill sites are flushed out using mud, heavy enough to clear
out smaller rocks and other debris. Motamedi's expertise helps determine
how that process should occur, examining the properties of the mud and
the force required, and the most efficient way to get the desired
result. Although Calgary is colder than Montreal, and a great deal
colder than the Iran of his childhood, using his knowledge to bring
about practical change in industry is exactly where he wants to be.