“The equipment of NU laboratories is one of the best in the world”

Our next ‘NU Step to PhD’ rubric guest is Ainash Shabdirova, a 2020 NU graduate, who obtained her PhD degree in Science, Engineering and Technology. Ainash works as a researcher at the University. In her interview, the scientist talks about how her research can help large oil companies, and also recalls the difficulties of the early years of doctoral studies.

Ainash, can you please tell us about your research?

My thesis is entitled “Effect of the plastic zone characteristics on sand production“. Sand production is the process in which broken pieces of rocks are recovered along with oil or gas. Most often, sand production is a negative process, since particles provoke mechanical corrosion of equipment. Moreover, this creates additional difficulties for the environmentally friendly disposal of this sand. The impact of sand production is costly for the oil and gas industry.

In my work, I studied the plastic zone around the perforation, from which rock particles can get into oil or gas. The properties of this zone strongly influence the volume and duration of sand production. But the permeability of the plastic zone is difficult to measure, so we conducted experiments in conjunction with an analytical model.

Our supervisor supervised four doctoral students. Two of us worked on an experiment, two on a numerical model. My work consisted of experimental and analytical parts. The experiments were carried out on an apparatus specially designed for sand production experiments. In a cylindrical sample, we made a hole to simulate a perforation in real wells, pumping water in from the edges and then pumping it out from the center to simulate oil production.

We are currently continuing to work on sand production, now we inject gas to simulate the operation of gas wells. We are also planning another project, which will be a continuation of our doctoral work.

What is the applied significance of your work?

As a result of research, I got an empirical-analytical equation based on experimental data. It can be used to predict the amount of sand production given a known input. This equation will allow oil companies to assess the risks of sand production and make appropriate preparatory work when drilling and producing a new well. We plan to expand this work and are now preparing our grant application for the next year.

Tell us about your PhD years at NU. Was there anything memorable?

Since we were the first cohort of doctoral students at the School of Engineering, not everything went smoothly in the beginning. There were delays in the procurement of equipment and supplies. Because of this, our program continued for almost six years. But we have learned a lot over the years. I had an internship in Hong Kong, where I learned how to do basic experiments in rock mechanics. I also participated in equipping our laboratory and the development of our apparatus. Now the equipment of the NU laboratories is one of the best in the world, we have almost unlimited access to expensive and efficient devices. This is undoubtedly a huge advantage.

I also learned how to write articles, and how to choose a suitable journal or conference. This is the great merit of my supervisors, who have been proofreading our works countless times, and the merit of our first reviewers.

Family support is one of the main factors for successful PhD defence. My husband also did his PhD at NU, and we did our best to support each other.

What can you recommend to future doctoral students?

The most important thing is to have a concrete  action plan. Even if things don’t go according to the plan, you always need to have the big picture in your head. Then it will be easier to change strategy or find a more suitable path. Also, you should never be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know or don’t understand something.

Being able to quickly identify a problem is the best skill for a scientist.