A CSME year 

By Dawn Wiseman

Mechanical and Industrial Engineering professor Lyes Kadem is already impressing students and peers. Magnifying glass

Mechanical and Industrial Engineering professor Lyes Kadem is already impressing students and peers.

As Lyes Kadem (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) pointed out, it’s clearly his CSME year. Only 18 months out from finishing his postdoc, the assistant professor has received two awards from the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering.

The I.W. Smith Award was established in 1977 to honour Professor I.W. Smith, who devoted a lifetime to teaching mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto. It is awarded annually for outstanding achievement in creative mechanical engineering within 10 years after graduation.

Kadem received the honour for his research in the area of biomechanics.
As an engineer, he’s incredibly impressed by the amount of work the human heart can produce over a lifetime. “On average, the human heart beats about three billion times during a person’s life; and the work developed is the equivalent of lifting 30 tons from sea level to the top of Mt. Everest without stopping.”

Like all pumping systems, however, the heart and its almost 100,000 kilometres of vessels are subject to the wear and tear of use. Kadem is collaborating with physicians at Quebec Heart Institute to understand fluid flow in the body and its link to cardiovascular disease. Their ultimate goal is to use noninvasive testing techniques to develop individual treatment plans for patients.

In these early days of the project, however, they are finding that one of the primary challenges is getting the researchers to understand each other’s contexts. As Kadem explained, in traditional fluid mechanics, an experimental error greater than five per cent is considered huge, whereas in medicine any error that does not change the clinical decision is acceptable.

“Because I can talk to both communities, we are better able to bridge these areas of understanding so we can move forward,” he said.

These communications skills likely played a role in Kadem’s second honour as well. The Concordia student chapter of CSME recognized him as the 2007-08 outstanding professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

“It was really quite unexpected,” he said.

Kadem taught undergraduate courses in thermodynamics and numerical methods this year, along with a graduate course in applied cardiovascular fluid dynamics. His favourite course was Thermo I, “but it contains so many concepts, it is hard for the students.”

Kadem believes his job is to teach students how to think appropriately about the given subject matter. He is really interested in the retention of information and deep understanding. This can be challenging for students who are very focused on exams and problem-solving.

“For sure this is part of what they will learn,” he acknowledged, but he wants his students to be able to reason clearly. After the mid-term he asked them, “If I provide three wrong answers on a multiple choice, do you have to pick any of them?”
By the same token, he wants his students to understand when a calculation clearly produces impossible results. “Sometimes I think they rely too much on their computers. It is only a machine. You give a computer input and you get an output, but you need to know if the output makes sense.”

Kadem says his teaching techniques derive directly from his own undergraduate experience.

“I wasn’t an ideal student,” he laughed. “But I had a professor who taught this way and I loved it.” Now he wants to make his students love what they are learning. “Sometimes we just have to find another way of helping them to understand.”


Concordia University