Mohamed Beshir was awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) John Moyes Lessells Travel Scholarships in 2020. Benefitting from a paid engineering scholarship to pursue a research project to support career development.

I am originally from Africa (Egypt) and got to see the impact of the large scale fires on informal settlements (shanty towns) and how this impacts the lives of thousands of people in a blink of an eye. IRIS-Fire project captured my attention once I finished my MSc in fire safety science and thought this is where I should be next.

Mohamed Beshir
A man smiling in a park
Mohamed Beshir

About: PhD student at the fire safety research centre at University of Edinburgh, he is part of an international project (IRIS- Fire) working on improving the resilience of informal settlements to fire. Doing both experimental and numerical studies and focusing on South African cases.

Job title:  PhD student

Collaborators: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Institution: University of Edinburgh, NIST

Amount of funding received from the RSE: £3,000

The project is to build the base of an easy to use tool by the stakeholders related to fire safety in informal settlements around the globe. The project will help to create a method to exchange knowledge of the fire scientists at the University of Edinburgh about Informal Settlements fires in a computational tool that would be easy to use to create both parametric studies and risk maps. These risk maps and parametric studies will help developed countries around the globe to improve the resilience of informal settlements to fires. The project is a collaboration between my group at the University of Edinburgh where we created a lot of experimental data and the fire modelling group at the National Institute of Standards (NIST). Where NIST is the developer of the most used/developed free Computational Fluid Dynamics Code (CFD) namely Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS). So we simply want to use our experimental database to validate the FDS model so everyone can just use it to understand the fire risks.

A group of people walking down a dirt road
Informal Settlement in Western Cape, SA

Adding value to Scotland

Urbanization is one of the most important challenges that is faced by humanity in the 21st century. A big portion of this global urbanization is happening in the global south (sub-Saharan and below) where Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent on earth with an average 7% increase in population between 1990-2015, with increasing in the population within the urban clusters by around 500 million. The majority of new urban districts are informal settlements constructed ad-hoc using available materials, with no formal space planning and with few explicit fire safety measures.

The proposed research aims to develop new methods and tools required to evaluate and model fire risks within informal settlements of the Western Cape in South Africa, so that appropriate and cost-effective solutions and strategies can be suggested to improve the resilience of South African informal settlement communities against large-scale fires. This knowledge will then be applied to other countries where our projects cover e.g. Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria and Lebanon.

Advice for future grant recipients

The only advice I could give to an applicant just now, it is important to make sure that your project will have a real impact. The RSE is very interested in projects impacting more people, especially in developed countries. There is a lot of research still needed in Low and Middle (L/M) income countries and small steps/projects like those funded by the RSE could really be the basis of great future projects and help in saving lives and enhancing people’s life quality.

Chart, surface chart
CFD model for the fire spread between two dwellings_1
CFD model for the fire spread between two dwellings_2

What’s next?

After this project, I will start a Post-Doc position to help to spread the knowledge I developed during my PhD and help in delivering easy tools for developed countries to build a better understanding of fire safety.