Master's Chemical Engineering
Doctoral research at work: The secret of a longer life for knees
By Meredith Dault
Though she admits interdisciplinary work can be challenging, graduate student Hala Fam says it was the best way for her to do her research. "I think certain projects can be complex," she says thoughtfully over coffee at the Grad Club on campus, "and they require expertise from different disciplines in order to advance the project."
That's why the poised PhD student is currently working with both the chemical and mechanical engineering departments at Queen's as she studies rheology -- or the flow properties of materials and tribology, friction and wear of bearing systems.
More specifically, Fam is concerned with how different synthetic lubricants affect the lifespan of artificial knee joints. By investigating the effects of lubrication on friction, Fam says she hopes to improve the longevity of knee replacements -- and in doing so, improve patients' lives. She is able to draw on the expertise of both her supervisors -- one from each discipline -- to advance her research.
Fam's work is based at the Human Mobility Research Centre, a hub for interdisciplinary research. A partnership between Queen's and the Kingston General Hospital, the centre provides a base for researchers from disciplines like medicine, engineering and computer science to work collaboratively towards help people live more mobile lives. "It's really exciting to see interdisciplinary work in action," says Fam.
Though Fam, who has an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto, first came to Kingston for family reasons, she says having a great university in town was a draw. "I had the option of going into industry or back into academics," she remembers with a laugh,"and I chose academics because of Queen's."
She earned her Master's degree in mechanical engineering in 2004, then embarked on her PhD the following year, taking some time off near the beginning after the birth of her daughter. Since then, Fam has been busy balancing her research and family life along with a slew of extracurricular projects -- including helping to establish both the Queen's branch of UNICEF Canada and the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association.
During her studies at Queen's, Fam earned three external graduate scholarships and her research contributions include several first author journal publications and conference proceedings. As for the future, Fam says that right now, it's wide open.
"There are so many options," she says with a smile. "With research experience you can work in industry, in academia... I haven't decided yet what I am going to do." But with the end of her degree firmly in sight, Fam can say one thing for certain: "it feels great." As challenging as her interdisciplinary research has been, Fam says her time at Queen's as also been exciting. She then pauses briefly searching for the perfect word to describe her experience: "It's been rewarding," she says with a smile, "very rewarding."
Update - July 2010: Fam recently received the prestigious NSERC postdoctoral fellowship. "I am so humbled yet excited about this award" says Fam. It is also a testimony to Queen's grad studies, since only two applicants from Queen's received it this year. Fam is also holding the scholarship at Queen's. Congratulations Hala!