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High Bay Research Facility: International Effort

September 5, 2017

By Micaela Myers

The High Bay Research Facility is brand new and packed with state-of-the-art equipment, but its most important asset is the people who work within its walls. It takes a talented team of researchers—faculty members, research scientists, and graduate and undergraduate students—to move the science forward.

“This facility, no doubt, will play a major role in helping us attract talent at the university,” says Mohammad Piri, the Thomas and Shelley Botts Endowed Chair in Unconventional Reservoirs in the College of Engineering and Applied Science and a professor in the School of Energy Resources. “We would like to be able to attract top talent from around the world. With the high-caliber talent, we can take the research to a new level.”

Piri’s Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media at the High Bay Research Facility is already attracting such talent from across the globe. The team of approximately 40 includes students and scientists from the United States, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“The instruments that we have in this facility, plus the talented people who are willing to work together, will make everything possible,” says Maziar Arshadi, a doctoral student from Tehran, Iran.

Here, meet five of the students and scientists working in the new High Bay Research Facility.

Maziar Arshadi, doctoral student, Tehran, Iran

Although Arshadi was accepted into Ph.D. programs in several countries, he chose UW for the chance to work on Piri’s team. He wanted to be part of a large team working with a collection of state-of-the-art equipment not assembled anywhere else—a team studying how to better extract oil and gas from unconventional reservoirs, where much of it is currently left stranded.

“The High Bay Research Facility is a place that gathers researchers to look at the problem from different angles, because we are using the best imaging technology to map the in-situ movement of fluids in the rock,” he says. “That is the most complicated phenomena that controls the production.”

At the High Bay Research Facility, researchers from around the world are invited to collaborate.

“Our team is unique,” Arshadi says. “We come from different countries with different cultures and different backgrounds to solve an issue. I see it as a group of friends with a common goal. Of course, everyone is taking care of their own projects and research. All these pieces of the puzzle, if you put them next to each other, they are solving a bigger problem. It is a great feeling when you work with different people from all around the world to solve a problem. It’s not just about the scientific part of it—it’s about collaboration.”

Arshadi finishes his Ph.D. this fall but plans to stay on for postdoctoral studies. Eventually he hopes to be a professor like his mentor Piri.

Opeoluwa Olawale, doctoral student, Lagos, Nigeria

woman in lab coat and gloves sitting in lab
Opeoluwa Olawale came to UW for the chance to study at the world-class High Bay Research Facility with Professor Mohammad Piri.

“My research interest in porous media and the world-class facility at UW with the Piri Research Group brought me here,” says Olawale, who came to Laramie after completing her master’s degree in petroleum engineering at Imperial College London.

“The sense of working as a part of something ‘grand’ is incredible,” Olawale says, citing the center’s unparalleled focus on porous media applications, experimentations and modelling at all scales, enabling real-life-relevant studies. “The research opportunities available also exemplify the amount of hard work and culture of excellence that continue to attract a top-notch portfolio of companies and organizations that are interested in environmentally safe and cost-effective means of meeting world energy needs in the likes of Hess, Encana, Saudi Aramco, Halliburton and even the U.S. Department of Energy.”

She is finding her doctoral education exceptional and appreciates the team spirit and fast pace of the research group.

“The level of diversity and international outlook in our group is outstanding,” Olawale says. Daily, she is able to interact with people from around the world.

Olawale has high hopes for the future. After completing her Ph.D. at UW, she hopes to become a CEO of a fast-growing and sustainable energy company by championing, managing and directing renowned carbon-footprint-reduction projects in Africa and beyond. “I believe energy should be available for all,” she says. “And I strongly understand the place of research for better optimized processes, not only in the petroleum industry, but also in all forms of energy.”

Evan Lowry, research scientist, Cheyenne, Wyo.

man sitting at computer in lab
After growing up in Cheyenne, Evan Lowry completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UW and now works as a research scientist.

Lowry grew up in Cheyenne and chose to attend UW for his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. He then stayed on for a master’s in chemical engineering, conducting research with petroleum engineering Associate Professor Lamia Goual, who recommended Piri’s research group to Lowry.

His team at the center focuses on nanoscale imaging and nanoscale characterization of shale resources.

“I think one of the greatest things about this new facility is the capacity,” Lowry says. “We can streamline the research and end up being able to discover a lot more in a short amount of time.

“I think that the High Bay is uniquely positioned to help propel the state and the university to a Tier-1 institution,” Lowry continues. “We have some of the world’s first at this facility in terms of instrumentation and research. I think by helping UW stand out in this way, we can help the university distinguish itself in the nation.”

He also appreciates the international team, where people from all walks of life come together in collaboration. Currently a research scientist, Lowry enjoys the position and is excited about the research opportunities that lie ahead. 

Peyruz Gasimov, doctoral student, Baku, Azerbaijan

After receiving his undergraduate degree at Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, Gasimov was drawn to UW by the research and instrumentation. Many reservoirs contain fractures, and his particular research interest is transport within fractures.

“This research can have implications not just for petroleum engineering but also in aquifer remediation, in hydrology and in CO2 sequestration,” he says. Once reservoirs have oil extracted, the practice is to refill them with something so the pressure is not depleted. This is often CO2, which kills two birds with one stone—or, as they say in Azerbaijan, two rabbits with one shot. Gasimov’s research will lead to additional understanding of how the CO2 will behave once sequestered in these reservoirs.

“I think this facility truly has the potential to put UW to the top of the list of universities pursuing studies in transport in porous media,” Gasimov says of the High Bay Research Facility. What makes it a standout is the combination of instruments and people, he says. Rather than create conflicts, he says the diversity of the team brings new approaches, and he appreciates always having colleagues to discuss ideas with and seek advice from.

Gasimov is looking forward to continuing his research into transport in fractures, an area that is not well studied.

Samuel Afari, doctoral student, Accra, Ghana

man standing beside and using large piece of lab equipment
Samuel Afari was drawn to UW for its reputation in petroleum engineering and believes the research being conducted at UW carries positive implications for future energy security worldwide.

Afari earned his master’s degree in petroleum engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Institute of Petroleum Engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland, before returning to Ghana to teach. In the fall of 2016, he moved to Laramie to pursue his Ph.D. as part of Piri’s team.

“With UW’s reputation in petroleum engineering and with its state-of-the-art facilities for experimental research in the subject area, there was no better place to realize my ambitions,” he says.

Afari’s research focuses on atomic-scale interactions in enhanced hydrocarbon recovery processes. “Visible phenomena at the macroscopic scale are a function of what happens at the atomic scale,” he says. “Likewise, to understand why we are only able to produce this much hydrocarbon and leave that much trapped in a reservoir, we need to understand the atomic-scale interactions between elements in the reservoir.”

Afari says that the research taking place at the High Bay Research Facility carries positive implications for future energy security worldwide.

“This work is the first of its kind in the oil and gas industry,” he says. “With UW at the forefront of this cutting-edge research, the implications on the university’s reputation and subsequent economic benefits cannot be underestimated.”

Afari appreciates working in such a dynamic group and says he has not met a greater teacher and mentor than Piri.

“The teamwork here is excellent, and I have learned a lot from the diverse cultures and experiences in the group,” Afari says. “This is a place where you don’t get stuck with a problem for too long—there is always someone willing to help. The level of motivation, creativity and problem-solving ability in the team is very high. Coming to UW has been one of the best decisions I have made.”

To learn more about the talented team at the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media, visit coifpm.com/members.


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