‘Watching Erin Brockovich as a kid, I started considering research as a career’

14 Aug 2019

Dr Deema Almasri, researcher, QEERI. Image: QEERI

Dr Deema Almasri of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute is helping to develop technology to clean water supplies.

Dr Deema Almasri holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University and the Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), Qatar, respectively. She currently works as a research associate at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) water centre – as part of HBKU – on various projects.

She is the author of several publications and provisional patents. In 2017, she was awarded the Women in Science Fellowship Award by CRDF Global which was co-funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

CDRF Global is an independent non-profit that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, training, and services.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I did not really have a ‘eureka’ moment. I had always wanted to enter a field that involved using my knowledge to solve a global humanitarian challenge. Watching the movie Erin Brockovich as a kid and reading about her was when I really started considering research as a career. The challenging, investigative, problem-solving and rewarding experience this field brings about really fascinated me.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

My main research involves membrane fabrication for wastewater treatment and reuse. Initially, I was working on developing low-cost, environmentally friendly and efficient adsorbents for the removal of contaminants from water.

Because these adsorbents came out to be successful, we decided to turn them into membranes to treat wastewater. These membranes are expected to operate with dual features: adsorption and sieving effect to remove contaminants from water.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

Water scarcity is real and water pollution is increasing tremendously with time due to significant population growth. It is important to identify sustainable ways for securing our waters.

My research is vital in that it focuses on developing sustainable and innovative materials for treating wastewaters for their reuse in applications for industrial, irrigation or agricultural purposes in order to secure freshwater or desalinated water for drinking purposes.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

We are currently treating water using our membranes in bench-scale experiments. We are hoping our membranes will give promising results to be produced at a larger scale and tested in a pilot plant for water/wastewater treatment and compete with other existing commercial membranes.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

One of the biggest challenges is trying to constantly be up to date with current research topics and developing innovative solutions. There were many times I thought I had a unique idea, but after research on my side, I realised that a number of individuals were already on it.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

Since most of my work is on nanomaterial synthesis and membrane fabrication, a common misconception is the immediate introduction of a product to the market. Novel materials require extensive research to determine their lifetime, efficiency under different environmental conditions, safety and optimisation before being presented to the market.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

I believe that we are coming to a stage where we really need to focus research on recycling and reuse of both materials and water due to the growing global water scarcity and polluted waters.

I think that research related to recycling of materials and producing more valuable products may encourage many industries to invest more in recycling in the long run.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.

Updated, 3.57pm, 26 August 2019: This article was updated to include references to the QNRF and NSF.