Ali Reza Firoozfar: The Experimentalist
While studying for his master’s degree in Iran, Ali Reza Firoozfar discovered an article by IIHR’s Jacob Odgaard. For Firoozfar, reading that article was a turning point. From that day on, he dedicated himself to achieving his ambition of earning a PhD at IIHR.
“That was my dream,” he says. “Nothing can satisfy me except doing the research that I’m interested in.”
When he arrived in Iowa City, the first person Firoozfar met was Jacob Odgaard. “It was a dream,” he says. “And it came true.”
Home Away from Home
Firoozfar grew up in a small town in a rural area of central Iran. He observed many of his country’s water problems firsthand: erosion, water scarcity, etc. His parents, both teachers, urged their sons to study hard and learn as much as possible. “I always try to follow their example,” Firoozfar says. “I really appreciate their support and guidance.”
As a young student, Firoozfar loved math and physics, so engineering was a natural choice for him at university. He focused on hydraulic structures and sediment engineering. When he decided to study in the United States, his parents supported the decision, but Firoozfar says it has been painful for the whole family — especially his mother — to be separated for so long.
“It has been almost two years and two months,” Firoozfar says. “They accepted it because they knew that I would be successful here.”
Fortunately, a warm and lively Iranian community was waiting to welcome him to the University of Iowa. His fellow IIHR student, Seyed Mohammad Hajimirzaie (Haji), had an apartment rented and ready for him when Firoozfar arrived. It helped a lot to have new friends in Iowa, Firoozfar says — especially friends who share his love of soccer. He tries to play twice a week when he can.
“Here, we are like family,” Firoozfar says.
Firoozfar’s PhD research focuses on rock scour or erosion downstream of dams — work he is pursuing with his advisors, Larry Weber and Thanos Papanicolaou. Rock scour is a significant concern, primarily for safety reasons. It’s complicated research, he explains, because it is impossible to replicate existing rock and scale it down for a model study. Firoozfar is experimenting with cohesion material, or a mixture of cohesive and non-cohesive materials, to simulate the properties of rock found in the field.
As a member of Larry Weber’s team, Firoozfar is also part of two hydraulic structure projects. The first is a large-scale laboratory model study of a fish bypass system for juvenile salmon migration at Priest Rapids Dam, located on the Columbia River in the state of Washington. The team has also undertaken a laboratory model study of the Box Canyon Dam on the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington state to investigate the hydrodynamic forces on the gate and gate instability during operation. Both of these efforts are very satisfying to Firoozfar, because he is at heart an experimentalist. “I like to work on something I can really feel,” he explains. Numerical models are wonderful, robust tools for researchers, he adds, but for every computational model, he believes there should be a physical model. “They need to be validated,” Firoozfar explains.
For Firoozfar, IIHR has lived up to the expectations he had when he first dreamed of coming to Iowa. “I really love the place where I am right now,” he says. He likes the work and the people at IIHR, and the community as well. He hopes to be able to translate what he has learned into a career that truly makes a difference for others.
“I would like to be helpful to the people,” Firoozfar says. “That’s the goal I’ve always had.”