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Texas A&M at Qatar students first to be named Undergraduate Research Scholars

Published May 09, 2018

Two graduating seniors from Texas A&M University at Qatar are the first students from the branch campus to be named Texas A&M University Undergraduate Research Scholars. 

Electrical engineering seniors Shaikha Al-Qahtani and Taif Mohamed were the first students from Qatar accepted into the program at Texas A&M’s main campus in College Station, Texas (USA). As part of the program, they presented their research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in College Station in March, submitted a thesis based on their work, and have turned in a paper that will be published in the fall in Explorations, Texas A&M’s undergraduate research journal.

On top of their challenging engineering studies, Al-Qahtani and Mohamed work with research professor Dr. Othmane Bouhali in Texas A&M at Qatar’s high-performance computing group on a project for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, one of the world's largest and most respected centers for scientific research. Bouhali leads Texas A&M at Qatar’s endeavors with CERN where he has contributed for the past 24 years — and where Al-Qahtani and her brother Abdulaziz completed a prestigious internship in summer 2017.

Together, Al-Qahtani and Mohamed are using Texas A&M at Qatar’s supercomputer, Raad2, to simulate a new detector called the gas electron multiplier (GEM) that will be installed in the muon chamber in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider’s Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) project, which detects the muons that are generated from the proton-proton collisions.

“The CMS is one of four collision points in the Large Hadron Collider,” Al-Qahtani said, “and it’s one of the two biggest experiments at CERN. From this experiment, they discovered the Higgs boson in 2012 so it’s a really huge experiment. It’s important to be able to accurately detect muons because they are present in the most important physics processes.”

The CMS will be shut down in 2019 to upgrade the technologies and a new detector called the gas electron multiplier (GEM) will be installed. It’s this detector that Al-Qahtani and Mohamed are simulating using three computer programs to simulate how the new detector will perform based on the method used to create it.

Mohamed said that the GEM has very small holes in it — micrometers in diameter — and there are millions of these holes in one GEM layer that will be etched into the GEM by chemical etching. But, Mohamed said, there are many different methods of chemical etching that can be used, and that’s what she and Al-Qahtani are comparing: how the detector would perform based on each method of production and then simulating that to compare performance.

Mohamed said, “Our project, which we started in the fall, is focused on the production of the detector itself and how different methods of production can affect its performance. We’re using three simulation programs that we want to integrate into a single simulation, and that’s why we became a team and why we’re writing our thesis together. We’re hoping that our work will be beneficial and that we can give recommendations to the companies that are producing the GEM.”

Both Al-Qahtani and Mohamed said they attribute their research successes to Bouhali, who they said is a great professor and mentor who genuinely cares about his students.

Mohamed said, “I like what I’m researching, and it has a lot to do with Dr. Othmane and with the opportunities that are available to us here at Texas A&M at Qatar. And the project is just amazing. CERN is discovering new physics, new particles, and just merely being able to contribute to that is such an honor and a privilege that a lot of people will never have.”

Research mentor Bouhali said, “I am very pleased to have students like Shaikha and Taif on the team. At Texas A&M at Qatar, our main goal is to challenge students and expose them to the state-of-the art research and technology.”