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Past Winner
2001 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Simaan AbouRizk

Civil Engineering

University of Alberta

Simaan AbouRizk
Simaan AbouRizk

It has taken thousands of years, but Dr. Simaan AbouRizk has finally developed a better way to build a pyramid. And the construction researcher's computer simulation-derived insights are helping a myriad of industries – from steel fabrication to construction – improve their operating techniques and their bottom lines. It's world-leading research for which the University of Alberta scientist is receiving a 2001 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Steacie Fellowship – one of Canada's premier science and engineering prizes.

Until recently, "construction research" was largely an oxymoron. Companies got to work digging and building, they didn't reflect on the most efficient ways to do this.

"Construction techniques haven't changed much since the time of the Pharaohs," says Dr. AbouRizk, who emigrated to Canada from Lebanon. "They used slaves, and we pay our workers. But, otherwise, the biggest changes are in materials and machinery, not in the construction process."

Since starting at the University of Alberta in 1990, his challenge hasn't been just to do research, but to convince the construction and other industries of the value of this research. He's succeeded in spades. Now his research chair is jointly funded by both NSERC and the Alberta construction industry.

One of the keys to this success was adapting his more than 25 computer simulation tools to the needs and "world view" of particular users.

"The user interface is extremely important," says Dr. AbouRizk. Rather than use generic symbols, his software programs use real-world icons. To simulate aggregate production, for example, his software incorporates icons of crushers, screens and conveyor belts.

While Dr. AbouRizk's research goals are long-term fundamental ones, he says that his simulation tools must be of immediate value to users in increasing their productivity.

And at this, the simulation tools excel. Take his Simphony software for example. It's currently being used in the preparation of an Albertan surface mine to calculate the optimal way to remove the millions of cubic metres of overburden – the dirt and rock covering the valued resource. Since the trucks involved cost about $4 million each, "knowing the optimal fleet size to balance between the shovels and trucks is a big question," says Dr. AbouRizk.

As an NSERC Steacie Fellow, Dr. AbouRizk will pursue his current goal: to have most construction companies in Alberta use computer-simulation software by 2007.

"Now it's a shared dream with the construction industry," says Dr. AbouRizk. "I've managed to bring them on board by giving them ownership of the research activity. They want to make sure it succeeds."