Driven to tackling difficult problems

Master’s grad is passionate about resolving challenges in his field of research

Impressive problem-solving skills Khaled Younes honed as an engineering student contributed to his exceptional showing in the classroom and research breakthroughs.

Officially graduating with a master’s in mechanical and mechatronics engineering this week, Younes has developed a passion for tackling and finding answers to difficult challenges in fluid mechanics. 

Younes’s interest in his field of study was piqued as a Waterloo Engineering undergraduate student when he learned about turbulence in a 3B fluid mechanics course, the basis of which has helped him produce models that can predict real-life scenarios.

Simplifying design decisions

His master’s thesis focused on researching what he describes as "the random chaotic motion that is flowing around us at any point in time."

"The whole idea is that near a wall or an object the velocity profile is highly non-linear and very hard to predict," he explains. "Whenever you conduct a numerical simulation, you want to estimate the velocity near the wall. Usually, those estimates are not accurate and they’re expensive to compute." 

In response to the issue, Younes developed a model that allows researchers in the field to correctly predict the velocity near the wall without having to run a full numerical computation.

As a master’s student, Younes also worked with a startup in Montreal, Reaction Dynamics, to create a new steering mechanism for rocket engines to replace the traditional gimbal, a three-dimensional hinge system, that is normally used to steer the rocket nozzle.

"The problem with this system is once you scale it down to medium-sized or smaller rockets it gets expensive and very heavy," says Younes.  

By designing a model that moves the engine with the use of fluids, Younes came up with a much lighter and less costly solution.  His work is intended to simplify design decisions by giving the startup a predictive model engineers can use to validate and integrate into the steering system.

"Rocket engines are really hot in the market right now," he says.  "Everybody is trying to develop the next cheapest version of a rocket to reduce the cost to travel to space."

Supportive supervisor eases pressure

For his success, Younes credits the ongoing encouragement from his graduate studies supervisor Jean-Pierre Hickey, especially after the pandemic hit.

"I was burnt out for a good portion of this year and Jean-Pierre was very, very supportive," says Younes. "He allowed me to take as much time off as I needed and allowed me to work from wherever I wanted. That eased the pressure and allowed me to just focus on finishing my master’s thesis."

Hickey, a Waterloo mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor, says Younes is the best graduate student he has supervised at Waterloo.

"He is wickedly intelligent, tenacious, and sees his scientific calling in addressing the hardest unresolved challenges in our field," says Hickey. "While this combination is truly unique for any graduate student, for a master’s-level student, this is exceptional."

Younes’s research has been published in prestigious engineering journals and was recently presented by Hickey at an international task force meeting on high-speed turbulence.

Nearly didn’t come to Waterloo

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Younes almost didn’t apply to Waterloo Engineering’s undergraduate program because he was interested in aerospace engineering, a field of study not offered by the Faculty.

He changed his mind after speaking with several people who had attended Waterloo.

"They told me that Waterloo’s co-op program is out of this world - it gives you a lot of practical experience and helps ease the financial burden of tuition," he says.

Younes also learned that Waterloo’s mechanical engineering program provides a good foundation of knowledge in aerospace engineering, one that can be used by students who later choose to specialize in the field.  

Solving other people’s problems

Now a doctoral candidate at Stanford University in California, Younes says his love of problem solving applies not only to himself but to others as well.

 "If someone has a problem and can’t solve it, I’ll say ’give it to me and I’ll take care of it,’" he says with a laugh. "I don’t know if it’s a thing I’ve developed over time or if it was part of me growing up.  I think it has to be a bit of both."   

* Banner photo is of Khaled Younes displaying his fourth-year mechanical engineering Capstone Design project.