Student researcher demonstrates value of perseverance

Applying knowledge in new ways leads us down the path toward more discoveries. This next blog post highlights one of our promising young researchers. A PhD student at the time of his discovery, and now a sessional instructor at Ryerson, Ali Kamel Al jibouri has been passionate about the environment since childhood. He tells how persistence and perseverance in his research paid off in creating a new method of reclaiming industrial wastewater.

-Usha George, interim vice-president, research and innovation.

Q: Tell us about your interest in reclaiming industrial wastewater. What sparked your passion for this environmental cause?

My interest in reclaiming industrial wastewater began when I was a kid. I was a fan of the Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki. He was a major influence on my now perpetual interest in the issue of industrial wastewater treatment. Guided by the inspiration that Suzuki provided, I enrolled in a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering at the University of Baghdad- Iraq. My first chance to work in the industrial wastewater field started when the Ministry of Environment approached the university with a problem they could not solve: high levels of chloride and sulfate ion concentrations being discharged into the Tigris River from an industrial plant. I was enlisted to head up the investigation. I led a team that designed, manufactured, and installed electrodes to control the addition of oxidizing and reducing agents in the industrial electroplating wastewater treatment plant. We were able to reduce the concentrations of chloride and sulfate ions in the effluent to permissible levels.

This was my first experience with the thrill of having an outcome that had a significant impact on the environment. It was also the first time I understood the role that a researcher plays in the community of experts working to solve environmental issues.

When I began my PhD studies at Ryerson, it was natural for me to pursue my interest in industrial wastewater. My passion for the issue was consistent with the priorities of my new academic home. At Ryerson, research is driven by a commitment to discovering innovative solutions to pressing problems.

Q: Can you tell us about the moment of discovery when you realized your process was sound and you achieved the intended results?

Guided by my supervisor, Dr. Jianging Wu, and the chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Dr. Simant Upreti, I undertook a line of inquiry that had never been pursued: the development of a novel optimal control of a continuous advanced oxidation process to minimize its operating cost. This kind of research has none of the “aha” moments that dominate popular imagination. Instead, it involves grinding it out, day after day, until you discover the appropriate kinetic parameters, modeling, simulation and optimal control.

We realized the impact of our findings when Environment Canada contacted us and told us that they decided to feature our process in the national technology matrix for the treatment of oil sands wastewaters. Environment Canada has also showed an interest in applying our technology to several controlled sites across Canada where non-biodegradable pollutants need to be treated. This outcome is what every researcher hopes for: the discovery of a novel and useful solution to a major problem that gets picked up by leaders in the field.

Q: Your research will have the potential to have great environmental impact. Can you talk about how you see your role as a researcher in effecting change in the world?

When I first became a researcher, I didn’t fully appreciate that my work was much more than something I was interested in pursuing. Now I have a deeper understanding that environmental challenges can be overcome when researchers and leaders help each other achieve and implement novel solutions. Innovation is a shared process. From David Suzuki to government agencies, and Ryerson University, we are all engaged in a joint initiative to address these environmental issues.