Rideal Travel Bursary recipient, Xanat Zacarias-Hernandez, reports from the USA

22 August 2018

Xanat Zacarias-Hernandez was awarded a Rideal Travel Bursary to attend the Gordon Research Conference on Flow Transport in Porous Medium in Maine, USA. Here, she tells us about her PhD project research, her talk and poster presentation and how the conference improved her communication skills and expanded her network.

‘I want to express my gratitude to the Society of Chemical Industry and the Royal Society of Chemistry for awarding me a travel bursary through the SCI-RSC Rideal Trust. This generous financial contribution enabled me to present part of my research at the Gordon Research Conference on Flow and Transport in Permeable Media and the associated Gordon Research Seminar in Newry, Maine, USA this summer.

‘What am I doing?

‘Before and after graduating as a chemical engineer from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, I worked on a couple of research projects with applications in the upstream sector of the petroleum industry. In these projects I was able to enhance my knowledge of surface phenomena and contribute my laboratory skills to develop experimental methodologies, but above all I had the opportunity to learn from experts on earth sciences about the complexities encountered during the recovery and production of hydrocarbons from reservoir rocks. This motivated me to specialise my knowledge in the field so I pursued an MSc in oil and gas engineering and am currently pursuing a PhD, both in the School of Engineering at University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

‘Despite the efforts done in the field over the past decades, the pore-scale mechanisms controlling subsurface multiphase flow, as such occurring during oil recovery from reservoirs or in the remediation of contaminated aquifers are not yet well understood. For the particular case of oil recovery from fractured rock for example, it is generally assumed that the rate of imbibition -an important mechanism for the recovery of oil entrapped in the pore space- is controlled by the capillary-hydraulic properties of the rock matrix. However, regardless the large body of literature on imbibition, very few have considered the conditions under which the properties of the fracture become important.

‘In my PhD project I am investigating pore-scale spontaneous imbibition in fractured porous media under mixed-wet conditions using lab-on-a-chip methods. To investigate the fracture-matrix fluid exchange over a full range of relevant capillary-hydraulic properties of the fracture, I have designed prototypes of hybrid micromodels comprising a rock matrix of fixed properties and a fracture whose properties can be easily controlled and adjusted.

‘What did I do at the Gordon Research Seminar and Conference?

‘Prior the beginning of my third year of studies I was given the opportunity to communicate my research as an invited speaker in the Gordon Research Seminar to an audience of early career researchers mainly composed of members of the academia, national laboratories, post-docs and graduate students. The two-day seminar programme was divided in three major topics comprising coupled processes occurring during fluid flow across scales –from the pore to the field scale- and the discussion was focused on understanding the complexities of these processes for a better prediction of transport mechanisms in permeable media. My talk titled ‘The impact of fracture properties on counter-current imbibition: a microfluidic study’ was part of the fracture scale topic held during the first day of the seminar. In this I presented progress results towards the fabrication of the micromodel prototypes using in-house techniques and preliminary results.

‘Besides the talks all participants must present a poster and was during these sessions that I had the chance to further discuss with my peers about my research approach, take on further questions and received insightful comments and feedback to my work. I also had the opportunity to discuss with other attendees about their own research, exchange experiences and learnt about the efforts ongoing in the field in other parts of the world.

‘An interesting panel discussion with a mentorship component was organized by the Chairs for the end of the second day. There I could listen to early stage scientists sharing their personal experiences and the challenges they faced before and after achieving a position as faculty members. The talks of the speakers and the following discussion was very helpful to broaden my career perspectives as a researcher.
‘Just some hours after a well-deserve break, the Gordon Research Conference took place. In this, senior researchers from faculty and industry, and some other early career researchers joined the venue and with this, an intensive, intellectual-defying week commenced. During the following five days I expanded my knowledge in the field with amazing talks from experienced scientists and thought-provoking discussions. This year in particular topics related to microfluidic studies, wettability and granular physics were of particular relevance to my project and I learnt of some techniques that could be useful for my own research.

‘As well as in the seminar, I had to present my research in the form of a poster. This time I got the chance to meet and share my work with authors of publications that have enlightened my research life and got some useful advice for my prototype fabrication from those working with microfluidics. I also received good comments and suggestions from experts on imbibition that will be very useful for the final steps of my project.


‘The whole experience was very enriching both professionally and personally. The off-the shelf format of the Gordon Research Conference and Seminar encourages participants to present unpublished data and discuss their cutting-edge ideas in a relaxed but meaningful manner. This, along with a venue dislocated from distractions, surrounded by inspiring natural landscapes and organised in such a way that huge personalities can gather almost 24/7 with younger scientists equally enthusiastic about the field, creates an unusual atmosphere suitable for extensive in-depth discussions, exchange of ideas and talks about future collaborations across the world.

‘Aside from the knowledge, attending the conference and the seminar helped me to strengthen my communication skills -especially useful on the eve of the thesis defence-, enhanced my networking skills and expand my network, refresh my thoughts towards my project, meet amazing people from every corner of the world that were truly inspiring, and broaden my spectrum of opportunities after completing my postgraduate studies.

‘I am very grateful with the SCI-RSC Rideal Trust for their financial contribution that support my trip to USA as well as with my supervisor, Dr Yukie Tanino, for encouraging me throughout my research to communicate my work and support my attendance to the seminar and conference. A special thanks goes to my colleagues and technical staff from University of Aberdeen that have helped with their input to my work up to date. Finally but not less important, I want to acknowledge the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT) for supporting me with a PhD studentship to pursue my studies in UK, the Aberdeen Formation Evaluation Society and the Society of Petrophysicists and Well Log Analysts for supporting my PhD project with a bursary and two grants respectively.’

Xanat Zacarias-Hernandez
PhD student
University of Aberdeen

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