March 13, 2014

Bringing materials research to University of Qatar

Engineering professor seconded as Petroleum Research Chair in Materials

Tahir Khan is getting used to all the roundabouts, the intense heat as well as teaching men and women in separate classes—all part of his experience as Petroleum Research Chair in Materials at the University of Qatar.

Khan, aprofessor of materials engineering in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, is on a three year secondment to the university in Doha. He's helping to set up research in nanostructured materials—new, advanced materials with unique physical and mechanical properties that require specific fabrication and joining processes.

"I have been awarded some funds to initiate materials research with some students," he says. He's also working on setting up projects between industry and the university and "inviting industrial managers to talk about the problems faced in the local oil and gas industry in Qatar."

No "sudden changes"
Classes, staff meetings and research discussions at the university are a familiar routine for Khan, but: "This is where the similarities end." For one thing, the work day is much shorter in Doha, with the office staff clearing out by 2 p.m. A colleague explained: "'Here in Qatar we want you to enjoy more time with your family than work,'" Khan says. "I could relate with this and was not going to insist on sudden changes!"

During the summer, he avoids the intense heat and humidity outside: "I find myself rushing between air conditioned rooms and buildings." And he's getting used to getting around Doha, a city of about a million that uses roundabouts instead of street names as markers. "To get to the university, I pass eight roundabouts, or R/A's, and they have interesting, unofficial names such as the Burger King R/A or the sports R/A."

Segregated classes
Another new experience is teaching segregated classes. "I have had an 'all boys' class in one semester and an 'all girls' class in the next semester," says Khan. "Interestingly, the number of female students taking engineering is double the size compared to boys."

When his secondment ends in January, 2015, Khan will head back to Calgary with much more than an expert ability at navigating roundabouts: "I have had the chance to talk about the learning experiences that students get at Canadian universities," he says. "And I have several Qatari students wishing to take up postgraduate study at the University of Calgary."