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Moving past Qatar’s carbon economy

Mechanical and industrial engineering researchers at Northeastern University have been awarded three, three-year grants totaling $785,000 from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

According to its website, the nonprofit organization aims to support Qatar on its journey from a carbon economy to a modern knowledge-based economy.

Hamid Nayeb-Hashemi and Ashkan Vaziri, a professor and assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, will collaborate with researchers at Qatar University and American University in Cairo on three different projects, all of which align with Northeastern’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security and sustainability.

“These projects address the general areas of suitability and health and build upon our ongoing collaboration with Qatar University,” said Vaziri, the director and principal investigator of Northeastern’s High Performance Materials and Structures Laboratory, whose researchers study the mechanical behavior and performance of materials and structures from nanowires and living cells to ships and buildings. “They provide unique opportunities for our graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to get involved in multinational and interdisciplinary research,” he added.

For one project, the researchers will aim to develop a better understanding of knee biomechanics in order to aid physicians in prescribing individualized exercise routines for obese patients suffering from knee injuries and osteoarthritis. Obesity is a leading health concern in the Arab state, with as many at 88 percent of 30-to 60-year-olds suffering from the medical condition.

Vaziri and Nayeb-Hashemi will utilize MRI technology and camera-based devices to acquire detailed images of joints and monitor the kinematics of knee movement in a contingent of patients. Then the researchers will combine those images with complex computational models to assess the level of stress that day-to-day activities place on knee cartilage.

“We’re trying to come up with patient-specific programs for obese people to lose weight without developing arthritis or damaging knees and joints,” Vaziri said.

The goal of a second project is to create the next generation of liquefied natural gas storage tanks using lightweight and cost-effective composite materials.  A prototype will be completed within the next three years.

The idea originated in Vaziri’s lab while he was designing low-density composite lattices for a project supported by the United States Air Force and Northeastern’s Aware­ness and Local­iza­tion of Explosives-​​Related Threats (ALERT) Center.

Vaziri highlighted the importance of the project, noting that Qatar’s revenues from oil resources and natural gas — the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel and the fastest growing primary energy source — drive the country’s economy.

Developing lightweight high-performance composite materials is also the focus of a third project in which researchers will investigate the mechanical properties of date palms, a medium-size plant with a ubiquitous presence in the Middle East.

Vaziri noted the plant’s potential use in tennis rackets or even airplanes, saying, “Date palms have the mechanical properties of glass fiber but with significantly less environmental impact.”

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