Suyanne Costa Silva
I am a 3rd year BSc student in Civil Engineering
Tell us about yourself
I am an undergraduate student in Civil Engineering at the Federal University of Ceara in Brazil. I was born in the city of Fortaleza, in Brazil’s northeastern region. I love to travel, read and meet new friends. I’m currently living in the city of Kelowna, British Columbia. My dream has always been to study in Canada and the Mitacs Globalink Program gave me the opportunity. It has made everything perfect!
What is your research about?
My project identifies different types of sand that are used as proppants in hydraulic fractures, which are used to recover natural gas from tight shale deposits. A proppant is a solid material, usually sand, treated sand or human-made ceramic material. Proppants are designed to keep an induced hydraulic fracture open during or after a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) treatment. They’re called “proppants” because they literally prop open the fractures, enabling the oil or gas to flow out. Proppants play an important role because without them, oil and/or gas production from shales would not be feasible.
What have you enjoyed the most about your research?
Participating in this program was the best experience I could have in my studies. I learned many important techniques that I could not have learned in my country since my university does not have the right equipment or software. The research results were excellent, and I was able to publish two papers in world-renowned periodicals. I also met important researchers in in my field, and I will be able to get back in touch with them when I return to Canada in the future for a Ph.D. degree.
What have you found most challenging about your research?
The research was challenging from start to finish because I had to learn to use different equipment than I used in Brazil, as well as more complex software. I had to perform tests on the machines and then analyze the data from those machines. Sometimes, the data were not representative, so I had to redo the tests and find the errors. The least fun part was analyzing the data, because that meant I had to compile some functions in the software and use some mathematical algorithms. However, all of these activities were important for the research be successful.
How has your research experience influenced your career path?
The experience I had through the Mitacs program completely changed my way of seeing scientific research and also how I see myself. I hope to pursue a career as a professor and researcher in a related field. I will certainly go back to Canada to study after graduation.
How has your research impacted the world?
Oil and gas are among the most important energy sources in the world. One thing we know for sure is that we still need oil. Oil is used for many purposes besides fuel for energy or transport. Yet we are constantly hearing new and often conflicting forecasts about potential oil reserves. Therefore, it is necessary to look for ways to optimize oil and gas production. Hydraulic fracturing, which produces fractures in the rock formation that stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, increases the amount that can be recovered.
The impact of this research is immense, because it shows how different types of sand can be used as proppants in hydraulic fracturing. The most important reasons for using sand are that it is cheap and more abundant than other options like resin and ceramics, which are very expensive and difficult to obtain.
What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?
It’s a little hard to answer that question. There is still a lot to learn in the field of oil and gas. My research contributes to optimizing oil production in an economically viable way. However, there is much still to be researched by other young people, including other forms of energy that are environmentally responsible and affordable.
What motivates you to do research?
I did research in the laboratory at my university. My dream was always to study or work as an intern in Canada. I was looking for internship opportunities in Canada when I found the MITACS Program. This was perfect for me, because it is an excellent program with projects in many different areas. My biggest influence was my Brazilian advisor, Dr. Jorge Soares. With his support and encouragement, I decided to follow a career as a researcher.
Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment
The most important aspect of my research was comparing the suitability of sand and other potential proppants for hydraulic fracturing, which subjects those materials to high levels of stress. I was able to show that different types of sand are effective in keeping fractures open and less inexpensive than other types of proppants, such as ceramics or resin.