Innovation@UAE Magazine, Issue 2, English, February 2021

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A research periodical issued by the Ministry of Education of the United Arab Emirates Issue 02

Feb 2021

REVEALING THE CHEMICAL CENTER O F T H E M I L K Y WAY

PROSPECTING THE BIOFUEL POTENTIAL OF THE UAE’S ‘ALLIG’ DATE SEED LOW-COST ADAPTABLE CATALYSIS USING NANOPARTICLE MESH EXPLORATION OF EMIRATI DIET AND GENETICS REVEALS HIGH SALT TRIGGER MICROPOLLUTANT REMOVAL USING NANOMATERIAL-ENHANCED FARM WASTE

www.moe.gov.ae



Contents 02 News 12 Features 32 Profiles 44 Science for Kids 48 Events Calendar

12 Revealing the chemical center of the Milky Way

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Prospecting the biofuel potential of the UAE’s ‘Allig’ date seed

Low-cost adaptable catalysis using nanoparticle mesh

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Exploration of Emirati diet and genetics reveals high salt trigger

Micropollutant removal using nanomaterial-enhanced farm waste

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Leading from the front

Observing space through a particle physics lens

-Dr. Fadi Aloul

-Dr. Ingyin Zaw

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NEWS

ADU FACULTY AWARDED PATENT FOR SUPERCONDUCTING QUANTUM COMPUTING DEVICE Abu Dhabi University (ADU) Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Montasir Qasymeh, has received a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for his novel device that can connect superconducting quantum computers over significant distances. Superconducting quantum computers are expected to become the computers of the future, achieving ultrasensitive sensing and ‘unattackable’ quantum communication networks. Unlike today’s conventional computers, quantum computers can process huge amounts of data and perform computations in powerful new ways that were never possible before. The potential applications of quantum computing include accelerating innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and tackling cybersecurity challenges.

Dr. Montasir Qasymeh Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Abu Dhabi University

The patented device is composed of graphene, a substance that has been hailed as a ‘miracle material’ for its electrical properties and the fact that it is the world’s thinnest and second-strongest material. The device converts a quantum microwave signal containing data to a laser beam, using specially designed layers of graphene that are electrically connected and subjected to a laser pump. Dr. Qasymeh, who was profiled in Issue 1 of Innovation@UAE Magazine, said: “I am humbled and honored to be granted this US patent. This invention will advance the field of quantum computing in the UAE – taking us one step further towards the quantum age.” The project that produced the patent was funded through two grants. The first grant was from the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK), which was awarded to the research proposal titled ‘Graphene-Based Modulator for Passive Transmission and White Light Communications’. The second grant was from Takamul, the UAE innovation program of the Department of Economic Development, which was awarded for patent filing. More information about Dr. Qasymeh’s patented device can be found on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website under patent #10,824,048 B2.

Source: https://www.adu.ac.ae/news-and-events/news/news/detail/2021/01/12/adu-professor-receives-us-patent-in-the-fieldof-quantum-computing

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AUS-LED STUDY FINDS UAE’S LARGEST AND OLDEST MANGROVE TO BE HEALTHY

THE INTERDISCIPLINARY PROJECT WAS CONDUCTED BY RESEARCHERS FROM AUS, SHARJAH HIGHER COLLEGES OF TECHNOLOGY, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, AND THE KUWAIT INSTITUTE FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

The Khor Al-Beida mangrove forest of Umm Al-Quwain, one of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems in the Gulf region, is healthy and relatively undisturbed by human activity, according to a collaborative study led by an American University of Sharjah (AUS) researcher. The research team said it was reassuring to find such little evidence of damage, since mangroves play an invaluable role in the context of global climate change, protecting the UAE coast from the effects of rising sea levels and increasingly frequent storms. They also store carbon and are an important habitat supporting the region’s biodiversity – Khor Al-Beida is the breeding ground for the largest colony of the threatened bird species, the Socotra cormorant. Dr. Fatin Samara, Associate Professor of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at AUS, was the lead author of a paper published in the MDPI journal Water.

“There are slightly elevated levels of certain trace metals, such as zinc, in the water, and aluminum and iron in sediments, but the water quality parameters appear to be within the normal ranges for this part of the Gulf. These metals occur naturally at very low concentrations but can turn into a health hazard if found at high concentrations, which normally signals man-made pollution. The good news is that the concentrations of most trace metals are low at Khor Al-Beida,” explained Dr. Samara. The study also identified 53 algae groups in the sediment at Khor Al-Beida, indicating a healthy ecosystem. “These algae groups form the basis of the sea’s food chain, and the high variety of these species is an important sign of ecosystem wellbeing. These algae are sensitive to pollution, so a reduced abundance or diversity would suggest ecosystem disturbance,” Dr. Samara said.

Source: : https://www.aus.edu/media/news/first-of-its-kind-study-on-one-of-the-uaes-largest-oldest-and-most-diverse-ecosystems


NEWS

AUS TEAM RECEIVES PATENT FOR BREAST CANCER TREATMENT A chemotherapy platform designed by American University of Sharjah (AUS) researchers has received a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The treatment uses tiny capsules to target cancerous cells and bypass healthy cells to reduce unpleasant side effects. Dr. Ghaleb Husseini, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the College of Engineering (CEN) and Dana Gas Endowed Chair for Chemical Engineering, Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayah, Professor of Chemistry at the College of Arts and Sciences, and Chemical Engineering postgraduate alumna Amal Elsadig, received the patent for the research they have been conducting through the Ultrasound in Cancer Research Group at AUS since 2016. The treatment targets the protein of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) gene, which has been found to play a role in the development of breast cancer. In up to a third of early-stage breast cancers, the HER2 gene malfunctions, promoting the growth of cancerous cells.

The patented system uses a specific antibody treatment, trastuzumab, sold under the commercial name Herceptin, to deliver a nanocarrier containing chemotherapy drugs, such paclitaxel, docetaxel, and vinorelbine, directly to the receptors on the surface of these HER2 proteins. “Once the [minute capsules] reach and bind to the breast cancer tissues, the drug is released using ultrasound waves. This will ensure the delivery of high concentrations of the therapeutic drugs to the diseased tissues while avoiding its interaction with healthy cells in the body, thus reducing the side effects of conventional chemotherapy,” Dr. Husseini explained. His research team is currently conducting in vivo studies to test the feasibility of this novel breast cancer treatment platform. More information about the patented breast cancer device can be found on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website under patent #US20190110989A1.

Source: https://gulfnews.com/lifestyle/health-fitness/sharjah-research-team-patents-breast-cancer-treatment-1.1603059126060

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KU AND UOS RESEARCHERS AWARDED BY L’ORÉAL-UNESCO PROGRAM

THE L’ORÉAL-UNESCO AWARD HONORS FEMALE SCIENTISTS FROM THE GULF REGION FOR THEIR REVOLUTIONARY RESEARCH IN THE FIELDS OF LIFE SCIENCES, PHYSICAL SCIENCES, MATHEMATICS, AND COMPUTER SCIENCE

Three UAE university affiliates were among the six Gulf-based female researchers honored in the seventh L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program, which took place in November 2020. Part of a global L’Oréal-UNESCO initiative, the program has recognized more than 3,400 phenomenal researchers since its inception 22 years ago. Dr. Maryam Tariq Khaleel Alhashmi, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and member of the Research and Innovation Center on CO2 and Hydrogen (RICH) at Khalifa University (KU), was one of three recipients of the Postdoctorate Researchers category, for which she received a EUR 20,000 prize (AED88,700). She was recognized for her valuable contributions in the field of catalysis, specifically her research into the development of catalytic materials for the sustainable production of chemicals. Two PhD students in Molecular Medicine at the University of Sharjah (UOS) were

among the three recipients of the PhD Student category. Dana Zaher was recognized for her project, titled ‘The Role of Metabolic Reprogramming in Sensitizing Breast Cancer to Chemo- and ImmunoTherapy’, and Mina Al Ani was awarded for her research on new therapeutic modality for mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) using Herceptin (trastuzumab). They each received research grants of EUR 8,000 (AED35,400). The L’Oréal-UNESCO award was endorsed by Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology. “The increased representation of women in science over the past decade is a testament to the changing perspectives of society and remarkable progress for the Arab community. I wish the talents of 2020 success as they work towards answering some of the most challenging scientific problems of the world,” the minister stated.

Source: https://www.ku.ac.ae/loreal-unesco-for-women-in-science-program-2019-recognizes-outstanding-female-scientists-in-the-middle-east


NEWS

KU SEAWATER ENERGY AND AGRICULTURE SYSTEM (SEAS) RECOGNIZED BY GLOBAL WATER AWARDS The integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS), the flagship project of Khalifa University’s Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), has been recognized as ‘Industrial Project of the Year – Distinction’ by the Global Water Awards. SEAS is among the world’s first bioenergy facilities using saltwater to produce seafood and aviation biofuel in a desert environment. It was recognized by the Global Water Awards because of the cross-industry cooperation it leverages to implement sustainable biofuel production and create an agricultural alternative in the UAE. Dr. Alejandro Rios Galvan, Director of the SBRC, said: “It is a great honor to be recognized by the Global Water Awards. It highlights the importance of

collaboration between the private sector and academia in creating solutions for the creative use of water, which is of utmost importance for arid and waterconstrained regions of the world.” In January 2019, Etihad Airways operated the first commercial flight using biofuel produced by the project, successfully flying from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam. The success of the SEAS system demonstrates the viability of using saltwater for halophyte agriculture in the desert environment of the UAE, avoiding the use of precious groundwater and arable land to produce biofuel. It also uses on-site solar panels to power the system’s pumps and valves, further extending its environmental impact. The next step for the SEAS system is to scale it up to a 200 hectare site, in a move towards full commercial implementation. The Global Water Awards was established in 2006 by Global Water Intelligence. It recognizes the most important achievements in the international water industry within several categories, and rewards those initiatives in the water, wastewater, and desalination sectors, that are moving the industry forward through improved operating performance, innovative technology adoption, and sustainable financial models.

Source: Erica Solomon, Senior Publication Specialist, Khalifa University, https://www.ku.ac.ae/khalifa-universitys-seawater-energyand-agriculture-system-seas-recognized-by-global-water-awards

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NYUAD RESEARCHERS DISCOVER IMMUNE EVASION STRATEGY USED BY MALARIA-CAUSING PARASITE

THE FINDINGS BRING HOPE THAT NOVEL THERAPEUTIC STRATEGIES AND EVEN A VACCINE COULD BE DEVELOPED

Researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) have found that the Plasmodium parasite, which transmits malaria to humans through infected mosquitos, triggers changes in human genes that alter the body’s adaptive immune response to malarial infections. Although malaria is a preventable and curable disease, three billion people are at risk of infection and hundreds of thousands die from it annually. The NYUAD team, in collaboration with the Centre National de Recherche et de Formation sur le Paludisme in Burkina Faso, studied the immune responses and genomes of children in rural Burkina Faso, West Africa, before, during, and after infection. They published a paper in the journal Nature Communications, of which NYUAD Associate Scientist Mme Massar Diengand and Postdoctoral Associate Aïssatou Diawara were the paper’s joint lead authors.

The researchers found that a class of genes called microRNAs (small molecules which play an integral role in the regulation of genes involved in immune response) cause cell death among adaptive immune cells when the Plasmodium parasite is present. Once the parasite avoids the immune response in the blood, it is then able to proliferate and invade other blood cells. The team also discovered that some microRNAs are under genetic control, which may explain why individuals and populations vary in their ability to cope with infection. “The next step for the team will be to perform more functional tests and to gain a better understanding of why certain groups of people in Africa are more immune to the disease than others… It is our hope that this research can contribute to reaching the long-term goal of malaria elimination,” said Youssef Idaghdour, NYUAD Assistant Professor of Biology, who was among the project collaborators.

Source: https://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/news/latest-news/science-and-technology/2020/october/malaria-immune-research.html


NEWS

NYUAD STUDY FINDS FLARES FROM HOST STARS CAN LEAD TO A DECREASED ABILITY TO SUSTAIN LIFE

THE ABILITY TO SUSTAIN AN ATMOSPHERE IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT REQUIREMENTS FOR A HABITABLE PLANET. THIS RESEARCH PROVIDES NEW INSIGHTS INTO THE HABITABILITY OF EXOPLANETS, AS THE EFFECTS OF STELLAR ACTIVITY WERE NOT WELL UNDERSTOOD

A study by New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has identified which category of stars are most likely to host habitable exoplanets. In a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, Dimitra Atri, Research Scientist at NYUAD’s Center for Space Science, and graduate student Shane Carberry Mogan present the process of analyzing flare emission data from NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) observatory. “Space weather plays an important role in the evolution of planetary atmospheres,” the researchers state in their paper. “Observations have shown that stellar flares emit energy in a wide energy range… These flares heat the upper atmosphere of a planet, leading to increased escape rates, and can result in atmospheric erosion over a period of time.” More frequent, lower energy flares had a greater impact on an exoplanet’s atmosphere than less frequent, higher

energy flares, they found. They also determined how certain types of stars emit extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) through stellar flares, and how this affects nearby planets, with M0-M4 stars being most likely, and M4-M10 stars least likely, to erode secondary atmospheres. “These results have significant implications for planetary habitability because about 75% of stars in the Milky Way are M-dwarfs and observations suggest that they host twice the number of planets around them, compared to other stars,” the paper states. This study also highlights the need for better numerical modeling of atmospheric escape – how planets release atmospheric gases into space – as it can lead to the erosion of atmosphere and the diminishment of the planet’s habitability. The Center for Space Science will soon study a similar phenomenon using data from the Emirates Mars Mission to better understand how Mars lost most of its atmosphere.

Source: https://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/news/latest-news/science-and-technology/2020/november/stellar-flares.html

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UD-DESC PROJECT RESULTS IN PATENTED SECURITY SYSTEM THE TECHNOLOGY COULD BE USEFUL FOR GOVERNMENT ENTITIES THAT REQUIRE HIGH-LEVEL SECURITY WITHOUT COMPROMISING ON SPEED, SUCH AS VIDEO, VEHICULAR, AND SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS, AS WELL AS TACTILE INTERNET APPLICATIONS

A project to develop a novel secure wireless communication technology has been awarded a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A research team led by faculty from the University of Dubai (UD), in collaboration with the Dubai Electronic Security Center (DESC), developed the innovative technology, which centers around encrypting data using a physical layer security (PLS) system, embedded directly at the channel level.

“The proposed system provides strong security with low latency and low complexity, when compared to other cryptosystems. Moreover, the system offers joint immunity against eavesdropping and jamming, unlike conventional cryptosystems, which provide immunity against eavesdropping but not against jamming,” explained Dr. Husameldin Mukhtar, UD Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the principal investigator on the project. His co-inventors listed on the patent are Khalifa University Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Dr. Arafat Al-Dweik, UD Research Assistant Tasnim Bassam Sami Nazzal, UD Dean of Engineering Dr. Hussain Al-Ahmad, and Director of UD’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center Dr. Wathiq Mansoor. The protocol has undergone several tests at UD’s wireless communications lab and has proven to be resilient to complex cyber-attacks, while maintaining the speed of performance. DESC researcher Moaza Al Falasi conducted a wide practical study of the challenges facing the current communications systems. “We have measured the speed of data transmission with the new code we developed and it has effectively proved that it does not affect the speed of data transfer from one user to another. The protocol can also be applied to existing wireless devices without need for replacement,” Al Falasi said. More information about the patented device can be found on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website under patent #108,55,450 B1.

Source: https://www.desc.gov.ae/dubai-electronic-security-centers-patent-for-secure-wireless-communica8on-with-university-ofdubai-has-been-approved/


NEWS

UNIVERSITY OF SHARJAH TEAM IDENTIFIES MUTATIONS RESPONSIBLE FOR EMIRATI FAMILIAL HEARING LOSS

THE FINDINGS FROM THIS PROJECT OPEN UP NEW RESEARCH HORIZONS FOR GENETIC DEAFNESS IN THE REGION

A team of researchers from the University of Sharjah has identified the genetic mutations responsible for hereditary deafness affecting two Emirati families. The project, which received a AED200,000 research grant from the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences, was carried out by Dr. Abdelaziz Tlili, Dr. Abdullah Al Mutery, and Jihen Chouchen from the Department of Applied Biology at the University of Sharjah. This study reported for the first time new mutations within the ESPN and ESRRB genes responsible for Non-Syndromic Hearing Loss (NSHL) in the Middle East region. The ESPN gene affects the protein filaments that form the steriocilia, which are the tiny hair-like structures

that sense acoustic waves inside the ear, enabling us to hear. The ESRRB gene is related to the development and function of the inner ear. “This project marks the first time that the role of two genetic mutations in familial deafness in the Middle East has been clarified,” Dr. Tlili said. The project involved the collection of saliva samples from three groups – the two affected families, 107 index cases with NSHL, and 100 unaffected individuals. The researchers then used whole and clinical exome sequencing to identify the causative mutations. The data was subjected to bioinformatics processes, which leverage the powers of computer sciences, molecular biology, biotechnology, statistics, and bioengineering, to analyze complex biological data. The bioinformatics analysis revealed the discovery of the two new genetic mutations that contribute to hereditary hearing loss. One in 1,000 newborns is affected by congenital hearing loss. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Medical Research Grant Scientific Committee Member Dr. Sehamuddin Galadari said the research would help doctors to provide genetic counseling and pre-marital screening, and potentially guide treatment for genetic hearing loss. Source: https://www.albayan.ae/across-the-uae/news-andreports/2020-07-14-1.3911821

Left: Dr. Abdelaziz Tlili, Assistant Professor in Applied Biology, University of Sharjah Right: Dr. Abdullah Al Mutery, Assistant Professor in Applied Biology, University of Sharjah

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The Russian Soyuz-2 rocket which carried MeznSat into space, before its launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia on 28 September 2020

MEZNSAT CUBESAT, DEVELOPED BY AURAK AND KU, REACHES ORBIT

THE UAE’S CLIMATEMONITORING CUBESAT, MEZNSAT, HAS SUCCESSFULLY REACHED EARTH’S ORBIT AFTER BEING LAUNCHED INTO SPACE ON A RUSSIAN SOYUZ-2 ROCKET IN SEPTEMBER

The UAE’s climate-monitoring CubeSat, MeznSat, has successfully reached Earth’s orbit after being launched into space on a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket in September. The 3U CubeSat, developed by students from Khalifa University (KU) and the American University in Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK), with support from the UAE Space Agency, aims to provide data on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations in the UAE, including carbon dioxide and methane, using a shortwave infrared spectrometer. It will also collect data on the ‘red tide phenomenon’, where a bloom of toxic red algae occurs off the UAE coast. The data it collects will be monitored, processed, and analyzed by a team of postgraduate students at KU’s Yahsat Space Laboratory and by undergraduate students at the AURAK Satellite Ground Station. MeznSat is one of 11 satellites launched by the UAE to develop national capabilities, enhance scientific research activities, and

regulate the activities of the national space sector. The project will also support young Emiratis in developing the skills necessary for the UAE’s ambitious National Space Program and its future projects. Dr. Maryam R. Al Shehhi, Assistant Professor of Civil, Infrastructure and Environmental Engineering at KU, said the satellite was functioning well and the team would soon start retrieving the data from the shortwave infrared spectrometer. “The mission not only provides a great opportunity to train students on remote sensing science through a real project, but also provides valuable data to study the concentration of greenhouse gases above the UAE. This is a unique opportunity for us and is an important step in developing advanced remote sensing capabilities in the UAE,” she said.

Source: Erica Solomon, Publication Senior Specialist, Khalifa University, https://www.ku.ac.ae/khalifa-universitys-meznsatsuccessfully-launches-into-space


FEATURES

REVEALING THE CHEMICAL CENTER OF THE MILKY WAY Further understanding about the age and chemical composition of star clusters is crucial to understanding how the Milky Way and other galaxies evolved.

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Much of the origin and evolution of the Milky Way and other galaxies is still being studied and tested. Clusters of stars within galaxies are particularly valuable sources of data, as they can provide information both about the chemical evolution of their host galaxy and the evolution of their individual stars. That is why star clusters lie at the heart of modern astrophysics. “One of the fundamental goals of astrophysics is to understand the star formation and chemical enrichment history of galaxies. Theoretical predictions on the formation and enrichment history of galaxies need to be confirmed by observational data of stars. However, individual distant small stars cannot be observed even with the largest existing telescopes. As an alternative, scientists rely on the light received from the brightest stars, which can be studied using large telescopes,” explained Dr. Randa Asa’d, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Dr. Asa’d collaborated with international astronomers to reveal the age and chemical composition of the VDBH 222 star cluster, located in the inner part of the Milky Way, more than 26,000 lightyears from Earth. Given that a light-year is the distance traveled by light in one year, this means that the light observed from VDBH 222 today was emitted more than 26,000 years ago. “Knowing the age and chemical composition of star clusters allows researchers to study the chemical enrichment of galaxies, which is crucial to understanding how our galaxy and others evolved. We know that the center of the Milky Way experienced a recent star formation activity, producing numerous young star clusters dominated by red supergiant stars. We can determine the origin of this star formation activity by analyzing the chemical composition of these young massive cluster groupings, like the VDBH 222,” she added.

VDBH 222 is a young massive cluster (YMC) of stars that was first discovered in 1975. Recent space surveys have uncovered new YMCs in the Milky Way that are ideal candidates for further exploration because they could shed light on the more recent star formation events that have taken place in our inner galaxy. However, the interstellar dust between Earth and the center of the Milky Way has made it difficult to observe and study these distant star clusters using optical light. Within VDBH 222, there are six confirmed red supergiants (RSGs), which are a class of star that is cooler in temperature and more luminous than the average star. RSGs are among the largest stars in the universe, several hundred to over a thousand times the radius of the Sun. The intense luminosity of RSGs means they can emit enough light to reach Earth. Dr Asa’d and her collaborators overcame the limitation posed by interstellar dust by using spectroscopy of the infrared (IR) light emitted by VDBH 222’s largest stars to undertake the first characterization of the cluster.

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FEATURES

SPECTROSCOPY IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS USED BY ASTRONOMERS. IT UTILIZES DATA ON THE ABSORPTION AND EMISSION OF LIGHT TO REVEAL IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TARGET STARS

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Spectroscopy is one of the most powerful tools used by astronomers. It utilizes data on the absorption and emission of light to reveal important characteristics of the target stars. Spectroscopic analysis takes light from a source, like a star, and splits it into its component colors or wavelengths. These spectra can tell scientists a wealth of information about the star, including what chemicals it is made of, its age, and the speed and direction of its movement. The research team collected IR spectra data from six RSGs within the VDBH 222 using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. Operated by the European Southern Observatory, which invited Dr. Asa’d as a visiting scientist, the VLT is one of the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatories. The IR data was processed and corrected to remove contamination of the spectra by the Earth’s atmosphere, called ‘telluric absorption’. The resulting spectra data for VDBH 222 was then analyzed to determine its chemical components and kinematic properties, which relate to velocity and motion.

The analysis showed that the six RSGs within the VDBH 222 had generally similar temperature, chemical composition, and kinematic properties. Specifically, their temperatures ranged from 3650K to 3750K. “We used the spectroscopic data to obtain information about these stars including their temperature, surface gravity, and chemical composition, making ours the first project to determine the average chemical composition for the star cluster VDBH 222 and provide more constraints on its age estimation,” Dr. Asa’d explained. The research team also examined VDBH 222 for the presence of the multiple stellar population (MSP) phenomenon. Stars in a star cluster typically have a similar chemical composition and age because they formed from the same interstellar medium at the same time. More recently, however, some clusters have shown evidence of variations in elements that make up its stars, like helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sodium, and aluminum. The cause of this phenomenon, known as MSP, is still unknown. The aluminum content of the six RSGs in VDBH 222 was examined to see if there were any significant variations that would imply different chemical compositions. No star-to-star abundance variation in aluminum was detected, meaning there was no evidence for MSP in VDBH 222. “This confirms that the MSP phenomenon is only present in older star clusters, not young clusters like VDBH 222, which helps clarify the characteristics that relate to this phenomenon,” Dr Asa’d said. A scientific peer-reviewed article on this project was recently published by Dr Asa’d and her collaborators in The Astrophysical Journal. Her co-authors included Mikhael Kovalev and Maria Bergemann from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany; Valentin D. Ivanov and Marina Rejkuba from the European South Observatory in Germany; Benjamin Davies


THE ANALYSIS SHOWED THAT THE SIX RSGS WITHIN THE VDBH 222 HAD GENERALLY SIMILAR TEMPERATURE, CHEMICAL COMPOSITION, AND KINEMATIC PROPERTIES. SPECIFICALLY, THEIR TEMPERATURES RANGED FROM 3650K TO 3750K

from Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, Anais Gonneau from the University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy in the UK; Svea Hernandez from the Space Telescope Science Institute in the US; and Carmela Lardo from the Laboratoire d’astrophysique in Switzerland. Dr. Asa’d is now applying the experience and learnings gained from her study of VDBH 222 to other star clusters inside our galaxy, as well as neighboring galaxies, to further contribute to our understanding of the formation and evolution of the Milky Way and the universe as a whole.

Title of published paper

Analysis of Red Supergiants in VDBH 222

Published in

The Astrophysical Journal

Journal metrics

Impact Factor 5.745, Q1, H-index: 400, Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR): 2.14

Project funded by

AUS faculty research grant and Open Access Publication grant


FEATURES

PROSPECTING THE BIOFUEL POTENTIAL OF THE UAE’S ‘ALLIG’ DATE SEED The date palm is the iconic plant of the UAE. Its slender trees dot every neighborhood and its fruits are synonymous with Emirati hospitality. Beyond providing beauty and nourishment, scientists believe the crop can also be a source of energy and greater environmental wellbeing for the UAE. Reusing waste is considered an important part of protecting the environment and is of particular concern for the UAE, as it has one of the highest waste per capita rates in the world. In Abu Dhabi alone in 2018, total waste was reported at more than 9.8 million tons, of which agricultural waste accounted for 13%. In the same year, the UAE Cabinet passed a federal draft law for integrated waste management that mandated the separation of agricultural waste and supported its use to produce fertilizer, biogas, and bioenergy. With about 40 million date trees producing enough fruit to place the UAE among the world’s top 10 date producers, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Emad Elnajjar, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), is exploring date seed waste as a potential biofuel source. The UAE’s date fruit industry produces approximately 1 million tons of date seed waste yearly. Some of this date seed waste is used to make products like animal feed, beverages, and water purification material, but the rest is discarded. Given the composition of date seeds – more than 60% carbohydrate,

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approximately 12% fat, and 5% protein – the research team believes it may be more suitably used to create biofuel. “Worldwide, fossil fuel depletion and accompanying environmental problems, like the increasing presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, have resulted in the need for sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of energy. Within the UAE itself, there is an increasing focus on channeling waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill into meeting energy needs. With dates representing a major crop in the UAE, we believed it was worthwhile to explore the energy potential of date seeds,” explained Dr. Elnajjar. Over the past decade, the UAE has been working towards increasing the share of renewable and alternative energy in its oil and gas dominant energy mix, beginning with the UAE Vision 2021 target of generating 27% of national energy requirements from clean energy sources. The UAE Energy Strategy 2050, launched in 2017, has a larger goal of 50% clean energy, of which 44% is to come from renewable sources like solar and biofuel, and 6% is to come from nuclear power.



FEATURES

In light of these national goals and challenges, Dr. Elnajjar worked with UAEU Professor of Chemical Engineering Prof. Sulaiman Al Zuhair, Research Assistant Shereen Hasan, PhD student Saleha Almardeai, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Salah Al Omari, and Abu Dhabi Polytechnic Director Dr. Ali HilalAlnaqbi, to characterize the energy potential and chemical composition of date seed waste. A paper on their research was recently published in the highly ranked international journal Energy. “Compared to all other biomass waste resources, we believe date seeds to be by far one of the best candidates to be used as a source of renewable energy. Its composition suggests it would be a

“COMPARED TO ALL OTHER BIOMASS WASTE RESOURCES, WE BELIEVE DATE SEEDS TO BE BY FAR ONE OF THE BEST CANDIDATES TO BE USED AS A SOURCE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY. ITS COMPOSITION SUGGESTS IT WOULD BE A VALUABLE FEEDSTOCK TO PRODUCE BIODIESEL” Dr. Emad Elnajjar Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the United Arab Emirates University

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valuable feedstock to produce biodiesel,” Dr. Elnajjar said. Among all the potential biofuels, biodiesel is considered to have one of the lowest barriers to entry. This is because biodiesel works the same as diesel, meaning it is compatible with the existing diesel infrastructure. Wherever diesel fuel is used, biodiesel can be substituted. That is why biodiesel is considered a ‘drop-in’ biofuel, as it can be dropped into the existing fuel framework without requiring investment in specialized storage, logistics, or fuel consumption technologies. The first step for the research project was the preparation of the date seed material. The researchers received ‘Allig’ variety dates from the company Liwa Dates, and manually separated the seed from the date fruit. The seeds were then washed, cleaned, sun-dried, and ground into a powder. The powder was sieved to filter out any particles larger than 0.3 millimeters, as previous research had shown the 0.1 to 0.3 millimeter range to be ideal for oil extraction. The date seed powder was then run through the processes of three different oil extraction methods – Soxhlet, Folch, and CO2 supercritical – to determine which would be the most productive. The oil yield of the three methods was similar – between 9.5% and 10.15%. Chemical analysis also found that two chemicals present in the original date seed powder – potassium and chromium – did not transfer into the biodiesel and instead remained in the powder after oil extraction. The powder left behind after oil extraction was also tested to determine its heat value and chemical properties. It was found to have nearly the same heat value before and after oil extraction. This means that the post-extraction date seed powder can also be utilized as fuel in direct combustion, pyrolysis, or gasification. Direct combustion refers to directly burning the fuel material – in this case, date seed powder. Pyrolysis


DATE SEEDS ARE WASTE BIOMASS MATERIALS WHICH CAN BE USED OVER AND OVER IN MULTI-LEVEL PROCESSES, TO PRODUCE ENERGY AND OTHER USEFUL PRODUCTS

is way of extracting energy from organic material by heating it to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, which breaks down the material into combustible gases and charcoal. Gasification is a similar process to that of pyrolysis, where a material is exposed to high temperatures with limited oxygen and/ or steam, which produces a synthetic gas. “The most important finding from our research is that date seeds are waste biomass materials which can be used over and over in multi-level processes, to produce energy and other useful products. The oil can be extracted from date seeds for biodiesel production, while the leftover date seed powder can be used in a pyrolysis process to generate gaseous fuel, and the char left over from the pyrolysis product can also be used in different applications, such as soil fertilizers and the removal of toxic substances from their solutions,” Dr. Elnajjar explained. The process to convert date seeds into fuel, which was tested through the project, could also be scaled up for

commercial use, to provide a stream of biofuel to the UAE. “Our study was performed at a laboratory scale. However, with the further supply of date seeds and proper government support, this project could be expanded to a large scale to be economically and environmentally effective,” Dr. Elnajjar said.

Title of published paper

Morphology characterization and chemical composition of United Arab Emirates date seeds and their potential for energy production

Published in Energy

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 6.082, H-index: 173,, Q1, SJR: 2.17

Project funded by

UAEU Energy Center and Research Office


FEATURES

LOW-COST ADAPTABLE CATALYSIS USING NANOPARTICLE MESH Catalytic processes – where a desired chemical reaction is sped up or enabled to take place in otherwise unsuitable conditions – are at the heart of modern industry, involved in over 80% of manufactured goods. But efficient and cost-effective catalysts are difficult to produce, particularly adaptable methods that can operate at the sensitivity and temperatures required by the UAE’s oil sector.

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A MAJOR CHALLENGE IN HETEROGENEOUS CATALYSIS COMES FROM A TRADE-OFF INVOLVED IN INCREASING THE ACTIVE COMPONENT LOAD IN THE CATALYST AND THE RATE AT WHICH IT DISPERSES THROUGH THE REACTANT

A team from Khalifa University (KU) has collaborated with researchers from Greek and American institutes to leverage nanotechnology to develop a method for making heterogeneous catalysts that are highly effective and specific, using common and low-cost chemicals. The project was led by KU Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Dr. Yasser Al Wahedi and jointly funded by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and KU. Of the three major types of catalysts – heterogeneous, homogenous, and autocatalytic – heterogeneous catalysts account for the lion’s share of industrial catalytic processes, making up more than 85% of all industrial catalysis. In heterogeneous catalysis, the catalyst material – called the active component – and the liquid, solid, or gas that is being subject to catalysis – called the reactant – exist in two different phases. An example of this takes place in your personal car. There, the harmful carbon monoxide gas produced by your car engine is run through a catalytic converter, which has platinum and other metals as the solid catalyst, to produce inert carbon monoxide.

A major challenge in heterogeneous catalysis comes from a trade-off involved in increasing the active component load in the catalyst and the rate at which it disperses through the reactant. The more active component added to a catalyst, the less it disperses through the reactant. In the past decade, scientists have turned to nanotechnology to overcome this challenge, which allows for tiny capsules of the active material to be suspended in an inert support structure with pores or openings between two and 50 nanometers in size. Think of this as a sieve, where the weave of the sieve has tiny particles of active component woven into it, which increases the surface area of the catalytic reaction to make it more productive. This nanoparticle embedded mesoporous matrix (NEMM) has been trialed in previous studies, but only using low loads of the active component of around 10 weight-percent, as it has been difficult to maintain the active component particle size and dispersal rate in higher loads. The KU-led research team has developed a method for preparing the active component material and then integrating it into a support structure

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FEATURES

WHERE LARGE AMOUNTS OF HYDROGEN SULFIDE ARE PRODUCED, IT IS RUN THROUGH A CATALYSIS PROCESS TO TRANSFORM THE HARMFUL GAS INTO SULFUR, WHICH IS USED IN MANY PROCESSES AND PRODUCTS, LIKE FERTILIZER, MATCHES, FIREWORKS, AND FUNGICIDES

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that is most suitable for high temperature uses. They used iron oxides as the active component, and porous silica to create the support structure, which protected the embedded nanoparticles from damage from the high temperatures involved in the catalysis process. “The inspiration behind this project was firstly to develop more sustainable catalysts/adsorbents based on more abundant materials like iron oxides rather than rare and costly materials, and secondly, to significantly increase the active component loading through a process of precisely coating the component with a ceramic material that is stable under thermal treatment while being penetrable. With this in mind, we chose to study a catalyst structure made of a sustainable, low cost, and abundant material – silica – and a method of coating the active component with a simple porous ceramic material,” explained Dr. Georgia Basina, a postdoctorate researcher at

KU. She was the lead author of a paper recently published by the team in the leading international scientific journal Applied Catalysis B: Environmental. Her co-authors from KU included Dr. Wahedi, Assistant Professor Dr. Nahla Al Amoodi, Dr. Xinnan Lu, and research assistants Omer Elmutasim, Dina Ali Gaber, and Safa Ali Gaber. The team also included Professor Dr. Michael Tsapatsis, Dr. Balasubramanian V. Vaithilingam, and Dr. Dandan Xu from the University of Minnesota in the US; Prof. Dr. Michael A. Karakassides, Prof. Dr. Ioannis Panagiotopoulos, Dr. Maria Baikousi, Dr. Konstantinos Spyrou, and doctoral candidates Georgios Asimakopoulos and Eleni Thomou from the University of Ioannina in Greece; and Dr. Elias Sakellis, Dr. Nikos Boukos, and Dr. Vasileios Tzitzios from the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology NCSR Demokritos in Greece. The project had three major steps. The first step was the production of iron oxide particles to the desired ultrananoparticle size of 20 nanometers and below. In the second step, the iron oxide nanoparticles were coated in silicon ceramic. The third step was to grow the porous silica support structure around the silicon-coated iron oxide particles, allowing the silicon-coated active component nanoparticles to become the cores of the support structure. The team then tested the NEMM developed through their innovative method to transform hydrogen sulfide into sulfur. Hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in oil fields and is a byproduct gas from the oil desulfurization process. The gas is corrosive, flammable, and toxic to humans, which is why it must be treated before use or release. Where large amounts of hydrogen sulfide are produced, it is run through a catalysis


process to transform the harmful gas into sulfur, which is used in many processes and products, like fertilizer, matches, fireworks, and fungicides. The standard industry catalytic processes tend to be high-energy processes that require high loads of catalysts. “When subjecting hydrogen sulfide to our catalytic system, we found that the most effective result occurred when the catalyst silicon-coated iron oxide particles measured between five and seven nanometers, with the active iron oxides making up 57 to 73 weight-percent of the structure. This type of catalyst achieved 100% conversion and higher than 90% selectivity towards sulfur,” Dr. Basina revealed. In catalysis, selectivity and activity are two of the most important factors for effectiveness. Catalyst activity refers to the catalyst’s ability to increase the rate of reaction. Catalyst selectivity refers to the catalyst’s ability to selectively produce specific results through the reaction. The current technologies used to treat hydrogen sulfide require 10 to 100 times more mass than this catalyst to achieve the same level of selectivity demonstrated by the NEMM process. An industrial plant using the innovative NEMM catalyst could achieve reductions of 10 to 100 times in its size and energy footprint, while achieving the same performance. Explaining the most noteworthy findings from the project, Dr. Basina said: “The achieved loadings of active components reached up to 82% by weight, while their size, morphology, and phase were completely controlled. In addition, the suggested synthetic approach can be extended to several catalytic systems. It is also remarkable that the high active compound loading and stability of these systems were able to be achieved with abundant and low-cost materials, which

helps guarantee the sustainability and viability of the process.” This means that the methodology they developed can be easily applied to other active components and mesoporous material, giving the project a much larger potential impact than just the one demonstrated hydrogen sulfide to sulfur use. “The technological impact of our catalytic systems research is diverse. These catalysts are able to provide a drastic reduction to the volume of a real industrial process, which in the UAE could directly benefit ADNOC, the UAE’s major oil company. In addition, the more efficient handling of the toxic gas byproduct hydrogen sulfide that we demonstrated, shows that our innovation can improve environmental wellbeing globally and support the UAE’s goals relating to environmental preservation,” Dr. Basina asserted. The next step for the collaborative NEMM project is to apply their methodology to the development of new industrial and sustainable catalytic systems. The methodology also needs to be scaled up, from the small lab-based processes to the substantial loads required for industry.

Title of published paper

On the selective oxidation of H2S by heavy loaded Nanoparticles Embedded in Mesoporous Matrix (NEMMs)

Published in

Applied Catalysis B: Environmental

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 16.683, Q1, H-index: 229, Scientific Journal Ranking: 4.22

Project funded by

Khalifa University and ADNOC


FEATURES

EXPLORATION OF EMIRATI DIET AND GENETICS REVEALS HIGH SALT TRIGGER Eating habits may not only be attributed to our culture, upbringing, and personal preferences. A recent research project, led by a University of Sharjah professor, has found a potential genetic cause for the preference for a high salt diet recorded in the Emirati population, and the results may be leveraged to improve personalized health.

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As human beings, we share about 99.9% of our genes, but it is the differences in the remaining 0.1% that produce the huge variation seen in humanity. Genes determine not only our physical characteristics like skin and eye color, but also some health traits and habits. Whether a characteristic is due to nature or nurture, genetics, or personal choice, is still being clarified by scientists. A specific liver hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF-21), which is encoded in the FGF-21 gene, has been linked in recent research to some dietary habits. FGF-21 is known to affect a number of biological functions, including the central mechanisms of appetite control and insulinsensitizing properties. Variations of the FGF-21 gene have previously been found to be linked to high sugar consumption in some Caucasian populations, which in turn was correlated to hypertension and high waist-hip ratio. Given the high rate of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and hypertension among Emirati populations, Dr. Maha SaberAyed, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Sharjah (UOS), sought to explore its role in Emirati eating habits. “Gene variants in FGF-21 have been linked to sweet preference in other populations,” Dr. Saber-Ayed explained, citing the Denmark study, which was published in the leading journal Cell Metabolism in 2017. The research studied 13,016 Danish people, and found that variations in the FGF-21 gene related to increased consumption of sugar and nominal increased consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. A later study of British people with European ancestry also found a common FGF-21 allele to be associated with high sugar intake, waist-hip ratio, and blood pressure. “The Emirati population is unique, and very few studies have sought to identify key markers, in the form of gene variants, to see if there is an affinity among the population for certain food types. In support of increasing scientific understanding for the greater public health of the UAE, we undertook the first study of its kind in the

region to show the link between genetics and diet,” she said. Improving public health is a key part of the UAE’s national strategy. The UAE Vision 2021 specifically outlines the goal to reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer, as well as the prevalence of diabetes and childhood obesity. Dr. Saber-Ayad’s project collaborators from the UOS included Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition Dr. Hadia Radwan, PhD students Sarah Hammoudeh and Shaista Manzoor, Dr. Hussein Jabbar, Dr. Rahaf Wardeh, Dr. Ahmed Ashraf, and Professor of Molecular Pathology and Genetics Dr. Rifat Hammoudi. Peter Habib, from the Egyptian International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, and Alsamman M. Alsamman, from the Egyptian Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute, also contributed to the project. A paper on their research was published in the Journal of Advanced Research. To ascertain the role of FGF-21 in Emirati eating habits, the researchers selected 196 healthy Emirati participants, ranging in age from 18 to 73 years, with a balance of both genders (56% women and 44% men). The weight and body mass index information for each study participant was recorded. The participants were given visual aids to show the standard portion of each food item and then asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire that collected information on the types of food and beverages they consume, the amount they consume, and the frequency with which they consume them. This was used to calculate their daily portion intake using diet analysis software. Saliva samples were collected from all participants 30 minutes after eating, which were used for DNA extraction and genetic analysis. The genetic analysis focused on chromosome 19, to check for specific FGF-21 variations in each individual. The most common type of genetic variation


FEATURES

ANALYSIS OF THE GENETIC SAMPLES DID FIND A SLIGHT CORRELATION BETWEEN FGF-21 ALLELES AND CARBOHYDRATE AND SUGAR CONSUMPTION IN EMIRATIS, BUT WHAT WAS SURPRISING WAS THE STRONG LINK WITH SALT INTAKE

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among people is single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block. If an SNP occurs within a gene, then the gene is described as having more than one allele. Alleles influence the way our bodies’ cells work, determining traits and characteristics. Humans inherit one allele from each parent for each gene. In the context of this research project, two SNPs on the FGF-21 gene were examined – rs838133 and rs838145 (allele A and allele G respectively) – for their role in influencing dietary habits. Analysis of the genetic samples did find a slight correlation between FGF-21 alleles and carbohydrate and sugar consumption in Emiratis, but what was surprising was the strong link with salt intake. Participants who reported high salt intake had a higher proportion of FGF-21 SNPs. Males with the minor G allele had a significantly higher intake of total sodium, while females with the same genotype had a higher intake of vitamin D. BMI did not appear to be affected by the genotype of either SNP. Salt intake was found to

positively correlate with fruit and vegetable intake in those with both SNPs. This was not the case for those who received the same allele from both parents. The positive correlation between vegetable and salt intake may be due to the consumption of salad seasoning, as sodium and salad seasoning intake were found to be linked in participants aged 18 to 35. Other foods found to be prevalent in the diets of those with high salt intake include cheese, falafel, pizza, salted nuts, and white bread. Carbohydrate intake was found to significantly correlate with sweet intake across all age groups. Participants aged 18 to 24, who received the same allele from both parents – either two copies of allele A, or two copies of allele G – had a higher total carbohydrate and overall caloric intake, however, the role of the FGF-21 gene alleles in sugar/ carbohydrate consumption was not considered statistically significant. Although discovering a link between salt consumption and the FGF-21 gene was not the goal of the project, Dr. Saber-Ayad said the results were notable and useful. The UAE’s average total sodium intake has been estimated at nine grams per day, which is nearly double the five grams recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Salt is mostly made up of sodium, which is known to have impacts on human health. High salt intake is linked to high blood pressure, heart and kidney diseases, and may also be associated with obesity, asthma, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer. Sodium can damage blood vessels, making them hard and rigid, making high salt consumption harmful to those with cardiovascular and hypertensive health conditions. “High salt intake can lead to increased risk of CVD, which is a major health problem in the UAE. High salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, which has been found to be present in 35% of patients, while 14.4% of


“THE EMIRATI POPULATION IS UNIQUE AND VERY FEW STUDIES HAVE SOUGHT TO IDENTIFY KEY MARKERS IN THE FORM OF GENE VARIANTS, TO SEE IF THERE IS AN AFFINITY AMONG THE POPULATION FOR CERTAIN FOOD TYPES. IN SUPPORT OF INCREASING SCIENTIFIC UNDERSTANDING FOR THE GREATER PUBLIC HEALTH OF THE UAE, WE UNDERTOOK THE FIRST STUDY OF ITS KIND IN THE REGION TO SHOW THE LINK BETWEEN GENETICS AND DIET” Dr. Maha Saber-Ayed Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Sharjah

patients have a history of coronary artery disease,” Dr. Saber-Ayad explained. The WHO reported in 2018 that CVDs accounted for 40% of deaths in the UAE, making it the single leading cause of death in the country. Dr. Saber-Ayad believes this research can help guide doctors to better prevent or reduce high salt intake as a contributor to CVD. It could also contribute to personalized medicine, she suggested, in which information about a patient’s genes informs their disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. “Our research findings reflect a geneenvironment interaction and taste preference that may lead to certain chronic diseases related to high salt intake, such as hypertension. Emirati individuals with the two markers (gene variants) will have high salt intake, so it is worth checking whether people with high salt intake have the two markers, and if so, they may need to see a specialist nutritionist to ensure they go on a low salt diet. This might prevent them from developing diseases such as CVD and others in the future,” Dr. Saber-Ayad said.

The research team plans to continue their exploration of correlations between Emirati gene variants and health and habits. As a next step, they will investigate a potential link between the FGF-21 variants and high blood pressure and the efficacy of blood pressure treatments.

Title of published paper

The FGF-21 genetic variants rs838133 and rs838145 are associated with high salt intake in the Emirati population

Published in

Journal of Advanced Research

Journal metrics

Impact Factor 6.99, Q1, H-index 45, Scientific Journal Ranking 0.99

Project funded by

Al Jalila Foundation and the University of Sharjah


FEATURES

MICROPOLLUTANT REMOVAL USING NANOMATERIALENHANCED FARM WASTE A research team led by faculty at Zayed University (ZU) has demonstrated an environmentally friendly way to remove an industrial dye micropollutant, utilizing nanomaterials and local agricultural waste.

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Protecting water supplies from industrial pollution is an ongoing challenge all over the world, with about 80% of wastewater being released back into the water supply without treatment. Even when wastewater is treated before release, some pollutants remain in tiny amounts, as current water treatment technologies do not target them. These ‘micropollutants’ can contribute to health problems for those living downstream, and can even end up back in the water supply. Industrial dyes are among the major contributors to water pollution, as they persist in the wastewater discharges of many industries, particularly textiles, plastics, paper, and leather. The textile dyeing and treatment industry alone is estimated to be responsible for 17% to 20% of global water pollution. What makes industrial dyes particularly difficult to remove from wastewater is that dyes are deliberately designed to be resistant to fading and removal. When dye-containing wastewater is released into the environment, it not only discolors waterways, it can also harm plant and animal life, and even cause cancer, skin, eye, and kidney disorders, and genetic mutations in humans. Dr. Jibran Iqbal, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the College of Natural and Health Sciences at ZU, partnered with Dr. Fares Howari, Dean of ZU’s College of Natural Health Sciences, to develop an innovative way to remove a particularly harmful industrial dye known as ‘Congo red’ from water. Working with other

“THE ADVANTAGE OF USING NATURAL PALM WASTE IS THAT IT IS ABUNDANTLY AVAILABLE IN THE UAE AND IS ALSO AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY MATERIAL. BY USING DATE PALM WASTE IN THIS WAY, WE ARE EFFECTIVELY RECYCLING IT FOR A BENEFICIAL USE, RATHER THAN JUST DISCARDING IT” Dr. Jibran Iqbal Associate Professor of Chemistry at the College of Natural and Health Sciences, Zayed University

researchers from the UAE, Pakistan, and Australia, they leveraged nanomaterials to produce a low-cost and efficient way to remove the dye pollutant. “Water contamination by micropollutants is a global issue of great concern and requires special attention. The Congo red industrial dye is one of the major micropollutants contributing to water pollution. Dyecontaining effluents have to be efficiently treated before they are discharged into water bodies or the environment, which requires the development of more effective treatment processes,” said Dr. Iqbal. Invented in the 1880s, Congo red dye has been widely used in the textiles and paper industries, as well as in biomedical research and diagnostics. But in the intervening decades, the dye was discovered to be toxic and can damage human health, causing cancer, lung and kidney infections, and gene mutation. Banning or reducing the use of Congo red is not enough, however, as the dye is non-biodegradable, meaning it remains in the environment for long periods of time as a micropollutant. The current methods for removing Congo red from industrial wastewater, which include electrochemical treatment, photochemical degradation, membrane separation, bioremediation, and ion-

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FEATURES

Left to right: Dr. Jibran Iqbal and Dr. Fares Howari

THE ZU-LED RESEARCH TEAM FOCUSED THEIR CONGO RED REMEDIATION SOLUTION ON BIOCHAR MADE FROM LOCAL AGRICULTURAL WASTE, WHICH THEY ENHANCED WITH NANOTECHNOLOGY

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exchange, are high-cost processes with their own functional limitations and trade-offs. Developing a less costly, more effective, and less environmentally taxing method could support increased and improved removal of Congo red from wastewater. The ZU-led research team focused their Congo red remediation solution on biochar made from local agricultural waste, which they enhanced with nanotechnology. Biochar is produced when biological material is subjected to high temperature in a limited oxygen environment. This transforms the material into a carbonrich solid, like charcoal. Biochar is cheap, renewable, and widely available, as well as having valuable physical properties, like being porous and reactive. For this project, the researchers made biochar from waste date palm leaves collected from local date palm fields. “The advantage of using natural palm waste is that it is abundantly available in the UAE and is also an environmentally friendly material. By using date palm waste in this way, we are effectively recycling it for a beneficial use, rather than just discarding it. The specific material characteristics of date palm biochar make it a very efficient

adsorbent to remove pollutants from aqueous solutions,” Dr Iqbal explained. The date palm leaf biochar was infused with nanoparticle zero-valent manganese (nZVMn) to enhance its ability to adsorb and catalytically degrade pollutants. In adsorption, the targeted molecules, atoms, or ions are held to the surface of the material to enable their collection or capture. In catalysis, a catalyst is used to speed up or enable a chemical transformation. Zerovalent metals have valuable properties, like binding and catalysis, which are further enhanced when shrunk to the nanoparticle size. Engineering nanoscale zero-valent metals is an emerging science that is being explored for environmental remediation and other industrial processes. Materials behave differently at the nanoscale, which refers to 100 nanometers or smaller. The small size effect of nanomaterials makes them more catalytic and highly sensitive. Because nanomaterials have more surface area, they are also more adsorptive and have higher reaction efficiency. The quantum size effect experienced by nanomaterials also improves their optical and electronic properties. These unique characteristics have lent themselves to the


advancement of nanomaterials technology. The adsorptive and catalytic characteristics of metal nanoparticles are further enhanced when they are zero-valent. Valence, or valency, of an element is the measure of its combining capacity with other atoms when it forms chemical compounds or molecules. Metal ions can be subjected to a reduction process that renders them zero-valent. “The recycling, adsorptive, and catalytic properties of biochar were enhanced by impregnating it with mesoporous nanozerovalent manganese. The resulting composite material exhibited excellent characteristics, such as high surface area, thermal stability, small size, crystallinity, and recovery. The prepared material showed good performance as an adsorbent as well as a catalyst and caused significant removal of pollutant from water,” Dr. Iqbal said. The researchers tested the efficacy of their basic date palm biochar, the nZVMn embedded biochar, and nZVMn biochar in the presence of hydrogen peroxide, to see how well they removed Congo red from water. They specifically measured their adsorptive and oxidative removal of the dye. After 120 minutes, the biochar alone removed about 46.5% of the Congo red, while the nZVMn biochar removed 77%, and the hydrogen peroxide coupled nZVMn biochar removed 95%, showing that the addition of hydrogen peroxide to the process enhanced the oxidative removal of the Congo red. The research team then investigated the efficacy of the two forms of the date palm biochar material – basic and nVZMn embedded – over multiple use cycles. They found that the embedded biochar could be washed, dried, and reused seven times while still removing up to 64% of the Congo red. In comparison, the basic biochar was able to retain efficacy up to only four cycles. “Our project proved the possibility of converting abundantly available date palm waste into low-cost engineered biochar for wastewater treatment. The results

showed promising insights that serve as milestones in the research into low-cost, environment friendly biochar-based water purification technologies,” Dr. Iqbal stated. He and his collaborators, who included Noor Shah, Murtaza Sayed, Nabeel Khan Niazi, Muhammad Imran, Javed Ali Khan, Zia ul Haq Khan, Aseel Gamal Suliman Hussein, and Kyriaki Polychronopoulou, published a paper on their research in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. Having demonstrated how the intrinsic water pollution-mitigation value of date palm biochar can be enhanced by embedding it with zero-valent metal nanoparticles in the presence of hydrogen peroxide, the research team believes they can use the enhanced biochar to remove even more classes of pollutants. They now intend to explore further the integration of date palm biochar with nanomaterials to remove other wastewater contaminants. “The next step for this area of research is to explore the ability of nanomaterialenhanced date palm biochar to remove many other emerging organic contaminants – like pharmaceuticals and personal care products – from wastewater, and make it applicable for large-scale remediation programs in the UAE,” Dr. Iqbal concluded.

Title of published paper

Nano-zerovalent manganese/biochar composite for the adsorptive and oxidative removal of Congo red dye from aqueous solutions

Published in

Journal of Hazardous Materials

Journal metrics

Impact Factor 9.03, Q1, H-index 260, Scientific Journal Ranking 2.01

Project funded by

Research Incentive Fund (R19052), Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, UAE


PROFILES

DR. FADI ALOUL

LEADING FROM THE FRONT “Choose a field that makes a difference and excites you to go to wor k ever y day” is not only the advice that Dr. Fadi Aloul gives his Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) students at the American Univer sity of Shar jah (AUS). He also lives by it.

Dr. Fadi Aloul American University of Sharjah Scopus H-index: 22 ORCID ID

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For the past 18 years, Dr. Aloul’s pursuit of fruitful collaboration and enrichment of university education in the UAE has helped him become one of the country’s most-highly awarded academic leaders and most-cited researchers. The Emirati Professor and Head of the CSE Department at AUS is among the UAE’s top three in the field of engineering and technology on Scopus, based on field-weighted citation impact, and a recipient of major international and local academic awards. Dr. Aloul began his dive into engineering at the Lawrence Technological University in Michigan in the United States, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Summa Cum Laude. For his Master of Science in CSE, he transferred to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and it was there that Dr. Aloul first discovered the passion for teaching that has since guided his academic leadership. “I was given a teaching assistantship role and began teaching classes. Seeing the students’ interest and excitement

in the material I was presenting was surprisingly fun and rewarding. I really enjoyed it. That was when I decided I would join academia instead of industry after graduation,” he shared. After receiving his MSc in CSE, Dr. Aloul stayed on at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for his doctorate. There, he developed expertise in his first major area of research – Boolean Satisfaction Problems (SAT) algorithms and applications – which deal with decision and optimization problems that arise in various engineering and computer science applications. This research field came to dominate the early part of Dr. Aloul’s research career, accounting for a third of his total 135 peer-reviewed published papers. SAT algorithms is also the area of research in which Dr. Aloul has co-filed a United States patent in 2004, for a method of verification using SAT algorithms. Dr. Aloul returned to the UAE after his doctorate, where after a brief stint at the American University of Dubai, he joined AUS as an assistant professor in the CSE Department in 2004. In that role, he was put in charge of teaching a different subfield of computer science and engineering, cybersecurity. This gave him the opportunity to expand his research interests into an area of strategic importance to the UAE, which has a National Cybersecurity Strategy and Cybersecurity Council.



PROFILES

The system Dr. Aloul and his collaborators developed gathered data from the smartphone’s built-in microphone to record respiratory effort, the smartphone’s built-in accelerometer to record body movement, and an external oximeter to measure oxygen levels.

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“We started looking into different areas of cybersecurity, like smart grid security, cyber-physical systems security, Internetof-Things security, and general security awareness issues. One of my most-highly cited papers is in this field,” Dr. Aloul recalled. The paper is titled “Two Factor Authentication Using Mobile Phones”, and it has been cited 314 times since it was published. It detailed a novel method for authenticating access using a mobile phone-based software token system, to replace existing hardware and computerbased software tokens. Around the same time that this highly cited paper was published, Dr. Aloul received the first major recognition of his academic career – the 2009 Khalifa Award for Higher Education. This award is given by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed

Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, to one UAE university faculty each year for excellence in teaching, research, and service. Two years later, Dr. Aloul received AUS’s inaugural Excellence in Teaching Award, given to one faculty from the College of Engineering each year. In 2013, he received the Abdul Hameed Shoman Award for Young Arab Researchers in the category of Mathematics & Information Technology. A year later, Dr. Aloul received an early promotion to the rank of full professor, an achievement that was recognized through the Sheikh Rashid Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement. Taking on a more senior role in the CSE Department also deepened Dr. Aloul’s involvement with developing CSE students, which led to


his third area of research expertise – applied engineering. “Every CSE student has to do a one-year graduate project and I always advise them to pick projects that contribute to their community and have a real impact. What I noticed is that while theoretical research may be too advanced for undergraduate students, they are very much interested and capable of developing applied engineering projects, particularly to develop apps for health, safety, and environmental monitoring. As an advisor for many such applied engineering projects, it became one of my areas of research expertise,” he recalled. Dr. Aloul has since advised and coauthored papers on many projects that leverage the computing and sensing power of smartphones and machine learning to solve challenging problems. One of his most-cited papers in applied engineering uses the computational power and portability of smartphones to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a serious sleep disorder where the upper airway becomes obstructed during sleep and causes oxygen desaturation. The paper was published in the Journal for Biomedical Informatics in 2014. The system Dr. Aloul and his collaborators developed gathered data from the smartphone’s built-in microphone to record respiratory effort, the smartphone’s built-in accelerometer to record body movement, and an external oximeter to measure oxygen levels. The data gathered from these sensors was processed by a customized application housed on the smartphone that analyzed the results against information collected about the user through a questionnaire. The app determined the likelihood of OSA and reported the finding to the user. When tested for accuracy, their novel system was

found to be as accurate as the current gold standard for OSA diagnosis, which is overnight Polysomnography, without requiring sleep lab-based observation using specialized equipment. While teaching cybersecurity and advising students at AUS, Dr. Aloul had also begun work on the project that resulted in perhaps his most significant career achievement to date – receipt of the 2015 Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC) Airbus Diversity Award. The prestigious award is given to one faculty worldwide for their efforts to promote diversity in engineering education, and Dr. Aloul received it for his leadership in redeveloping AUS’s Introduction to Engineering and Computing course. “Right after I joined AUS, I began championing the Intro to Engineering and Computing course. This is a course that all engineering freshmen have to take, which makes it particularly important.


PROFILES

“I HOPE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A UAE UNIVERSITY ON THE GLOBAL LIST OF THE TOP 50 UNIVERSITIES. RIGHT NOW, WE HAVE SOME IN THE TOP 200, BUT I BELIEVE THE TOP 50 IS ACHIEVABLE IF WE PUSH HARD ENOUGH. FOR THAT, WE NEED ALL THE EFFORTS TO COME TOGETHER” Dr. Fadi Aloul Professor and Department Head of Computer Science and Engineering American University of Sharjah

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We wanted to make a course that was exciting and provided a real and meaningful introduction to the various specializations of engineering,” he recalled. Working with his colleagues in the College of Engineering, Dr. Aloul led a years-long redesign process to overhaul the course. The final course covered a wide range of engineering topics and applications, with a focus on group projects to enable problemsolving, innovation, and collaboration, in addition to developing their soft skills. It also integrated technology in class to increase student engagement. The course has 15 instructors teaching hands-on labs, engaging lectures, and leading research challenges. They teach about 800 AUS students each year. A paper on the revamped course was published in the European Journal of Engineering Education in 2015. “While nearly every university has such a class, what makes ours special is the sheer amount of content it covers, that not only introduces freshmen engineering students to the field, but really gets them excited about what they can study and achieve. And though I may have been the one listed on the GEDC award, I have to give credit to the College of Engineering administration and team that helped support, develop, and deliver the course. We are all only as good as our teammates, and I have been blessed to be part of excellent teams,” Dr. Aloul stated. In 2016, Dr. Aloul achieved another career milestone when he was promoted to Head of the CSE Department at AUS. In the intervening five years, he has overseen a doubling of enrollment in the department. “The CSE Department is now the largest at AUS. The major reason for this is that we


have an excellent team which has helped us connect with the needs of students, alumni, industry, and the wider community. We promote a culture of excellence among faculty, staff, and students, by identifying how they can make an impact and push the department forward. As part of this, we have revamped the curriculum to add needed electives in topics of interest to students and the market, digitized many of our student services to improve the students’ learning and university experience, developed several professional industrial academies to empower our students, established student and employer web portals for easier communication, developed stateof-the-art labs, and launched aggressive recruitment and outreach programs to engage with high school students, alumni, and industry professionals,” he said.

All of this – advising on high-impact research, winning international and national awards, and developing a highly successful model for a CSE Department – contribute to Dr. Aloul’s larger goal, which is to make the UAE stand out in the international advanced educational sector. “I hope to contribute to the achievement of a UAE university on the global list of the top 50 universities. Right now, we have some in the top 200, but I believe the top 50 is achievable if we push hard enough. For that, we need all the efforts to come together,” he revealed. That is the meaningful challenge that continues to make Dr. Aloul excited to work in his field of advanced engineering education, and the one that he is striving to achieve.


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DR. INGYIN ZAW

OBSERVING SPACE THROUGH A PARTICLE PHYSICS LENS Success may often be linked to breadth of experience in one’s field, but sometimes being an outsider can allow for a unique per spective. Dr. Ingyin Zaw, Associate Professor of Physics at New Yor k Univer sity Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), embodies that approach.

Dr. Ingyin Zaw New York University Abu Dhabi Scopus H-index: 65 ORCID ID

After gaining her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD in physics, with a focus on particle physics from Harvard University and working as a postdoctorate researcher at the New York University (NYU) Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, Dr. Zaw made the unusual decision to transition to a new field – astronomy. “The foundation of what I’ve studied and worked on is a fascination with physics that goes beyond our day-to-day experience and consequently, our intuition, such as relativity and quantum mechanics. That is what enabled and inspired my move from studying the smallest objects – fundamental particles – to the biggest objects – supermassive black holes,” she shared. What attracted Dr. Zaw to astronomy was the independence it afforded its researchers, compared to particle physics.

“In particle physics, projects are typically huge collaborations, easily involving over 1,000 researchers. Everything you do on a project needs the approval of the entire group, even just presenting at a conference. I liked the independence that was possible in astronomy, where project groups were smaller and more agile,” she said. Taking advantage of that relative research latitude, for the past nine years, Dr. Zaw has been shaking things up in astronomy by approaching it with a particle physicist’s mind, questioning accepted theories, and proposing new hypotheses. Today, this ‘immigrant of research boundaries’ is ranked fourth in the UAE by h-index in the Scopus listing of researchers in the field of astronomy and physics. One project that helped Dr. Zaw bridge the gap between particle physics and astronomy took place during her postdoc work at NYU. In that project, she leveraged her knowledge and experience from particle physics to study cosmic rays, which are highly energetic atomic nuclei or other particles traveling through space at a speed approaching that of light. Over the course of the project, she developed an understanding of active galactic nuclei (AGN), which refers to the

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PROFILES

One project that helped Dr. Zaw bridge the gap between particle physics and astronomy took place during her postdoc work at NYU. In that project, she leveraged her knowledge and experience from particle physics to study cosmic rays, which are highly energetic atomic nuclei or other particles traveling through space at a speed approaching that of light.

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compact central regions of galaxies that have unusually high luminosity of a kind outside of the electromagnetic spectrum of stars. These high luminosity regions contain supermassive black holes that are accumulating material. A paper on the project, titled “Galaxies correlating with ultra-high energy cosmic rays”, was published in The Astrophysical Journal and is Dr. Zaw’s most-highly cited first-authored paper. It details her research into the potential origin of the most energetic form of cosmic rays, called ultra-high energy cosmic rays (UHECRs). First identified in 1962, UHECRs are perhaps the most energetic particles in the universe and among the rarest. At the time of the paper, the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina had only identified 27 instances of arrival energies in the UHECR range in three years of observation. The origin of UHECRs is still unknown, and has proven difficult to pinpoint, as the trajectory of these charged particles is distorted by the magnetic fields that abound in space. “The Pierre Auger Observatory found that the arrival directions of these cosmic rays – in 20 of these 27 instances of UHECR – statistically correlated with the locations of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) in the Veron-Cetty & Veron (VCV) Catalogue of Quasars and Active AGN, which suggests that those AGN are producing UHECR. We wanted to test this finding by measuring the energy of the supposed source galaxies to see if it was sufficient to accelerate the cosmic rays to the levels we have observed,” the self-professed ‘recovering particle physicist’ said. Through their research, Dr. Zaw and her collaborators discovered that 14 of the 21 VCV galaxies suggested to be the origins of UHECR were AGNs. They then examined

the correlated AGNs’ total luminosity over all wavelengths, called ‘bolometric luminosity’. They found that the bolometric luminosities of most of the AGNS were lower than required to achieve the acceleration observed in UHECRs. “Our conclusion was somewhat controversial, because we discovered that the light that we are able to observe from the VCV galaxies today is not energetic enough to be able to accelerate these UHECR particles to such levels. Either there needs to be a different mechanism for the origin of these UHECR than the standard mechanisms, or those galaxies were more luminous in the past and as their energies have spent the last 100,000 years bouncing around before they reached us, they have since faded,” she explained. From there, Dr. Zaw went on to study supermassive black holes (SMBHs) using masers, which is an acronym for “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”. She had initially worked with masers in her undergraduate studies and found her way to back to them during her time as a postdoctoral researcher. Astrophysical masers are radio wave emissions from space, which are often used to investigate a variety of astrophysical environments. “Today, my main research is in trying to figure out how black holes grow, and specifically how material accretes or accumulates onto them via an accretion disk, and I use water-maser emission to study this. Water masers are clouds of water vapor, roughly the size of Earth, that orbit some of the SMBHs. By studying water masers, we can see how they form, and observe their velocities and positions to get accurate measurements of the black hole masses, as well as the shape of the accretion disk. Most methods of


measuring the mass of massive black holes are accurate to factors of a few to a few tens. The maser method can give us errors that are down to a few percent in the best systems,” Dr. Zaw explained. She recently published the first study of a low mass massive black hole using water masers. At present, most of the mass measurements of low mass massive black holes come from single epoch optical spectroscopy, which measures wavelength spectra within optical light emitted by the source at one point. Dr. Zaw and her collaborators sought to provide a more detailed picture of the characteristics of a nearby low mass dwarf galaxy called IC 750, using data from its water maser and other wavelengths. “Our analysis found that the supermassive black hole in IC 750 was

much less massive than expected from the galaxy parameters, specifically the stellar velocity dispersion. The stellar velocity dispersion is the measure of the velocity of the stars in the bulge of the galaxy and is a proxy for the mass of the bulge. When we calculated IC 750 according to these relations, we found it was 10 to 100 times less massive than would be expected given these relations. This was very surprising. Our analysis also placed IC 750 in the category of intermediate-sized black holes, only a few of which have ever been identified,” she explained. Black holes typically come in two categories – SMBHs that are millions or billions of times the size of the Sun, or the smaller stellar black holes, which can be hundreds of times the size of the Sun.


PROFILES

“SINCE THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE UAE’S SPACE PROGRAM AND STRATEGY, WE’VE SEEN A BIG INCREASE IN INTEREST FROM STUDENTS, PARTICULARLY EMIRATI ONES. THERE HAS ALSO BEEN GREATER RESEARCH COLLABORATION AND FUNDING. MY OWN LOW MASS BLACK HOLE PROJECT WAS PARTIALLY FUNDED BY THE MOHAMMED BIN RASHID SPACE CENTRE” Dr. Ingyin Zaw Associate Professor of Physics New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD)

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There have been very few black hole systems in between. “The IC 750 appears to be one of these in-between systems. We need to identify more of these in-between systems to test this further, which is what I am currently working on,” she said. The curiosity and comfort with being a newcomer, that have characterized Dr. Zaw’s career trajectory as a researcher, may also be why she opted to move to the UAE to work at NYUAD. “It’s not every day that a new university opens and you get the chance to be part of it growing from the ground up. I wanted to do something new, even though it is always harder than doing something that has already been done,” she said. “I also thought it would be worthwhile to be part of an American university that


Dr. Zaw and her collaborators sought to provide a more detailed picture of the characteristics of a nearby low mass dwarf galaxy called IC 750, using data from its water maser and other wavelengths.

people in the Gulf region, particularly women, could find more accessible. I remember that when I chose to go to college in the US, my parents were supportive but my extended family in Myanmar were not convinced,” Dr. Zaw recalled of her experience as a young woman studying abroad. At NYUAD, Dr. Zaw has enjoyed teaching physics and astronomy to a highly diverse student body representing top students from around the world. “Teaching is a good balance to research, where you sometimes get stuck on a project and start wondering what good you are to society. As a university teacher, I give my students useful knowledge and skills in critical thinking, programming, and making sense of numbers, which they can transfer to any field. Research is driven in equal parts by asking the right questions and finding the

answers. I try to teach my students how to ask interesting questions as well how to answer them,” she said. Dr. Zaw credits the UAE Government for supporting NYUAD by providing free tuition for its students and for its spacerelated national programs, which have boosted the field. “Since the announcement of the UAE’s space program and strategy, we’ve seen a big increase in interest from students, particularly Emirati ones. There has also been greater research collaboration and funding. My own low mass black hole project was partially funded by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre,” she said. With her ongoing research and teaching in astronomy and physics, Dr. Zaw hopes to continue to ask important questions about enigmatic astrophysical phenomena. To which, she will surely continue to propose surprising but sound answers.


SCIENCE FOR KIDS

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HOW CAN YOUR SMARTPHONE MAKE WATER SAFE TO DRINK? Researchers Jianfeng Zhou, Wenbo Ding, Xing Xie, Fang Yang, and Yuxiong Huang designed an app and accompanying device that allows smartphones to disinfect contaminated water, and make it safe for drinking. Liesa Ziegler and Madeleine Corcoran helped to adapt a paper on their research, which was published in the journal Clean Water.

Do you know how much water you need to drink each day? For children and teenagers aged nine to 13 years old, it’s about eight cups or 1.8 liters. Everything in our body needs water to work! That’s why we need clean drinking water. Unfortunately, not everybody has access to clean water from water purification plants. Instead, they have to use water from wells, streams, and lakes that could contain bacteria or viruses that make us sick. However, nearly everybody nowadays has a smartphone! That’s why we worked together to develop a small device and an

app that can be used with a smartphone to kill harmful bacteria in water. Water is usually purified using filtration systems that filter out the contaminants, or ultraviolet lamps that zap them. But these methods need big and expensive systems that take lots of energy to run, which not every village or city has. We wanted to come up with a solution for water purification that uses a simple energy source that nearly everyone has – the smartphone! We designed a downloadable app and a cheap device that can be plugged into a smartphone to disinfect water.


SCIENCE FOR KIDS

OUR DEVICE USES A METHOD CALLED ELECTROCHEMICAL DISINFECTION, WHICH USES ELECTRIC CURRENTS TO KILL BACTERIA IN OUR EXPERIMENTS, WE USED:

1. A smartphone to generate the electric current 2. Copper wires as a source for the antibacterial substance

Smartphone Pump Our device Copper wires

Water contains living, harmful bacteria

Cu2+ (Released copper ions)

Water contains dead, harmless bacteria

Thanks to the electric current from the phone, copper ions are released from the copper wire. These copper ions kill bacteria. Copper can also be dangerous for humans, but only in much higher concentrations. We tried to find the perfect balance: where just enough copper ions are released to kill the bacteria, without reaching a harmful level for humans. We tested how well our system worked at disinfecting contaminated water by putting samples of our treated and untreated water onto agar plates, which are like discs of hard jelly that bacteria loves to grow on. If disinfection doesn’t work, bacterial colonies grow on the

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plates. We worked out how strong the current needs to be and how fast the water has to flow past the copper wires to achieve this balance. With this optimum level, nearly all bacteria can be killed, while the released copper is still harmless to humans. We were able to disinfect three liters of water by only using less than 1% of the phone’s battery. The device was able to disinfect the water at phone battery levels as low as 5%. However, the disinfection of these three liters took about five hours – which is too long. Still, all of our tests suggest that it is possible to improve the speed of our device quite easily. When this is done, anyone with a smartphone can use our device to disinfect their drinking water. Occasionally, the copper wire will need to be replaced. Luckily, these wires are very cheap. The whole device will cost only around AED19-37. We did not test if our device can kill other harmful microorganisms, like viruses. Work by other scientists using copper ions suggests that they can destroy viruses too. Of course, this needs to be tested specifically before our device can be used by humans for their everyday drinking water. Although our device worked really well, we only tested it in a limited laboratory setting – so some things could be different in real life. Clean drinking water is a basic human need. Unfortunately, not everybody around the world can take it for granted. Hopefully, our device will be ready for everyday use very soon! Then, if you live in an area without access to water from a centralized plant, you could use it to keep yourself and your family safe from harmful bacteria in the water. Or, you could use it if you go on holiday to such areas.


TERMS TO KNOW CONTAMINATED WATER

ELECTRIC CURRENT

Water with harmful substances in it. These substances could be bacteria, viruses, other microorganisms, particles, or harmful chemicals – any of these could make a human sick if they ingested them.

The movement of special so-called ‘charged’ particles (= ions or electrons) through a specific space, such as a wire.

DISINFECTION The act of cleaning something so that it doesn’t contain any bacteria or viruses. In this case, unclean water must be disinfected so that it’s safe to drink.

ELECTROCHEMICAL DISINFECTION A method for cleaning water. An electric current is used to generate chemicals that are harmful to bacteria and viruses. The process of killing bacteria with these substances is called disinfection.

OPTIMUM The best for our purposes.

Source: Zhou, J. et al (2021) How can your smartphone make water safe to drink? Science Journal for Kids. https://sciencejournalforkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/smartphone_article.pdf


EVENTS CALENDAR

EVENTS CALENDAR

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HCT INNCUVATION  FORUM 2021

INNOVATION@UAE MAJLIS COVID-19 RESEARCH TALK

WHEN 21-24 February 2021

WHEN 22 February 2021, 4:30pm-6pm

WHERE Virtual

WHERE MS Teams

ORGANIZER Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT)

ORGANIZER Ministry of Education

The HCT InnCuVation Forum 2021 will gather representatives of industry, government, and academia for notable keynote speeches, industry panel discussions, and presentations of HCT applied research and start-ups in the fields of health, sustainability, education, and emerging technologies. For more information, please contact Sameer Seth at sseth@hct.ac.ae or on +971 2 206 4509.

The Ministry of Education kicks off its Innovation@UAE Majlis research talk series with this event, where Dr. Rifat Hamoudi, Anoud Abusalim, and Dr. Anoud Bani Hani will discuss their respective projects relating to the fight against COVID-19. The talks will be delivered in English and subtitled in Arabic. All are invited to register to attend.


INNOVATION ARABIA 14 WHEN 22-24 February 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University in partnership with INDEX Conferences and Exhibitions The 14th edition of Innovation Arabia will address contemporary issues and explore the enormous potential of Arab countries to accelerate the pace of socio-economic growth and development. It will provide a platform for passionate communities aspiring to a new level of success for innovation, allowing them to assess the impact of innovation on organizations and draw a plan for the expectations of future generations.

MODERN TECHNOLOGY: ONE OF THE CONTEMPORARY LEGAL CHALLENGES WHEN 9 March 2021 WHERE MS Teams ORGANIZER The College of Law at the University of Sharjah Technologies that impact the way we live can have legal ramifications. This is particularly true for artificial intelligence (AI), which has been integrated in many sectors like banking, finance, criminology, and justice. In light of this, this scientific conference seeks to highlight, discuss, and propose recommendations to the legal challenges posed by such technologies.


EVENTS CALENDAR

6TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON COMPLEX DYNAMICAL SYSTEMS IN LIFE SCIENCE: MODELING AND ANALYSIS (6TH ICCDS’2021) WHEN 15-17 March 2021 WHERE CIT Building, UAEU ORGANIZER ICCDS In its sixth edition, the International Conference on Complex Dynamical Systems in Life Science (ICCDS) will gather experts from top universities around the globe to present their latest results in the mathematical modeling of different fields in life sciences, such as ecology, oncology, infectious diseases, genetic diseases, chronic diseases, and neurological disorders.

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THE GREENHOUSE GAS CONTROL TECHNOLOGIES (GHGT) CONFERENCE WHEN 15-18 March 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Program (IEAGHG) and Khalifa University Held once every two years, the GHGT conference series has established itself as the principal international conference on greenhouse gas mitigation technologies, especially carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The GHGT-15 will highlight the advantages of CCS technologies, particularly for enhanced crude oil recovery.


4TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON COMMUNICATIONS, SIGNAL PROCESSING AND THEIR APPLICATIONS (ICCSPA) 2020 WHEN 16-18 March 2021, 9am-6pm WHERE Main Building and Engineering Science Building, American University of Sharjah ORGANIZER ICCSPA This conference brings together academics, engineers, scientists, researchers, and students from around the world to share their recent findings related to all aspects of communications and signal processing. Attendance is by invitation only. To request an invitation, please email iccspa@aus.edu.

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FUTURE OF LEARNING AND SKILLS – DUBAI 10X WHEN 21-23 March 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER University of Dubai Collaboration is essential for accelerated learning and action to achieve the goals of Dubai 10X. This event aims to bring together individuals and organizations to explore what emerging technology combined with Dubai 10X thinking and agility can do for them in the area of learning and knowledge management, and to induct organizations and individuals into the jobs of the future.

THE 8TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON VARIABLE NEIGHBORHOOD SEARCH WHEN 21-25 March 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER EURO Working Group on Metaheuristics and Khalifa University The main goal of the eighth ICVNS conference is to provide a stimulating environment in which researchers coming from various scientific fields can share and discuss their knowledge, expertise, and ideas related to the VNS Metaheuristic and its applications. The conference will allow VNS specialists and practitioners to effectively screen papers and participate in lively debates.

4TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON THE HISTORY OF ARAB AND MUSLIM SCIENCES WHEN 4-6 April 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER International Foundation for the History of Arab and Muslim Sciences and the University of Sharjah Held under the theme ‘Scientific Legacy and its Contemporary Impacts’, this research conference seeks to foster collaboration and promote dialogue, tolerance, and coexistence through the themes of scientific heritage.


February 2021 Published on behalf of the UAE Ministry of Education by the Department of Science, Technology, and Research. Editorial Director: Zarina Khan The Innovation@UAE Magazine is free of charge. Disclaimer: Online project information and links published in the current issue of the Innovation@UAE Magazine are correct when the publication goes to press. The UAE Ministry of Education cannot be held responsible for information which is out of date or websites that are no longer live. Neither the UAE Ministry of Education nor any person acting on its behalf is responsible for the use that may be made of the information contained in this publication, or for any errors that may remain in the texts, despite the care taken in preparing them. The technologies presented in this magazine may be covered by intellectual property rights. The content contained within Innovation@UAE Magazine is by no means an exhaustive listing of all research taking place in the UAE’s accredited higher education institutes. Each issue of the magazine merely seeks to present some selected news and features relating to research and researchers based on proposals from their host institutes. The editorial team responsible for Innovation@UAE Magazine reserves the right to select ideas for news, features, profiles, and calendar items according to the topic timeliness, the availability of information, the cooperativeness of the involved researchers, and the available time and resources. If you would like to suggest a news story, research feature, researcher profile, or calendar item for the next issue, please contact InnovUAEmagazine@moe.gov.ae, and include in the email subject headline “Innovation@UAE Magazine suggestion”.



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