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07 October 2019


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“Even if my students are not directly working on what I am doing, they are motivated to help: you want them to feel like you trust them.” Dr. Joanne Ishak, Assistant Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering – Faculty of Engineering at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), is intensely passionate about her work, both as a researcher and an educator. Her primary focus, in both research and teaching, is in the area of solid mechanics – i.e.: everything to do with materials, structures, surface finish, design of components, etc. – particularly with fatigue failures of such components.

“In my courses, I always give the example of a paperclip: if I bend it once and I stop, I might not break it. If I keep bending it back and forth, it will eventually break. I’m still applying the same magnitude of load, but I’m applying it repeatedly: this is an example of failure due to fatigue.”

An old NDU Alumna, Dr. Ishak did her Bachelor’s at NDU and went on to do both her Master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. “My M.S. and Ph.D. were both involved in structural fatigue. During my Master’s I was more concentrated on the fatigue failure of positive displacement pumps commonly used in oil and gas applications such as hydraulic fracturing , and I worked on simulating the flexural fatigue behavior of coiled tubing subjected to surface defects when I did my Ph.D.”

Discussing the specifics of her Ph.D. research, Dr. Ishak says: “Coiled tubing is used in the oil and gas industry in workover activities. You have a spool, and a steel tube that is thick and that is bent and wrapped around it. Oil fields are a very harsh environment so these tubes are very susceptible to cracks, or any surface imperfection. These pipes undergo very large deformations, and they should be replaced and routinely checked for gouges, and become very susceptible to fatigue cracking. When I was doing my Ph.D. we were simulating the fatigue behavior of coiled tubing when subjected to very large plastic strains resulting from the combined effects of cyclic bending and internal pressure.”

Most of Dr. Ishak’s research at NDU focuses on the numerical modeling of these sorts of behaviors. “The resources I had access to during my Ph.D. cannot be found anywhere else, as my Ph.D. advisor designed the machine we used, but I can conduct the same simulations with the same software they have in the US. I can create a model in the software that can accurately predict the behavior of the material I’m studying. I have to validate my model using experimental data, which I obtained during my time at Tulsa. Once you validate your model, you know that it’s an accurate predictor of the data, and you end up saving a lot of money.”

Dr. Ishak’s firm grasp of theoretical modelling, and her experience with hands on work enables her to put forward an extremely accurate picture to her students: “In my courses, we talk about theories which tend to predict when static failures occur, and when fatigue failures occur. I would like to believe that I’m an expert in the Finite Element Modeling software Abaqus, so I guide my students through it all. I want them to have a firm grasp of the basic principles behind everything they are going to be learning for the next 5 years, so that when they reach me in later courses, they can build on this strong understanding.”

But it is not just pure academic understanding that Dr. Ishak insists on in her classes. True to the NDU mission of a well-rounded education, Dr. Ishak emphasizes other skills as well. “I want my students to practice public speaking, so that they can express themselves and explain what they know clearly.”

Reflecting on her position at NDU, Dr. Ishak concludes: “I knew that being here would make a difference, and I wanted to give back. NDU is a young university always striving towards a higher level of education: getting accredited by the New England Commission for Higher Education (NECHE), not to mention the various programmatic accreditations already acquired and in the process of being secured. I wanted to be part of that growth. I’m carrying the torch, and when you have young blood, everyone is putting new ways of teaching forward.”


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