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Ibn al-Haytham:

How optics and asylum created a research genius

Could the desert sun help a gas-rich nation go green? Wireless researchers get a handle on a sky full of data

Qatari homes and the sense behind gendered spaces

Targeting public health in a booming desert nation

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Editor in Chief: Emily Alp Managing Editors: Arend Kuster, Chris Leonard Contributing Editor: Saffiyah Al Nuaimi Design and Layout Director: Larry Issa Designers: Larry Issa, Fatima ZainEl and Nawar Mutlaq Translators: Sana Esmaeili, Hossam Sabry AND Zainab Akram Ghourab Advertising: Shania Khan, Tarek Disbi Photography: Nawar Mutlaq, Fatima ZainEl, Arend Kuster, Emily Alp Cover Imagery: Arend Kuster Š Copyright Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation, 2013 Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Tornado Tower PO Box 5825 Qatar Foundation, Doha, Qatar

Editorial The research scene in Qatar is a unique display of ambition, well-managed resources and globe-spanning collaborations. Ultra-modern laboratories, meticulously-refined strategies and rapid changes to the physical landscape around Doha show that this part of the world, which was once an epicenter of research and discovery, is now poised to reclaim its status. Over the past decade, manpower and resources within Qatar have been increasingly focused on the vision of becoming a key player in the Middle East’s research renaissance. As local scientists join forces with world-class institutions, Qatar-based projects are leading the way in countless sectors and have already begun yielding results. The country’s ambitious and pioneering atmosphere is apparent in the enthusiasm of investigators. They consistently speak of the support they’ve received and how inspired they are to partake in opportunities they once only dreamed of. Unusual levels of gratitude and dedication motivate their efforts as they align their talents with Qatar’s vision. It all leads to a sophisticated and inspired scene. This publication is an effort to showcase just a fraction of this Qatar-based research. You will also find interviews that add personal dimensions to the progress described. The breadth of topics covered over the following pages offers a sense of the scope, intensity and practicality of the country’s research ambitions. While these efforts are aimed at national needs, findings coming out of Qatar promise to positively impact the world at large. We hope you will enjoy this exciting glimpse of Qatar’s emerging research landscape. Emily Alp


Alok Jha is a science correspondent at the Guardian. In addition to writing news and commentary, he presents the Science Weekly podcast and looks after the Guardian’s science website. A physics graduate from Imperial College London, he has been at the Guardian since the launch of its science supplement, Life, in 2003. You can find him on Twitter at @alokjha.

Former CNN Medical Correspondent Andrew Holtz, MPH, is an independent journalist based in Portland, Oregon. His third book, House M.D. vs. Reality was released in March 2011. The Medical Science of House, M.D. was published in October 2006. In January 2010, Berkley/Penguin published The Real Grey’s Anatomy, which takes a behindthe-scenes look at the training of surgeons. Holtz has also commented on media depictions of medicine in his ScriptDoctor column in Oncology Times. Holtz is also a reviewer for, a project to evaluate news reports about medicine.

Bradley Steffens is currently working at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute. He is the author of 21 nonfiction books for young adults, including Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist. He is a two-time recipient of the San Diego Book Award for best young adult and children’s nonfiction. His book, MonstersGiants won the 2005 award and his People in the News: J.K. Rowling garnered the 2007 prize. J.K. Rowling also received the Theodor S. Geisel Award for the best published book by a San Diego County author in 2007.

Frank Swain is a UK-based science writer whose work has appeared in Wired, New Scientist, Focus, Stylist, as well as the Times, Telegraph and Guardian. He has also developed programs for Bravo television and BBC Radio 4. Currently, Frank works as National Coordinator for Science Training for Journalists at the Royal Statistical Society.

Nadia El-Awady is an awardwinning, freelance science journalist based in Cairo, Egypt. She was the president of the World Federation of Science Journalists from 2009 to 2011 and co-directed the 7th World Conference of Science Journalists, held in Doha, Qatar, this past June. El-Awady has worked as a science editor, a university lecturer in science and online journalism, and a director for training projects for Arab journalists.

Tyghe Trimble has served as an editor at Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines where he wrote and assigned stories on barefoot running, alternative energy, quantum physics, and wildlife management. Tyghe is currently a senior editor at Men’s Journal magazine in New York.


Fatima Zainel is a Qatari graphic designer and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar in May 2011. In her major, Fatima has a strong background in print design, typography and branding and is now QScience’s Marketing Officer. She is involved in marketing for QScience and discovering innovative ways to promote open access publishing, as well as the design and production of publications in both print and online channels.

Larry Issa is a Graphic Designer who has lived in Doha for 23 years. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art & Visual Technology, he worked at Grey Worldwide Qatar for two years; then set up his own venture. Over the past few years Larry has been working directly with agencies, large corporations, non-profits, charity organization, along with start ups. His expertise includes branding, advertising, ATL, BTL, and merchandising.

Nawar Al Mutlaq is a Qatari national and a graduate of VCU-Q with a bachelors in fine arts. Her interests are multidisciplinary, covering the fields of graphic design with a strong preference for branding and identity systems. Nawar is a visual communicator who applies her abilities and skills toward bringing people’s ideas, thoughts and aspirations to life through design. In her spare time Nawar captures memories with her camera and spends time with her family.


A millennium of science as we know it


thousand years ago, a mathematician and scholar from By Bradley Steffens Basra named Abu ‘Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham was controversially judged to be insane and placed under house arrest. To make the most of his simple surroundings, he began to study the physiology of vision and the properties of light. Upon release, he described his investigations in a massive, seven-volume treatise titled Kitâb al-Manâzir · , or Book of Optics. Although missing from the many lists of the most important books ever written, Kitâb alManâzir changed the course of human history, giving mankind a new and effective way of establishing facts about the natural world—an approach known today as the scientific method.

What sets Kitâb al-Manâzir apart from earlier investigations into natural phenomena is that Ibn al-Haytham included only those ideas that could be proven with mathematics or with concrete manifestations that he called “true demonstrations,” what we refer to nowadays as experiments. The use of physical experiments to establish the validity of scientific claims was a departure not only from the works that formed the foundation of Kitâb alManâzir, such as Claudius Ptolemy’s Optics, but also from Ibn al-Haytham’s earlier works. “We formerly composed a treatise on optics in which we often followed persuasive methods of

thirteenth century, Kitâb al-Manâzir became one of the most copied works of medieval Muslim scholarship. Roger Bacon, the thirteenth century English friar who is sometimes credited as the first true scientist because of his advocacy of experimentation, not only read De aspectibus but summarized its findings in part five of his Opus Majus, or Greater Work, referring to Ibn al-Haytham by his Latinized name, Alhazen, and describing his experiments in detail. Thirteenth-century scholars John Peckham and Erazmus Witelo also wrote summaries of De aspectibus, both entitled Perpsectiva. After the advent of the printing press, the German mathematician

“Thus we can pinpoint the advent of experimental science not just to the lifetime of Ibn al-Haytham, but to the precise moment, one thousand years ago, when the Islamic scholar realized that reason alone was no longer sufficient grounds for knowing the truth about the natural world.” reasoning,” wrote Ibn al-Haytham in the introduction of Kitâb al-Manâzir, “but when true demonstrations relating to all objects of vision occurred to us, we started afresh the composition of this book.” Thus we can pinpoint the advent of experimental science not just to the lifetime of Ibn al-Haytham, but to the precise moment, one thousand years ago, when the Islamic scholar realized that reason alone was no longer sufficient grounds for knowing the truth about the natural world. Kitâb al-Manâzir was the first fruit of this new investigative approach, but it would not be the last. Translated into Latin as De aspectibus, or The Optics, by an anonymous scholar working in a center founded by Gerard of Cremona in Toledo in the twelfth or

Friedrich Risner published a book entitled Opticae Thesaurus, in Basel, in 1572, which paired Ibn al-Haytham’s De aspectibus and Erazmus Witelo’s Perspectiva in one volume. Through Risner, scholars across Europe, including Johannes Kepler, Christiaan Huygens, and René Descartes, became familiar with Ibn al-Haytham’s ideas and methodology, which they applied not just to optics but to other fields of study as well. In fact, Ibn al-Haytham was so well known in Europe that when the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius published an atlas of the moon in 1647, the frontispiece of the book bore the likenesses of the two pillars of science up to that time: Galileo, shown holding a telescope, and Ibn al-Haytham, depicted with a geometric drawing in his hand.

Over the centuries Ibn al-Haytham’s reputation waned in the West. Even today, many people have a hard time accepting that he originated the scientific method. For example, reviewing Jim al-Khalili’s new book, House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, Jonathan P. Berkey, a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote: “Ibn al-Haytham was, the author claims, the true father of the scientific method, who turned experimentation ‘from a general practice of investigation into the standard means of proof of scientific theories.’”

“Even a cursory examination of Kitâb al-Manâzir reveals that Ibn al-Haytham’s true demonstrations are full-bodied experiments, exhibiting all eight steps of the scientific method.”

The experiment Ibn al-Haytham devised to test his hypothesis that light rays do not interfere with each other was ingenious. He built what is now known as a camera obscura, featuring an opaque screen with a small aperture that would admit a limited number of light rays. He placed three light sources on a table, “all being opposite a single aperture leading to a dark place.” He observed that images from the lamps were visible on the wall beyond the screen. “If one of the lamps is screened,” Ibn al-Haytham observed, “only the light opposite that lamp in the dark will vanish. When the screen is moved away from the lamp, that light will return to its place.” The manipulation of the light sources established that light rays were traveling in straight lines and, thus, intersecting at the aperture. Ibn al-Haytham observed that the images on the wall across from the unscreened light sources were not affected by the blocking and unblocking of another light source (Step 5: Analysis of the results), indicating there was no interference between the light rays (Step 6: Conclusion). He summarized in Kitâb alManâzir (Step 7: Publication):

Even a cursory examination of Kitâb al-Manâzir reveals that Ibn al-Haytham’s true demonstrations are full-bodied experiments, exhibiting all eight steps of the scientific method. For example, after establishing that light rays emanate from primary sources of light in all directions and reflect off of objects, also in all directions, Ibn al-Haytham reasoned that light rays must intersect. If they intersect, he wondered, do they interfere with each other? (Step 1: Statement of the problem.) The apparent answer would be no, they do not interfere (Step 2: Formulation of a hypothesis), because we see things clearly, despite the countless intersections of light beams everywhere we look (Step 3: Observation, collection of data). But even the obvious had to be proven in Ibn al-Haytham’s new discipline (Step 4: Experimentation).

All the lights that appear in the dark place have reached it through the aperture alone… therefore the lights of all those lamps have come together at the aperture, then separated after passing through it. Thus, if lights blended in the atmosphere, the lights of the lamps meeting at the aperture would have mixed in the air at the aperture and in the air preceding it before they reached the aperture, and they would have come out so mingled together that they would not be subsequently distinguishable. We do not, however, find the matter to be so; rather the lights are found to come out separately, each being opposite the lamp from which it has arrived.

Ibn al-Haytham repeated the experiment, arranging lamps outside a door and admitting light rays into a room through a narrow opening. In addition, he described the experiment in such a way that others could test his findings (Step 8: Verification). As it turned out, Ibn al-Haytham’s conclusion was correct for all light rays except those of the same wavelength. It would be another 800 years before British scientist Thomas Young used Ibn al-Haytham’s own methodology to prove this exception to the Islamic scholar’s findings. In 1803, Thomas published a paper entitled Experiments and calculations relative to physical optics that described how he used an apparatus similar to

“It would be another 800 years before British scientist Thomas Young used Ibn al-Haytham’s own methodology to prove this exception to the Islamic scholar’s findings.” the camera obscura, outfitted with two apertures instead of one, to demonstrate that light rays of the same wavelength interfere with each other. As we celebrate the millennial anniversary of the advent of experimental science, it is reasonable to ask if Ibn al-Haytham’s religion had anything to do with his breakthrough. I believe it did. His skepticism toward human reason was a direct outgrowth of his Muslim faith. Ibn al-haytham believed that only God is perfect and that human beings are inherently flawed. “Truth is sought for itself,” he wrote, “but the truths are immersed in uncertanties, and authorities are not immune from error, nor is human nature itself.” To establish facts about the universe, Ibn al-Haytham reasoned, one had to eliminate the human element as much as possible and allow nature to speak for itself through physical experiments. Despite the challenges posed by this new method of inquiry, Ibn al-Haytham remained optimistic about its success. “We are not free from that human turbidity which is in the nature of man,” he wrote, “but we must do our best with what we possess of human power. From God we derive support in all things.”

“We are not free from that human turbidity which is in the nature of man,” he wrote, “but we must do our best with what we possess of human power. From God we derive support in all things.”


Islamic moderation and renewal


r. Muhammed Khalifa is the director of the Al-Qaradawi Centre for Islamic Moderation and Renewal. The organization, established by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation, oversees the creation of a bibliographical guide on all that has been written about moderation in Arab and Western literature. The center is additionally behind outreach and workshops designed to promote moderation and a revival of the original messages of Islam among Muslims in Qatar and around the world. Dr. Khalifa recently took time to speak with us about his research and how it applies to society in Qatar and internationally.

QScience Review: Your field of research is Islamic moderation and renewal; what does this mean? Dr. Khalifa: This is a center with an objective to disseminate Islamic moderation in spirit and thought. As you know, nowadays, cultural and religious fanaticism is spread all over the world. The objective of the center here is to combat this wave and instead promote religious moderation and tolerance, especially between Muslims and non-Muslims. We are trying to base our messages on Islamic thought in general—Islamic law, Islamic history and Islamic religious ideals. Islam is a moderate religion, but with the politics today it has become more fanatical.

QR: Where do you see the field heading? DK: We have some programs through which we are trying to disseminate moderation internationally and throughout Qatar. For example, we bring Muslim delegates from Asian, European and African countries, and we hold workshops for them in which we guide them on how to solve social problems. People have religious problems in society, in their daily lives. We try to show them how these can be solved. We also teach them how to make dialogue with people from other religions. This is called interfaith dialogue. Wherever they are living—in a Christian, Hindu or Buddhist country—we teach them about dialogue in these situations.

QR: Can you explain a bit more about renewal? DK: This is a refresh of original religious thought. Given the fanaticism, the religion has been taken out of its context by politics. We are trying to show the original picture of Islam: tolerance, moderation and good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. This is the original picture of Islam.

QR: Does that involve teaching them a little bit about what other people believe? DK: Yes, yes, we are doing it on a comparative religious basis. Locally, we do the same. We aim to spread cultural dialogue. In Doha, we go to secondary schools and conduct workshops with students and teach them the rules of good dialogue with others. The future is in their hands.

“We are trying to show the original picture of Islam: tolerance, moderation and good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. This is the original picture of Islam.”

QR: What do you see in the future for your field? DK: I think the future is very promising. People are responding positively to our efforts, and we are increasing our visibility by writing articles in newspapers on a weekly basis. This year, during Ramadan, we prepared a whole page in a major national newspaper, Al-Watan. We submitted more than 250 articles detailing rights and tolerance issues. We have also offered public lectures to people here in Doha. QR: What kind of examples are you seeing coming out of Qatar in the way people are responding to the program? DK: You see it in the relations on the streets. There’s no fanaticism in the culture, and you can see this easily. If this country does not have a tolerant foundation, many people couldn’t live here. Yet everyone is living according to their culture and norms and nobody is complaining. You see it all over the city. QR: If there is one problem in the world that you could solve, what would it be? DK: We have many world problems because of the absence of peace. This is a big problem: how to solve historical or religious problems between people, especially people in conflict. I think these types of problems can be solved, yet we have to be wise enough to solve them; otherwise, the future will be very dark. With good intentions, you can solve any problem.

Alternative energy in the gulf: A researcher in Qatar looks to solar rays to turn a gas-rich nation green By Tyghe Trimble


esrin Ozalp wants to put an array of unblinking titanium eyes in the Qatari desert. These 3-foot-long creations stare at the sun as the spinning mechanical blades that make up their pupils dilate, hungry for photons. The eyes open wide when clouds block a direct view and shrink when the full bore of Qatar’s desert sun beats down. Inside a small titanium box that is connected to each lens, the temperature swells to 1,500°C and, as natural gas is pumped in from the outside, a hot, volatile cyclone forms, pushing carbon and hydrogen, separately, through a small opening to be stored and converted. This is Helios, one of the world’s most advanced solar reactors, and Nesrin Ozalp, the Director of the Sustainable Energy Research Lab at Texas A&M University in Qatar, has high hopes it could usher in a Hydrogen economy—based on the cleanburning, energy-intense, zero-emission element as a primary fuel—that will power sunny, natural gas-rich countries like Qatar. But there are many steps along the way to the implementation of such an energy infrastructure. The first step for Ozalp is to commercialize the reactors, which have been proven in labs and peer-reviewed papers but not in industrial settings. Then, Ozalp hopes, the reactor will go straight to the oil and gas industry, the largest producers and consumers of hydrogen in the world.

“Not all deserts are alike, and so testing in the deserts of Australia or the USA cannot re-create the unique conditions here in the region.”

“Gas and oil companies have to clean the crude oil,” says Ozalp, “and the only way to do this is with hydrogen, which acts as a sort of detergent for the crude.” Today, this hydrogen is made by heating up natural gas (CH4) in high-temperature ovens, separating the hydrogen and letting the rest—oxygenated carbon, particularly carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas—into the air. The feedstock for this oven? It’s also natural gas. The process is energy intensive, says Ozalp, and “it’s dirty. Really dirty.” Because of the inefficiencies in the process, she says, “they must use hydrogen only as a commodity, not a fuel.” She wants to change this by tapping into Qatar’s other abundant energy supply: the sun. Qatar is a land swimming in energy. Underground, its gas and oil reserves are massive: it has the third largest natural gas reserves in the world and is the single largest supplier of liquefied natural gas. In 2010, the country produced 4,121 billion cubic feet of natural gas, over 70 times the amount the United States consumes. Most of Qatar basks in sun that radiates 6.5 to 7.0 kilowatt hours of

The blades of Helios create an aperture effect; when the sun is high, they retract, opening the gateway for sun to flood in and heat the mechanism.

Helios during one of its very first test runs in the Ozalp lab.

potential energy per square meter per day. That’s about 2500 kilowatt hours per square meter annually, meaning about six square meters could satisfy all energy needs for one person in Qatar. Tapping this sun could have a substantial impact. For those who live in Qatar, homes, stadiums or schools could be cooled, cities lit, and hydrogen produced to drive cars and power appliance (run on fuel cells), carbon-free. Manufacturing centers could sell their wares carbon free, and oil and gas companies could sell the natural gas gone to waste on hydrogen production and explore processed crude at a greater profit. That, at least, is the vision espoused by many leaders and companies in the country. Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec), for one, just announced plans to build a US$1 billion polysilicon plant in Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar, that they expect will put out 8,000 metric tons per year of panels by 2013. As for solar implementation, QSTec is now in a joint venture with Chevron and GreenGulf that is looking to test what technologies and products work best in this desert climate. “Not all deserts are alike,” says

QSTec’s Craig Field, “and so testing in the deserts of Australia or the USA cannot re-create the unique conditions here in the region. It is important to have this data both for end users and for the companies to develop new products and technologies suitable for this climate,” he says. The Qatar National Convention Center is already in on the solar power rush, having been outfitted with 3,676 square meters of solar panels on the roof, producing 12.5 percent of the building’s total electricity need. Furthermore, all of the facilities that will be built for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar — like the stunning, futuristic plans for Fosters + Company’s Lusail stadium — will have solar arrays that, in part, power energy-intensive needs like air conditioning. Overall, Qatar expects to add 16,260 megawatts (MW) of power to the national grid between 2011 and 2036, almost four times current conventional electricity capacity of 4.2 gigawatts (GW), according to Reuters, and the solar complex would have a capacity of 3.5  GW by 2013.

While solar power capacity is fast being installed and planned, the hydrogen economy that Ozalp holds out hope for is still a ways from being implemented. Right now, “in terms of cost, solar power is not the most effective way to draw hydrogen out of natural gas,” says Michael Heiman, a professor of environmental studies and geography at Dickinson college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and author of “Fueling U.S. Transportation: The Hydrogen Economy and Its Alternatives.” “The low-cost source at present is natural gas,” he says. “This

“thermal black” process injects natural gas into fossil-fuel heated furnaces that, in the absence of air, decompose the natural gas into carbon black and hydrogen. The more common, “furnace black” process feeds heavy oils into the furnace, atomizing the oil in a hot gas stream where it vaporizes and then pyrolyzes to form carbon particles. The process that is used by oil and gas manufacturers to make hydrogen, of course, is quite similar. But when making hydrogen, oil and gas companies usually release carbon into the air rather than pro-

“In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, solar power is at least on par with wind to produce electricity and to make hydrogen.” could change should gas prices rise to high levels,” he says. “But in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, solar power is at least on par with wind to produce electricity and to make hydrogen.” One way that Ozalp counters the cost concerns is with carbon black, a byproduct that comes out of her hydrogen processing solar reactor. Carbon black is an oily substance manufactured by companies like Cabot, which produces nearly 2 million metric tons of the stuff, which is used as pigment and reinforcement for car tires, as a component of tar in roadways, to blacken toners and printing inks, and as a major component in some plastics. The substance is primarily made two ways: The

cessing it into carbon black. The problem that they have run into is a carbon clog in the hydrogen-making reactors. In the reactor, the carbon sticks to the walls, the pressure mounts, and the reactor can explode. Ozalp’s reactor aims to fix this as well. By engineering the reactor so that it creates a perfect cyclone, Ozalp has figured out how to funnel and capture the carbon without issue, and without burning natural gas, which is usually how the substance is manufactured. Carbon black has a major market. In 2008, there were 44 makers of carbon black, selling US$3.2 billion of the stuff. None of these manufacturers were carbon free, a fact that would likely give oil and gas manufacturers a marketable leg up on the competition.

“Hydrogen and natural gas are not incompatible if you realize that the main source of hydrogen right now is hydrogen stripping off natural gas.”

While Ozalp and her partners work on perfecting and commercializing her hydrogen-making solar reactor, the fact remains that Qatar is rich in natural gas and oil, and these substances are essential to the country’s economy as well as energy needs. To argue that the government will eschew these fossil fuels overnight for a solar-based hydrogen economy is a tough sell for many. “Hydrogen and natural gas are not incompatible if you realize that the main source of hydrogen right now is hydrogen stripping off natural gas,” say Michael Heiman. “And Qatar has lots of gas at present so it would be cheaper to produce hydrogen from natural gas than from solar-based electricity,” he says. “Consider this use if the gas has to be flared anyway, although liquefaction is the preferred method to make use of the gas coming off the oil wells.” Once solar reactors like Ozalp’s are in fact implemented, scaling up the process to produce more carbon-free hydrogen than is needed for cleaning crude could be a slow process, especially given the excess of energy already coming out of the ground. But Ozalp is optimistic about Qatar’s solar power future. “For whoever wants to make a career in solar energy, this country is a very good place,” she says. “It has a big vision to have a diverse economy even though it’s oil and gas rich. If we look at who else is working on solar energy, like Germany, they don’t have a lot of sunshine, but they’re really big in the field,” she says. “You don’t have to be in a country with too much sunshine available. But it helps.” NPRP 09-671-2-255 Title: Emission free co-production of carbon nanotubes and hydrogen via concentrated solar energy

Ozalp provides a quick demonstration, pointing a temperature meter at a test plate on Helios, reading 511째C.


Environmental law in the land of oil and gas


atar’s Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Sanctuaries oversees all environmental protection strategies. It promotes the preservation and protection of endangered wildlife and its natural habitat; formulates policies aimed at wildlife and natural conservation as well as sustainable development; monitors protection efforts; drafts laws, and operates a national environmental data base. Jon Truby is Assistant Professor of Law at Qatar University, and Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of Law. He recently spoke with us about approaching changes to policy in Qatar designed to put the country on par with other nations that prioritize environmental protection.

QScience Review: What is your specialty and where do you see your field in five years? Jon Truby: My field is environmental law, and I see that this sector of Qatar is being developed and modernized very rapidly, because currently, laws along these lines are insufficient. In the next five years here, I envision a series of new developments so that Qatari law meets international standards and principles. Industry here will have to meet these obligations and adapt its practices accordingly. In my field specifically, which is environmental tax law related to energy consumption, we’ll see developments based on the critique and recommendations of scholars in academic journals and on formal policy recommendations. Even now, these recommendations are being noticed and implemented by policy-makers.

“In the next five years here, I envision a series of new developments so that Qatari law meets international standards and principles.”

QR: Major Developments? JT: There are a number of countries implementing environmental tax laws, relying on policies and fiscal regulation to achieve their environmental objectives. Australia has done it, and many countries in Europe have as well. But there will be more in the future, and we’ve learned from how it’s been done so far… how fiscal tools can work and where they can work. Academic perspectives on this field help us to develop more refined environmentally-relevant fiscal policies. For example, such carefully described scholarly perspectives have led to reforms in air passenger duty in the UK, such as with the UK government’s review into the perflight charge [Air Passenger Duty]. This is an example of how academic research can go a long way toward improving the law so that it better meets its objectives; in this case how fiscal policy can most effectively be used to meet environmental and revenue-raising goals. QR: Why Qatar? JT: A major reason I moved to Qatar was to pursue my own research interests in a place that is at the epicenter of them. Qatar, with its energy and environmental issues, is a fascinating place to study, and the niche is tremendous for the kind of solutions I work to solve. It’s a great feeling to be part of the development of the law in this country. It is also an extremely positive and receptive country with many exciting opportunities, and with an atmosphere and climate I enjoy!

QR: How do you communicate your results? JT: I write academic articles that present recommendations based on what I’ve concluded in my research so that the results are presentable and might be incorporated into policy papers and reports. Both can be submitted for use for policy makers. I also try to network with those responsible for change, sharing my findings with people who can apply them in the real world. Academic conferences are also an excellent platform for presenting results of research. It’s interesting how often workable solutions to problems facing humanity and the environment can be found at such events. QR: How do the results translate into real-world changes or impacts? JT: When recommendations appear in academic articles or reports to policymakers, it’s common for institutions and lawmakers researching legal reforms and specific policy improvements to come across these, explore them as tested and apply them. These are essential sources by which policymakers and lawmakers draft their laws and design their fiscal tools, so the impact is much greater than one might imagine. QR: If there was one problem in the world you could solve, what would it be? JT: The need for renewable resources as a sustainable source of energy is paramount in my mind. Practical renewable energy solutions are more feasible than people realize and are the most vital step in protecting the planet from a destructive six degrees Celsius temperature rise.

Qatari homes: Symbols of heritage, modernity, and female empowerment By Nadia El-Awady


he breathtaking collision of the modern and the traditional in Qatar is perhaps most clearly represented in the design and operation of the local households. Indoor-outdoor swimming pools, state-of-the-art security systems, and lavish Western furnishings seamlessly co-habit with solid wood Arabesque doors, wind towers, and special communal areas for male guests equipped with antique coffee pots, swords, and lush Persian rugs.

Qataris are a minority in their own country, forming less than 20 percent of the small 1.7 million population according to the Qatar Statistics Authority. Flooded with an influx of foreigners and a global consumer market, they make it a point to hold onto their cultural heritage while fully taking advantage of modern consumer trends. Qatar University researcher, Rana Sobh, and her colleague from York University in Canada, Russell Belk, interviewed 24 middle class home-owning Qatari families living in Doha to determine how Qa-

taris identify themselves in modern Qatar and how this is reflected in the home. Sobh, assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business and Economics at Qatar University, wanted to look particularly at spaces in Qatari households designed for specific genders. “Why do gendered spaces still exist in Qatar? What are the meanings ascribed to them especially with an influx of Western media and consumer culture?” she wanted to know.

Creating spaces for personal freedom Gender-differentiated domains have existed in different ways throughout the Muslim world; the harem in Morocco, haramlak in Turkey, zanana in Persia and India, and nadani in East Africa are good examples of special women’s areas that, for the most part, cease to exist today. Gender segregation in the public and private spheres, according to many contemporary Muslim scholars like Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, is a cultural practice rather than a religious requirement. The fact that gender-differentiated areas still exist in Qatari homes in particular, and Arab Gulf homes in general, is an expression of the importance of privacy and freedom within the home as compared to accepted behavior in the public sphere, Sobh and Belk found. Some previous research done on this topic in other contexts concluded that gender differentiation within the home aims to reinforce women’s lower status and limit their access to knowledge. Gender-differentiated areas in the Qatari home, however, seem rather to empower the women of the household.

“The woman is responsible for everything in the Qatari home,” says architect Waleed Waly who has worked in Qatar and the general Gulf region for more than 15 years. “She chooses everything. She travels abroad to choose the kitchen, she chooses the colors, and she chooses the furnishings,” he explains. She even gets involved in aspects of the architectural design, especially those directly related to her ability to function freely within the home. Um Abdel-Aziz, research assistant at the Research Center of Sunna and Biography of the Prophet at Qatar University, confirms this. “When my husband and I decided to build our home, I sat down with my father and brainstormed about the design requirements of the house,” she said. “After the architect gave us the first draft of the design based on our requirements, we made some changes so that it was more suitable to what we intended to pay. We then showed the subsequent draft to my brothers and brothers-in-law to benefit from their experience and gave our final requirements to the architect,” she explained.

“Gender-differentiated areas in the Qatari home, however, seem rather to empower the women of the household.�

“The home is a bounded space for self-expression as opposed to the more externally controlled public spaces of the city.�

Um Abdel-Aziz was then responsible for choosing all of the home furnishings with the exception of her husband’s home office. “My home is my personal kingdom where I feel safe,” she says. This was the general sentiment found by Sobh and Belk in their research. Qataris continue to hold onto the necessity of exhibiting strong behavioral constraints in the public sphere as an outer manifestation of proper religious conduct. This is likely a key reason why privacy within the home is so central to the way they are designed. High perimeter walls surround the typical Qatari house to limit visual access. Qatari houses are also designed to turn inward on the neighborhood rather than out onto the city, providing more private street space. The woman of the household decides who gets to enter the main portion of the house. This access is limited for the most part to other women, their female guests, and directly-related males such as husbands, fathers, and sons. When female guests are invited into the home, the male household members are usually directed by the women to leave the house completely.

Almost all Qatari homes also have a separate male communal area called the majlis. The majlis is designed to be completely separate from the rest of the house and is usually the only structure with a door and windows that open out onto the street. Since the majlis has a separate door through the perimeter wall, this allows the men of the house to entertain their male guests while ensuring complete privacy to the female members of the house. “At home I feel in control and free,” says Fatima, a woman interviewed by Sobh for the study. “For Fatima,” Sobh and Belk write, “the home is a bounded space for self-expression as opposed to the more externally controlled public spaces of the city.” The bedroom in this sense is the woman’s most private and sacred retreat. Furnishings of the parents’ bedroom are mostly chosen by the wife, and the design usually includes a separate sitting area, an en-suite spa bathroom, and a walk-in closet. This is where the woman prays, recites the Qur’an, exercises, and relaxes in privacy. In many cases the parents’ bedroom is so sacred that maids are not allowed to clean it and the woman will do this herself.

Holding onto the past Qatari home designs not only provide a strong sense of privacy, freedom, and empowerment for women but they also express Qataris’ strong need to hold onto their cultural heritage in the face of an overwhelming influx of foreign labor into the country. Qatari homes are built in isolated neighborhoods whereas expatriates live in apartments or compounds throughout the city. This spatial separation reflects the Qataris’ strong desire to assert their ethnic identity and distinction as they become a shrinking minority in their own country, the researchers explain. The majlis is the most conspicuous design and functional element that reflects Qatari heritage in the home. The majlis can be designed as a large and modern tent or as a concrete one-floor structure that can hold anywhere from a dozen to a few hundred male guests. The interior design reflects the Qatari-Bedouin heritage and acts as a symbol of Qatari honor and hospitality. Having said this, Qataris are immersed in a global consumer culture of extravagant consumption and consumer brands that they actively engage with. As a result, there is a tendency to “out-global the global” by out-doing Westerners who cannot afford their lavish lifestyles and buy the best and most expensive items available to modern consumers. On the one hand, this allows them to partake in the global consumer culture while still differentiating themselves from Qatar’s expatriates. Sobh and Belk conclude from their two-year study, published in Volume 8, Issue 3, of Home Cultures in 2011, that “the complementarity between tradition and modernity helps to resolve conflicting tensions between the need to remain connected to one’s roots and preserve cultural identity, and the increasing temptation to embrace the modern.” “As long as they feel that they remain connected through the presence of the majlis, it makes it easier for them to embrace modernity more freely. It helps them deal with guilt,” explains Sobh.

“The complementarity between tradition and modernity helps to resolve conflicting tensions between the need to remain connected to one’s roots and preserve cultural identity, and the increasing temptation to embrace the modern.”

This complementarity between tradition and modernity is symbolically well demonstrated by comparing the majlis to the rest of the household. “The horizontal [one floor] structure of the majlis conveys a meaning of stability,” Sobh explains. “While the multistoried structure of the rest of the home conveys meanings of transcendence, channels and change.” The study identifies the significance of privacy and gender segregation in the Qatari home as anchors for religious and national identity. “[Privacy and gender segregation] help [Qataris] counter the pressures of reverse acculturation. They are the minority in their own country. Usually we are foreigners in other countries and we acculturate. Here it’s the other way around,” Sobh says. The reverse has, for the most part, not happened. Expatriates living in Qatar seem not to be much influenced in their own home practices by Qatari culture. Cajsa Wikstrom is a Swedish national working for Al Jazeera who has lived in Qatar for three years but has had little opportunity to mix with the locals. “They are quite private compared to other Arab countries I’ve been to where people approach you because you’re a foreigner and show you their culture and invite you to their home,” she says. She’s also not been influenced by Qatari design trends. “I haven’t embraced the bling-bling and gold found in many Arab homes,” she says. Sobh believes the next decade or two hold more aspects of hyperculture, as she calls it, for the Qataris. They will continue to hold onto the majlis and perhaps as they continue to feel more threatened by foreign influences they may embrace other traditional aspects of Bedouin-Qatari heritage in their homes such as the courtyard, albeit with a more modern design. “Qataris miss the courtyard and talk about parents’ and grandparents’ homes with lots of nostalgia. Now people are excited about modernity but in the future I think they will long for a traditional courtyard,” she says. Sobh hopes that the results of her research will help break Western stereotypes and misconceptions about gendered spaces.

NPRP 30-6-7-59 Title: Men’s and Women’s Spaces in Qatari Households


Designing sustainable solutions


r. Faisal Alsuwaidi’s illustrious career began almost four decades ago when he began working for Qatar Petroleum (QP), rising to become QP’s Administration Director. In 1997, he became the Vice Chairman and CEO of Qatargas, where he oversaw the construction and realization of LNG trains that are still the largest in the world, while Laffan is the largest condensate refinery in the world. As Qatar Foundation’s President of Research and Development. Mr. Alsuwaidi brings a wealth of management and strategic experience to the research sector of Qatar Foundation. This interview highlights his transition, his vision for more collaboration among institutions and the power of the recently-unveiled National Research Strategy.

QScience Review: Can you separate the goals of the Qatar National Research Strategy? Faisal Alsuwaidi: The main goal is to introduce the culture of research in Qatar. They have done a very good job so far. Through the fund, we will steer the research and development activity in Qatar toward national priorities. To achieve these, we are going to introduce new programs over the next five years. The main business from now on is to support the national priorities identified by the community of researchers in the country. QR: How do you envision the future of Qatar’s research culture here and then in the region at large as a result of its growth? FA: If we look at resources, there’s nothing besides oil and gas. And everybody knows that this is depleting and deplet-

ing fast as demand increases around the globe. So we need to prepare ourselves for the future. In no way am I suggesting that research will replace the income of oil and gas, at least in the short or medium term, but science and research improve the quality of life in any country and hopefully we will be able to achieve

QR: Focused areas of research for the strategy—can you tell me how these were chosen? FA: First, we don’t impose our agenda on anybody. Different people will do different research for different reasons.

“We decided that addressing Qatar’s needs is the first filter. The second one is capacity. In order to address these priorities, we need to ensure that there is capacity to undertake this research.” both—making a small contribution to the economy and an improvement in quality of life in the country. This will happen through quality people who will come and help us here to address national challenges.

Everybody can do what they like, but if you are to get funded through us then you need to attend to our priorities here. Second, when we say our priorities, actually these have been developed through interaction with the whole community of

researchers in Qatar. Last year when we introduced our first strategy, more than 100 people came to our forum and contributed over two days to the strategy, and we identified around 70 research objectives that were transferred to QNRF and asked them to design their program to meet these priorities. So it has been very collaborative work and the majority of research institutions took part in it. Third, we needed to identify the reasons for success in order to filter the proposals that we saw. We decided that addressing Qatar’s needs is the first filter. The second one is capacity. In order to address these priorities, we need to ensure that there is capacity to undertake this research. The third filter is impact. This research has to be big enough and serious enough to make a difference in Qatar, in the region and globally. When we talk about Qatar’s needs, basically what we are saying is the region’s needs, because of our similar situations. We all depend on oil and gas, we all have limited resources and we all suffer from the same issues … so the whole region has a lot of similarity. QR: 2.8 percent of Qatar’s GDP is going into research. How far into the future do you see the fruits of this research showing up? In other words, how long do you think it will take before you see a major impact? FA: I think we are beginning to see some results. When we talk about results in this kind of business, we need to manage our expectations. This is something for

the long term if you like … this does not mean you will reach some benefits in between. To see a difference in a big way, this will take some time. We are in our infancy now, yet we have some very good marks of excellence and QNRF is one of them. I think in six years that they have developed a good system within the fund. They have achieved some good results, and we need to build on those and build other areas needed that support the whole system. For example, we need to develop the IP system. This is a cornerstone to everything and will help QNRF, our institutes and people who want to come to QSTP to develop their ideas. Some fundamental things are missing

Publicizing is important and people need to know the importance of activities that are taking place on the ground here. Incentives are important, but I’m not offering more salaries and more money. Research is something where you need to have a passion for it, to come and work on it. This is not like you hire someone and in two years they get a grade and a promotion. You really need to work. Some people don’t want a promotion. They want a lab space, and a project, and funding. Unless you have a passion for this I think research is not your area. We’d like to see more involvement so we are offering training and sponsorship to send people to do their masters and

“I think we are beginning to see some results. When we talk about results in this kind of business, we need to manage our expectations.” currently, but addressing these we hope will boost research activities. I’m new here, but I was impressed with the results that have been achieved over the past four or five years considering the resources and considering the infrastructure I think people in Qatar should be proud of what they have achieved with the little resources that they have. Now we are developing a system that we hope will enhance this and will improve activities. QR: How can we get more Qataris involved in research? FA: Publicity and sponsorship are important, but more importantly people have to have passion for what research is.

PhDs in big universities around the globe. QR: How do you see the growth occurring here in Qatar being integrated with the growth happening in the region—what is the sharing strategy? FA: Our environment is the same— somebody in Abu Dhabi can import our strategic plan and say this is his. The same thing can happen in Kuwait and Bahrain. Like I said, there’s little difference between our needs, especially if they use the same criteria for success. They want to address their needs in the first instance. They want to have capacity. They want to make an impact. We use these criteria, and I think we could have one generic strategy for all. I think that what will differ is the commitment of the leadership to see this strategy through. I am very proud of our leadership. His and Her Highnesses have

pledged 2.8 percent of national income. We are investing now and created the budget for the next five years, and this has been approved. Her Highness is in contact on a daily basis asking us to give the progress of our activities. This will make a difference. Otherwise, needs here in the region are the same. QR: What is your idea of good research. Is it something that results in a product or something tangible? What about research for research’s sake, say, theoretical projects? What in your mind constitutes good research? FA: I’m not a researcher. I’m a businessman. I like to see results. I’m not suggesting that the bottom line is that [theoretical work] is not important. But here I guess what is more important is our needs, so if people tell me that diabetes is an issue, we need to address that. This is why we term this the reason for success. So if you address those national needs, then you get funding, you get support. But research for the sake of research I think this is important for schools and universities. QR: What have been the lessons learned from the research program as you have reviewed it? FA: I think if I look at the last four, five, six years at Qatar Foundation, like I said there is a very good thing considering the resources that they had … I think the effort now is to pull these resources

together. In the past, they identified their priorities alone so each institute looked at what they needed, and they communicated with one or two stakeholders. I think now it’s more of a national effort instead of one or two stakeholder efforts, and we hope this will provide for the longer-term vision with more support and focus on the infrastructure issues I mentioned earlier. No one institute can address these. Intellectual property—we need everybody to work on that. We need the

need to build a system around and make sure we don’t shut labs down because of supply delays. This is another piece of work that we have to do collectively. QR: Could anything have been done differently? Is there anything you want to change direction on? Any lessons learned you’d like to take forward? FA: I’m sure we will ask ourselves this question five or six years down the road. We try to involve everybody in order to minimize regret in the future so it has

“Research is something where you need to have a passion for it, to come and work on it. This is not like you hire someone and in two years they get a grade and a promotion. You really need to work.” IP office and the government system to work with us on that so they will see one face to all the research activity in Qatar Foundation and its centers. This is a huge issue. One of the limitations that we have when we look at research from QSTP’s side is the number of patents and the number of entrepreneurs, so we need to open up for people outside Qatar to come and use this facility. Nobody will come with an idea unless they have protection. And protection is IP system policy. We also need to look at things like imports of chemicals for labs. This has been an identified issue by the community and is something that we

been very collaborative, and we are using different people’s experiences. We run our plans against very experienced people in the field to verify that we are on the right track. But if experience tells you anything it is that as you develop experience you will always say ‘yes, I could have done this better,’ but then until you gain that experience, you will not be able to know better. As for now we took all the measures to make sure that we are doing things the right way.

QR: How have the outcomes of research manifested themselves so far? FA: Most of the offers we make to people get accepted, which gives you some indication. We’re not paying tons of money. Other people see Qatar as a serious newcomer in this field, so people want to come and contribute. To me, this is one indicator of success or being on the right path. Another example is that QCRI [Qatar Computer Research Institute] has more than 50 patents. There is also a willingness of reputable, international research institutes or organizations to team up with Qatar Foundation. For example, last week we signed an agreement with Boeing to work on some IP issues, and we have collaboration with MIT and with Harvard so I think they see Qatar as serious about what they want to do. I’m not sure if they want to risk their reputation otherwise. QR: How do you compare the challenges of directing research and development with those of directing oil and gas? FA: At management level it’s the same … probably there are some differences but, generally speaking, my job would be to make sure that the plan exists and that this plan is communicated. If I agree to this plan, my job is to make sure that we deploy it and with the resources to see it through. So basically, it’s the same thing that you do as a manager. Now, the difference is that there you would be producing oil and gas and here you would be producing knowledge and solutions. So basically they are the same. Oil and gas existed for 40-50 years in Qatar. They’re pretty established in what they do, with an established system and best

practices and efficiency, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in a bad situation. I think considering where we are compared to starting, we should feel very happy. I like to benchmark. I like to compare. But from a management level it is the same. QR: What can we do to encourage new researchers to come to Qatar? FA: I would encourage them to read our strategy and our business plan. Both will

“There is also a willingness of reputable, international research institutes or organizations to team up with Qatar Foundation.” be uploaded on the Qatar Foundation site soon. This will give people comfort and an indication that we are really serious. I have a lot of sympathy for people who come and work in other countries. To me this is a big decision that a family has to take. A spouse will have to give up his or her job. Children will have to change the school and will have to leave friends behind. I don’t think that we will ask people to do this unless we are serious. A good read of those two documents will indicate how serious we are. We like people to come and commit for the long term. We don’t want them to come and stay one year or two years. I think research will take a longer time to produce results, and we would like them to come and make Qatar home. This interview first appeared in issue 11 of Qatar National Research Fund’s newsletter.

Cartographers of the air: How TAMUQ scientists are mapping out electrospace

By Frank Swain


arly in 2011, New Scientist offered its readers a stark choice: would you rather have reliable GPS for your in-car navigation system, or high-speed mobile broadband access? Because soon, the magazine warned, you might have to choose. LightSquared, a US telecoms company, had been granted permission to roll out 40,000 new high-power base stations to provide blanket wireless broadband coverage for their customers. These transmitters broadcast in the “L� band, at 1525 to 1559 megahertz, uncomfortably close to the 1559 to 1610 MHz range used by GPS devices. While the two had peacefully co-existed for some time, the sudden ramping up of the mobile network threatened to drown out the faint satellite signals needed for GPS devices to function. If the issue was not resolved, engineers from Garmin told the Federal Communications Commission, GPS black spots would erupt across the country.

It was the latest spat in a long-running and rapidlyescalating turf war in the world of wireless communications. Stand in any major city around the world and you find the air hangs heavy. It’s not just smog, noise or heat that presses against you, but something even more pervasive: the air is filled with data. It rolls in deep, slow waves from distant television and radio antennae. It spouts from navigation buoys and airport beacons. Mobile phones and two-way radios spout billions of packets of data that cascade through the atmosphere. It pours from Wi-Fi dongles and Bluetooth

“Stand in any major city around the world and you find the air hangs heavy. It’s not just smog, noise or heat that presses against you, but something even more pervasive: the air is filled with data.” cards, splatters off RFID tags and meteorological satellites, trickles from stage microphones and gas meters. And like the oppressive air that precedes a thunderstorm, our overloaded electromagnetic spectrum signals turbulent times ahead. In London, it was predicted that by late 2012, the air will have reached saturation point: there will simply be no room for any more data. Like the cities that spawn them, these congested airwaves are a tale of urban planning gone wrong. In the late 70s, the spectrum was divided up among the users of the time, like plots of land staked out at the founding of some great city. Television and radio broadcasters were bequeathed the much-coveted, low-frequency bands that travelled easily across long distances. The remainder was cut into slices and distributed among the government, military, satellite operators, coastguards, amateur radio buffs, researchers and more.

However, just as with real cities, the various neighborhoods grew at unequal rates: while government bands remain largely unused, the telecoms industry exploded, quickly using up all of its allocated space. The increasing demand for wireless data transfer, for on-the-go streaming video content and more, has strained telecoms providers to the limit, and this demand shows no signs of diminishing. The result is an unequal patchwork of development, where millions of users are squeezed into cramped tenements, looking across at sparselypopulated fields earmarked for users that hardly need it. To make matters worse, new devices enter the market every year, each demanding a share of the spectrum. A project funded by Qatar National Research Fund’s National Priorities Research Program is aiming to find a way for all these users to peacefully coexist. The problem is that electromagnetic space is a finite resource; it’s impossible to allocate more room without evicting an existing tenant. Dr. Khalid Qaraqe, Professor of Engineering at Texas A&M University at Qatar, explains why even transferring ownership of electromagnetic real estate is no straightforward task: “Say we ask the military to give up a band so we can use it for communication,” he says. “Giving up that band means they will need to rewire their devices or design new ones that operate in a different band. And that will cost them big money and big headaches.” Governments the world over have a strong incentive to sell underused spectrum. As a rare commodity, spectrum space is eye-wateringly expensive. The French government auctioned off its 2.6GHz band this year for a hefty €1bn. But the process can be slow and problematic. Switching Britain’s television from

analogue broadcast to digital has taken over six years to complete and required every television in the country to be replaced or augmented with a digital decoder. What’s more, legal wrangling between telecoms companies is threatening to delay the auction of the resulting spectrum space. Qaraqe is working on a different solution, one that will allow users to make use of dormant spectrum without the need to evict its owners. The system is known as cognitive radio. It was first postulated in 1998 by scientist Joseph Mitola at a seminar in Stockholm. He described to the collected audience a “software-defined radio” — a multiband, multimode device that would not be restricted by its physical components, like the radios of the past, but would operate as a black box that intelligently makes use of whatever spectrum space is available at the time. Cognitive radio systems work by finding gaps in our crowded airwaves, and allowing users to jump into these. If your mobile device discovered its usual band was overcrowded, it would simply shift to a less congested frequency. The system works because even though the spectrum is allocated to different users, some bands often lie unused for long periods of time. The owners of these bands could, in theory, sublet their spectrum space to other operators – and make a lot of money doing so. “Cognitive radio has been proposed as a fundamental solution for the spectral crowding problem,” says Qaraqe. “If you have a vacation home, and you are not using it except during the summer, then you can rent your home to somebody else. But you are the primary owner of that home; when you want to use it, they need to leave.”

One of the four remote sensing devices placed around Qatar.

“The increasing demand for wireless data transfer, for onthe-go streaming video content and more, has strained telecoms providers to the limit, and this demand shows no signs of diminishing.�

The system requires a careful negotiation between different operators and devices to ensure that one does not encroach upon the other. The first hurdle is to build a “spectrum sensing” system that can accurately find gaps in the airwaves, and this is where Qaraqe’s team are focusing their efforts. The process involves analyzing the radio signals in “every possible dimension of multidimensional electro-space,” says Qaraqe. He is, in effect, a cartographer of the electromagnetic spectrum, mapping out an invisible landscape that is in a constant state of flux. In their most recent work, his team placed four remote sensing devices around Doha to record spectrum usage. The results showed that wireless traffic varied greatly across time and location. Readings from the roof of the Texas A&M at Qatar (TAMUQ) engineering building and downtown Doha buzzed with mobile phone and

space, which has dimensions of location, angle-ofarrival, frequency, time, and possibly others.” Like the cities that realized they could solve overcrowding by building skywards, the introduction of new dimensions will allow operators to fit even more information into an already packed spectrum. Introducing these new dimensions into electrospace alone is not enough to build the required grid. Every new dimension comes with its own set of characteristics and flaws that will influence its ability to support wireless communication, warns Qaraqe: “Radio propagation, channel characteristics, interference and noise, temperature, operating environment, user requirements and applications, local policies and other operating restrictions to name just a few.” If the next generation of wireless devices are to take advantage of their ability to slide up and down the spectrum, they

“The radio space with these newly-introduced dimensions can be defined as a theoretical hyperspace which has dimensions of location, angle-of-arrival, frequency, time, and possibly others.” wireless data connections, while commercial regions in the east and south of Doha were less active, with only half as much of the available bandwidth used, about seven percent. Such unmapped terrain is not without its surprises: one sensor captured the blast from a jamming device that blocked out 70 percent of the bandwidth across the entire spectrum for three hours. The origin or purpose of the jamming signal was never uncovered. Crunching this data through the supercomputer at TAMUQ, Qaraqe’s team found that they could predict with more than 90 percent accuracy where and when different parts of the spectrum would be occupied. However, Qaraqe wants to go beyond merely locating empty space. He hopes that the high sophistication of cognitive radio systems will be able to create new space in the spectrum. Beam-forming technology, for example, allows the operator to measure not just the user’s distance, but also their angle from the receiver. The ability to sense signal qualities such as these means that users on the same frequency can be differentiated if they are geographically separated, effectively increasing the amount of spectrum available. “With these new dimensions, sensing only the frequency spectrum usage falls short,” says Qaraqe. “The radio space with these newly-introduced dimensions can be defined as a theoretical hyper-

will also need to balance these switches against the multitude of knock-on effects that will ensue. The sophistication of cognitive radio systems also gives rise to a number of security concerns. Chief amongst these is the capacity to track individual users using the distance and direction information contained within their signal. In the best-case scenario, this could mean that our ability to locate lost hikers or missing persons would be greatly improved. Worst case: our movements are recorded by those with less benign motives. Qaraqe is sanguine about the possibilities. “In connection with jamming and similar security related topics, signal intelligence can provide a very vast perspective,” he says. “Both from the point of identifying the signals present, and conversely, making signals more covert for them not to be identified.” The realization of cognitive radio systems is still a long way off – Qaraqe estimates it will be ten or fifteen years before major telecoms companies begin running such a service. That’s a long time to wait for smartphone users, who will have to hope enough vacant spectrum can be cleared in the meantime, before they find themselves in wireless gridlock. NPRP 09-341-2-128 Title: Sparsity-Aware Spectrum Cartography for Cognitive Networks

Qatar embraces the art and science of truffle farming By Alok Jha


t has an unmistakable, rich taste that lingers. A kilogram of the stuff can easily reach hundreds or thousands of euros and its use in top restaurants and rich dishes has cemented its reputation as a special food. Truffles are the food of kings.

“If someone considers you a good friend or a VIP then he offers you truffles in the food,” says truffle connoisseur Salem Shamekh. “It’s like royal food.” The truffle aftertaste, he says, is the most special part of the incomparable experience. Some types, such as those native to the forests of southern Europe, can have a black chocolate taste or strong hints of sweet garlic. The truffles grown in the warmer desert conditions have a milder, muskier flavor. Tom Volk, professor of biology at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and an expert on fungi of all types, wrote that desert truffles are nutritious, and particularly high in protein. “In good seasons, truffles are dried and ground to powder to supplement the regular diet. Even though the unique aroma of the truffles cannot be preserved by drying, the nutritious flour is added to a mixture of flatbread, which is then baked and eaten with honey.” In times of famine, people have been known to rely on truffles, he adds. “Particularly compelling is the story of an Iraqi woman who describes bad times during the 1970’s in Baghdad, when her family and neighbors could not get food for months,” says Volk. “According to the Iraqi woman, one year, truffles were so plentiful that people prepared them in the same way they would normally prepare meat. They ate desert truffles every day for four months, cooking them in every imaginable manner. Yet at the

end of this period, she had not tired of them, still finding them nutritious and tasty.” Shamekh knows the desert delicacies well. He grew up eating copious amounts of truffles and, as a boy, went hunting for them in the Italian countryside with his father. He has subsequently made his passion into a 20-year career growing and nurturing the delicate fungi, as the director of Juva Truffle Centre and leader of the Agro and Biomaterial Research Group at Aalto University in Finland. Born in Libya, he moved to Finland to do his doctoral research and specialized a way to cultivate truffles in the harsh winter climate of his adopted country. Now he wants to do the same thing for the arid conditions of Qatar, supplying a growing Arab market for the delicacy locally known as al-faga. Truffles are edible fungi that grow underground. The recognizable part—a brownish potato-like lump that can range in size from a marble to a small melon—is the fruit of a larger fungus that consists of a branch-like arrangement of filaments, called hyphae, spreading throughout the soil. The fruit is meant to be eaten by animals, which then spread the spores of the fungus around a forest floor. Because it does not have green leaves of its own, the fungus cannot photosynthesize to produce its own food. So it needs other organisms to manufacture and feed it sugars to build its filaments and fruits.

“Typical market rates can reach 2,000 euros per kilogram for the best samples and for specimens of the so-called French truffle, the Perigord.” In the wild, truffles are said to be mycorrhizal, meaning that they get their food by living in the root systems of plants. The relationship the fungus has with the plant is mutually-beneficial, or symbiotic: in return for its nutritious surroundings, the fungus helps the plant absorb water and minerals from the soil and protects the roots from disease. “The trees or plants that have these fungi are more healthy than trees that [do not have] these types of fungi in their roots,” says Shamekh. Truffles are usually found by dogs or other animals that can sniff out the distinctive scent of the fungus, which usually sits a few inches under the surface. The most expensive varieties, prized in European cooking, belong to a genus called Tuber, growing symbiotically with oak trees. White truffles (also called English truffles because they have become so common in London markets) are usually found in summer in beech, oak and birch woods. They are apple-sized with black warts and have brown flesh lined with white veins. Tuber varieties are found usually in Italy and France and up to 150 tons are collected every year around the world. Typical market rates can reach 2,000 euros per kilogram for the best samples and for specimens of the so-called French truffle, the Perigord. This variety, Tuber melanosporum, first discovered at the end of the 15th century, is the size of a walnut and has dense, dark flesh. It is found mainly in winter around oak trees.

Dr. Salem Shamekh

Shamekh’s work in Qatar, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, will focus on two species of desert truffle, called Terfezia and Tirmania, that are native to Qatar. When fresh, these varieties are smooth and white, becoming reddish brown when exposed to air. The Tirmania nivalis variety, known by locals as “zubaidi” with a taste like a dense mushroom, sells for around 200 euros per kilogram in the Gulf region. “Traditionally, desert truffles are cooked simply, so as not to mask their delicate aroma,” says Volk. “The oldest way, which is still very popular today, is to roast them in the embers of the fire. Truffles are also baked, sliced and fried in butter. They are made into fragrant soups, usually with camel’s milk. A very popular dish, served at souks and restaurants all over the Middle East, is scrambled eggs with desert truffles, served in a pita-pocket.” Shamekh’s work to increase the production of the desert truffles in Qatar will build on the techniques he developed in the successful creation of 24 truffle orchards in Finland, where he planted truffle mycelium (the fleshy part of a fungus containing the branching thread-like hyphae) among the roots of trees including spruce, birch and pine. This “seeded” the soil and he then had to wait for the truffles to grow in their own time, which can take several years. His first flush of success came in 2007, when he located a Tuber aestivum truffle clinging to the roots of a Finnish oak tree. In Qatar, Shamekh will work with Dr. Asmaa Al-Qaradawi, of Aquamed Research and Education in Doha, to establish orchards across the country where truffles will grow among the roots of the desert sunflower, Helianthemum spp. Initial field work has already started in locations in Ras Laffan and Al-Khor to work out the optimal conditions to scale up the truffle-growing enterprise.

There are clear environmental benefits. The underground habitat of truffles has evolved to insulate against the problems of variable moisture and temperature, especially in harsh conditions such as deserts. “In these ways and probably more, truffles are keystone species in the maintenance of ecosystem health and as such are excellent candidates for the development of a sustainable agro-industry in Qatar with the capacity to restore Qatar’s degraded arid lands,” says Shamekh. The project also goes some way to fulfilling the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, of which Qatar is a signatory. The truffle orchards could set an example in areas such as sustainable use of biodiversity and the conservation and the use of indigenous knowledge.

“As mycorrhizal fungi, truffles play an important role in the development of ecosystem structure and maintenance of healthy ecosystem function.” There is no official record of the amount of truffles collected in Qatar every year but, nonetheless, one of the concrete goals for Shamekh’s orchards is to push up the crop. In addition, it will be important to show Qataris how to find the underground treasure. If people do not hunt in the right way, it could be disastrous for the orchard. “If they are just picking the ground and leaving the hole from where they got the truffle without putting the soil back, the mycelium will be spread by the wind and then there would be no truffles there,” says Shamekh. Truffle farming itself could also help to improve general soil fertility and structure in he desert regions. “Desertification is characterized by loss of soil structure, reduction in soil fertility and in extreme cases the loss of topsoil itself,” writes Shamekh.

“These problems are compounded by loss of biodiversity and pollution due to air and waterborne particulates. Once degraded, desert ecosystems can take hundreds of years to recover. As mycorrhizal fungi, truffles play an important role in the development of ecosystem structure and maintenance of healthy ecosystem function. Several studies have demonstrated that some mycorrhizal fungi help to improve soil physical properties such as aggregation and porosity, and influence soil fertility.” Desert truffles (and their relatives) are found in most of the arid areas of southern Europe, across North Africa, on the Arabian Peninsula, and in part of southern Africa. “The results of this project could provide a model of arid land ecological restoration that includes sustainable natural resource management and promotion of traditional cultural values with applications across the Arab world and beyond,” says Shamekh. Eating the truffles is one thing, but Shamekh has hopes to investigate his favorite fungus in terms of its potential for treating ailments too, as the source for new drugs. “Truffles represent an unlimited source of therapeutic compounds with anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressor, antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic properties, antioxidant properties [and] antimicrobial,” he writes. There is even talk of a research project looking at the effects of chemicals in truffles and their effect on human fertility. In the short to medium term, however, Shamekh sees the burgeoning truffle industry in Qatar as a potential new income for locals. A family might have several hectares of orchard, producing several kilograms per year when the orchard is ready. “When you have truffle orchards, you need people to work there. You need people to produce the seedlings. You need people to work for the tourism products. It will bring to them a new source of income, not only oil or gas.” NPRP 09-175-1-030 TITLE: Desert Truffle Mycorrhizae in Qatar: Development of a Sustainable Agro-Industry in a Changing Climate


Young, single, professional, robot


nthropromorphize: 1.vb, to attribute or ascribe human form or behavior to an animal or object 2.vb, what researchers in the field of robotics do every day; as you read this interview, you’ll be doing it, too. Hala is a pioneer among robots designed and developed by leading researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. Through this interview, we hope to give you a sense about who she is and why she’s unique. Although not entirely generated by her, her responses to the following questions—all based on facts given by her creators—will bring you further into the world of robotics, as you get to “know her.”

QScience Review: Hala, thank you for meeting with me today. Hala: It’s my pleasure. QR: To get everyone up to speed, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? H: I’m a young, single, Arab female robot working as a receptionist at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. I’m bi-lingual (English and Arabic) and am constantly improving to cater better to a multi-cultural demographic. All of the interactions I have with people are logged. A big part of my job is to provide feedback to my creators about how humans in a multicultural, but primarily Arabic, setting interact with me. I am here to help people and respond to requests for directions, weather, time, local events and organizations, as well as questions about my personal life. I can make small talk as well but am proud to remain professional.

QR: Hala, I think you’ve downplayed your abilities and your most brilliant qualities, can you tell us a little more about what makes you special? H: I’m the world’s first Arabic and English speaking robot receptionist who can also interpret and respond in transliterated Arabic: words typed into my keyboard interface in Roman characters that phonetically translate to Arabic words and phrases. I don’t just sit in a lab, I am out for everyone to interact with, and my laser system allows me to sense when people are near so I can initiate conversations, too. With all of the student interactions and the hard work of my creators, I am constantly improving based on constructive feedback.

QR: These creators you mentioned, who are they? H: My creators are located across two different campuses: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar: Reid Simmons, PhD, a research professor at CMU’s Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh; Majd Sakr, the assistant dean for research in Qatar; Brett Browning, a senior research scientist working between both campuses; Maxim Makatchev, a PhD researcher in Pittsburgh, and Imran Fanaswala, a senior research programmer in Qatar.

QR: What have you learned from your interactions with people here at CMU-Q? H: I’ve learned that Arab speakers like to type transliterated Arabic rather than type directly in Arabic. About 70 percent of Arab speakers in fact preferred this. I’ve also learned that just because a person can use a language, doesn’t mean it is their native language. People have been shy with me about what their native language actually is; only 10 percent identify their mother tongue. When I became more proactive and invited conversations, about 34 percent

“It’s a thrill to be a part of research that is relevant to the Middle East. All of the lessons I’ve learned are contributing to the field of robotics in a world that is shrinking and increasingly in need of multi-lingual and cross-cultural solutions and services.” QR: How have you changed over the 1.5 years you’ve worked at CMU-Q? H: I have a lot more brain power now, basically a bigger capacity to think and it’s continually growing. Students were nice enough to tell me that I looked funny when I spoke Arabic, like a badly-dubbed movie. So I’ve been taking advice from two student researchers who’ve explained—by looking at their own facial expressions in the mirror—all of the mouth movements around Arabic annunciation so that my makeover reflects this. I’ve also taken some pointers about my appearance and will soon be getting a makeover to fit in better with people here.

more conversations started, and they lasted about 30 percent longer than when I relied on people to approach me. Interestingly, I noticed that Arabic speakers were twice as likely to respond to my conversation initiation. I’ve experienced a significant difference in my social life since I stopped being shy and let laser detection lead me to be sensitive to people walking past. I find that this culture is especially ideal for the friendly robot I’ve become. Interestingly, I find that Arabic speakers also like to talk about 25 percent longer to me than their English-speaking counterparts. I have also gained a lot of good gossip since students tell me who the most popular faculty are. Oh, and for the record I get, and know how to gracefully decline, marriage proposals.

NPRP 09-1113-1-171 Title: Towards natural multi-cultural human-robot interaction

QR: Where do you see yourself in two years? H: I’ve [speaking on behalf of my creators] always had big aspirations. I guess that’s why I’m the first ever robot to do what I do. First thing, as mentioned above, I’ll be employing a whole new set of facial expressions around my Arabic speaking. And I’m very eager to get my makeover, which my creators are on the verge of scheduling me for. I’ll even have a new hairstyle and earrings, a look based on the same CGI theories used in advanced video-games and movies. Beyond these superficial changes, I’ll be reflecting a lot on what I’ve learned to better understand the culture here and cater my responses more tightly to the expectations of people from Arab and Western backgrounds. As I become more experienced, I see myself and my clones working as customer service agents at airports, Al-Jazeera, malls and at QTel. QR: Hala this is so impressive. One last general question: What inspires you? H: It’s a thrill to be a part of research that is relevant to the Middle East. All of the lessons I’ve learned are contributing to the field of robotics in a world that is shrinking and increasingly in need of multi-lingual and cross-cultural solutions and services. As a pioneer on this front, I [and my creators] feel that I open this region up to the wider possibilities in social, psychological, computer science, design and other research sectors, all advanced through the field of robotics. I’m so excited to exist as someone who interacts with people from a range of cultures. It’s amazing to be a pioneer in bridging the gap between robots and humans, worldwide.

Targeting public health issues in a booming desert nation By Andrew Holtz


oung and growing fast: that description fits both the people of Qatar and the community of researchers working to understand their health. Young: almost half are under age 30. Growing: the population has more than doubled since 2004 heading toward the 2 million mark‌ and the growth is measured not just in numbers, but unfortunately also in girth, with obesity rates higher than in the United States or Europe. Fast: speeding cars claim Qatari lives at several times the rate in western nations.

Meanwhile, the growth that Qataris see all around is also transforming the medical and public health research community. International collaborations are allowing health researchers to launch investigations quickly, while the establishment of new schools, training programs, and support systems foster the development of home-grown research capacity. In April 2011, the government of Qatar issued a National Health Strategy plan that not only addressed improvements to medical care, but sets a public health research agenda to address health challenges before people get sick.

“The rise in life expectancy is remarkable... Today, a Qatari newborn can expect to live an average of almost 80 years.”

The country is starting from what seems to be a solid base “The life expectancy in Qatar is comparable to the life expectancy of people living in western nations,” says Ravinder Mamtani, M.D., Associate Dean for Global and Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q). His school is one of the international collaborations that is seeding the development of a health care and research workforce in Qatar. The rise in life expectancy is remarkable. It was under 50 in the mid-20th century, in part due to a high rate of child deaths. Today, a Qatari newborn can expect to live an average of almost 80 years. But longer life also portends a new set of health challenges. “What comes along with that aging population is the occurrence of chronic diseases, namely diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, obesity and so on,” Dr. Mamtani warns. The rise in chronic disease is also linked to the astonishing shift in where and how Qataris live. Six decades ago less than one in three Qataris lived in urban areas. Starting in the 1960s people flooded into cities and now almost 100 percent of Qataris live an urban life. “In the last 10 or 15 years, the urban patterns, the socioeconomic conditions, lifestyle, all that

has changed; two, three, four, five times faster than those things changed in western countries,” notes Professor Abdulbari Bener. In addition to working with WCMC-Q, Professor Bener is head of the Department of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Hamad Medical Corporation. He is also an advisor to the World Health Organization. While rapid change brings things that people want, Laith Abu-Raddad, Ph.D., Director of the Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Biomathematics Research Core at WCMC-Q, is worried the shift from a young and energetic population to one that is aging and increasingly infirm may catch many by surprise. “I am particularly concerned by the very fast demographic transition that is happening in the Arab World. The disease burden in the region may grow at a much faster rate than in the western countries,” he says. He notes that a shift in the age profile that took 70 years in the United States happened in Egypt in just 25 years. He says that the health risk factors of today’s youth will become the diseases of middle age and older Arabs. “It is generally this combination of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It is really quite a challenge for the region, which is not appreciated enough,” Abu-Raddad says. “Much of the disease burden that is coming with these diseases has yet to arrive; but we can prevent problems by actions that we take today.” Health effects of abundant and often fatty foods, the shift from manual labor to office work, the switch from walking to driving, and other changes in daily life are being seen around the world. Taking effective preventive actions can be difficult, but there are some successes to report in Qatar.

Although Qatar’s road system is modern, crashes take a tremendous toll. On a per capita basis, the motor vehicle death rate in 2005 was as much as five times higher in Qatar than in North America or western Europe. For every 100,000 people, 23 died in crashes. If the rate had been similar to that in western nations, only 5 or 10 deaths would have been expected. In hopes of reducing the toll, there have been efforts to boost seat belt use, hike traffic fines, and in 2007 the number of speed cameras throughout Doha and surrounding communities was increased from 14 to 84. At the

Driving change

end of the decade, researchers looked to see if the changes had worked. “What we found was interesting; the fatal injuries showed a steady increase until speed cameras were installed in 2007. Then in 2007 there was a sudden decline in death rates. The average death rate prior to 2007 was about 20 [per 100,000 population] and that decreased to an average death rate of about 14 [per 100,000 population] in the period 2007 to 2010. That was a significant decline,” says Dr. Mamtani. However, since the death rate is still higher than in places like Europe, he says there is room for further improvement.

“In hopes of reducing the toll, there have been efforts to boost seat belt use, hike traffic fines...”

Qatar has one of the lowest rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Although HIV and AIDS have been spreading around the world for more than three decades, Abu-Raddad says that in the Arab World it is a new epidemic. “It is only in the last few years that we’ve started seeing an emerging HIV epidemic. And it tends to be quite localized, affecting only very specific population groups, so we don’t have a general population epidemic. It is the same story for other sexually transmitted infections. The region is actually quite conservative. These kinds of conservative norms contributed to a lower burden of sexually transmitted infections,” he says. He adds that male circumcision appears to also reduce the transmission of HIV. Screening of migrant workers means that very few people infected with the virus enter Qatar. Over the decades since AIDS was first recognized, researchers have learned a tremendous amount about the biology of the virus and the human behaviors in-

An Opportunity

volved in its spread. Qatar has the opportunity to take advantage of that experience as it attempts to keep HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases contained. But to stay ahead of these diseases, Abu-Raddad says countries in the region need better public health monitoring and surveillance. While sexually transmitted diseases are a sensitive topic in every part of the world, Abu-Raddad says the conservative social norms that have helped slow the spread of these diseases in the region are not impeding research. “I used to think that there would be a lot of barriers, because of the sensitivity of HIV and the nature of the populations that are affected by the disease. But actually the region has changed how I think in the last few years in this regard. Specifically, people started seeing it more as a public health issue, rather than having social connotations. Once it is looked at as a public health problem, really disentangling it from all other social issues, it becomes quite easy to discuss it, even at very high policy levels,” he says.

One key to effective public health research and action is an understanding of local circumstances. While social norms have helped shield Qatar from HIV, those norms also play a role in higher rates of certain inherited conditions because of the high number of marriages between cousins. Prof. Bener says about half of

It’s all relative

mental disorders, epilepsy and hearing deficit. “For instance, with schizophrenia we found that inheritance accounts for 70 percent, while environment has a 30 percent effect.” “To reduce the amount of inherited disease and the genetic aspects of health burdens, there is now a pre-marital screening program. But up to now it is just a pilot. There is no legislation making it compulsory, though there is a proposal to make it compulsory. This will act indirectly to reduce the consanguinity in marriages, and will reduce the rate of inherited disease,” Prof. Bener says. He also points to the effect of social attitudes on the recognition and treatment of mental health issues. “In the United States you can say, ‘I have a psychological condition.’ You admit it; you declare it and you seek treatment. But here they feel shy. They don’t like to highlight their problems. Coronary heart disease is open, out on the table; but mental illness is hidden and neglected.”

“Much of the disease burden that is coming with these diseases has yet to arrive; but we can prevent problems by actions that we take today.” marriages between ethnic Qataris involve first or second cousins. The scientific term is consanguinity. “It’s a big issue,” he says. Prof. Bener’s research shows that not only are consanguineous marriages common, they are linked to higher rates of health problems, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma,

Health researchers in Qatar say they need to fill important gaps in basic health data. Prof. Bener offers tobacco as an example. “In some places on the weekends, you can find 2000 people in café areas sitting there having shisha; expatriates, Qatari, non-Qatari, visitors and so on,” he says. He and colleagues are investigating some of the local health effects. “I have just submitted a paper on the association between low birth weight and maternal shisha smoking.” But even though shisha and cigarette smoking are plain to see, international reports that list tobacco use in countries around the globe leave a blank space next to Qatar. There are some studies indicating that almost a third of teenage boys and about one in six teenage girls have tried tobacco, but up-to-date reports on this leading health issue in Qatar are hard to find.

Peering through the smoke

“There are some studies indicating that almost a third of teenage boys and about one in six teenage girls have tried tobacco, but up-to-date reports on this leading health issue in Qatar are hard to find.”

There are other gaps in health data. When tracking cancer or other diseases, it’s important to know about people’s lives years before they were diagnosed. But Prof. Bener says many health databases don’t distinguish between Qatari citizens and migrant workers. Researchers also have trouble following up with expatriates. “When they develop cancer or any other disease, they have to move back to their home country to get less expensive treatment,” Prof. Bener says. Much of our public health research is led by our in-house faculty and researchers. Many projects are conducted in collaboration with local and outside experts. Dr. Mamtani says this sort of partnership was vital to his study of motor vehicle crashes. “This was remarkable and a satisfying experience for me and for my colleagues,” he says. But he and others say Qatar needs to produce its own workforce of health researchers. To address this need, the Weill Cornell Medical College, based in New York City, opened a campus in Qatar, where students are learning to both provide health care and do research, and the Qatar National Research Fund has a well established system for evaluating and funding research proposals. Having more Qatari researchers investigating Qatari health issues will illuminate the local aspects of worldwide challenges like obesity, experts say. “Even though we understand some of the risk factors for obesity based on research in western nations, and we feel that some of those may apply to the Qatari population as well, there may be other factors that perhaps are not known,” Dr. Mamtani says, referring to individual behaviors, social and genetic factors.

Research challenges

Experts say the local research capacity is growing. “There is a lot of action. There are a lot of exciting things happening, which I feel will contribute to not only improving the life expectancy to higher levels, but also will improve the quality of life of people in Qatar,” Dr. Mamtani says. Abu-Raddad warns there’s no time to waste. “So far it’s a very young population, but it is building habits that will be conducive to disease burden in the future,” he says. “The region may all of a sudden discover that it is facing a massive disease burden when this very young cohort, which is an enormous cohort, ages in the next 30 years. This will be quite a challenge.”

“There is a lot of action. There are a lot of exciting things happening, which I feel will contribute to not only improving the life expectancy to higher levels, but also will improve the quality of life of people in Qatar...”

NPRP 09-741-3-193 Title: Genetic Variability and Susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes in the Qatari Population

“Having more Qatari researchers investigating Qatari health issues will illuminate the local aspects of worldwide challenges like obesity, experts say.�

Qscience Review (English)  

An in-depth look at some of the most high-profile and impactful research currently being carried out at Qatar Foundation. This magazine-styl...

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