College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Two New Doctors in the House!

Husband and wife Rasoul Hassanalizadeh and Parisa Doubra have graduated with doctoral degrees in Chemical Engineering from UKZN.

The couple, who met in Iran six years ago while studying for their Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering at Mazandran University of Science and Technology, agree that the immeasurable amount of combined effort, commitment and hard work they put into their degrees may help make the world a better place.

Asked about why they chose UKZN for PhD studies, the couple singled out the excellent international reputation of the Institution’s Thermodynamics Research Unit (TRU). ‘Studying for a PhD is not just about contributions to science but also developing your own career pathway,’ said Hassanalizadeh. ‘Because of its capacity in science production around the globe and its size, UKZN attracted me, however, it must be noted that in joining TRU – a globally distinguished pioneering research group –the main motive was to pursue my PhD studies at UKZN.’ Doubra was in agreement, adding that the quality of supervision at UKZN offered by highly acclaimed scientists motivated her.

As a part of his MSc thesis, Hassanalizadeh designed a petroleum transportation line in an ultra-deep-sea petroleum production field of the Caspian Sea. Among other accomplishments, he has published a book related to his MSc studies. ‘I received several compliments for the amount of work done from authorities, and a grade point average equivalent to summa cum laude,’ he said.

Hassanalizadeh’s doctoral research focused on an alternate separation route for purifying Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). ‘Nitrogen trifluoride is an important gas used in the electrical industry required at high purity (99.999 – 99.9999 %), however, its purification is difficult and expensive using traditional technologies,’ he said.

Hassanalizadeh was motivated to pursue his PhD by the belief that the world requires energy efficient technologies to overcome the problems it faces. He believes that thermodynamics is essential for this.

Doubra started her PhD a mere two months after being awarded her MSc. Like her husband, she is fascinated by thermodynamics, believing it to be an essential field of chemical engineering.  As part of her research she developed an experimental apparatus, employing a new technology – gas hydrate – to overcome the constraints of the current technology used to produce sugar.

Sugar is conventionally produced via energy-intensive evaporation technology and substantial damages to the sugar constituents lead to a significant revenue loss in this method.

Calculations linked to Doubra’s ground-breaking research showed a decrease of 20% in energy requirements along with the elimination of damage to the final product.  ‘My research directly impacts society because the disadvantages of current sugar production plants are a relatively high energy cost and sucrose loss, as well as the cost and time required to clean the heat transfer surfaces, which need to be mechanically or chemically cleaned every few weeks,’ said Doubra. ‘The South African sugar industry struggles with low prices and a severe glut in the international sugar market. The implementation of the new method proposed in my thesis could positively impact these problems.’

Doubra made special mention of her late mother, who passed away from skin cancer in 2017 aged 53.  ‘She was my role model, who taught me patience and fortitude. Her passing left me broken but the feeling of her spiritual presence gave me the strength to fulfil my studies in the best possible form.’

The dynamic couple thanked their families, their supervisors – Professor Prathieka Naidoo, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath and Dr Wayne Nelson – and most importantly each other for all the support and motivation they received.

Words: Swastika Maney and Saneh Mahlase

Photograph: Supplied