Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayah, Professor in the AUS Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, has spent a semester at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducting research that will help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Dr. Al-Sayah was hosted by the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering for his one-semester sabbatical, working with well-known global expert in biomolecular engineering, Professor Hadley Sikes. Collaborating with Dr. Skies and her team, Dr. Al-Sayah began work on the development of an antibiotic drug delivery system that is able to combat biofilm-based bacterial resistance.
Biofilms are antibiotic-resistant films that can form on implanted medical devices, such as cardiac stents. Not only are biofilms resistant to conventional antibiotic treatments, they can also aid in the growth of many different types of bacteria. The goal of Dr. Al-Sayah and his colleagues at MIT, therefore, was to design a drug delivery system that can penetrate the biofilm and eradicate bacterial growth.
The preliminary results of the research have been promising, where the designed targeted drug nanocarriers delivered the antibiotics to a biofilm model surface and prevented bacterial growth on that surface. The project will continue thanks to internal funding from MIT and the potential recruitment of graduate students and a postdoctoral fellow to progress the initial findings.
During his sabbatical, Dr. Al-Sayah also had the opportunity to present his research at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the 2022 Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening International Conference and Exhibition, Boston. He also met with faculty at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Tufts University to discuss possible collaborations.
The mechanism by which fish propel themselves through water has been the inspiration for new underwater robotic technology developed by Dr. Mehdi Ghommem and Dr. Lotfi Romdhane, faculty members of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Their research includes the design, implementation and performance analysis of bio-inspired underwater robots, actuated via hybrid propulsion mechanisms, and equipped with tiny sensors and electronics. Such robots have the potential to serve as substitutes for human divers and conventional submersibles to perform tasks such as environmental monitoring, inspection of underwater structures, search and rescue operations, monitoring of aquatic animals, and tracking of small and hidden objects in confined aquatic spaces.
After successfully testing their first proptype, Dr. Ghommem and Dr. Romdhane used the results to validate the theoretical models used in the design of the fish-like robots. These preliminary results were encouraging and they are currently working on a second prototype, which is expected to have a better performance in terms of speed, navigation autonomy (including target recognition), obstacle avoidance, detection capabilities, environmental awareness, agile maneuverability, long endurance, low acoustic noise or silent swimming, and good stability.
The research is the result of collaborative efforts with researchers from Stevens Institute of Technology, USA and University of Western Australia. Researchers from these two institutions contributed to the modeling and simulations component of the project, investigating the locomotive and propulsive roles of tail undulation and caudal fin flapping in swimming performance and hydrodynamic loads generation.
Dr. Ghommem and Dr. Romdhane believe that the use and development of fish-like robots has the potential to cover a wider range of engineering applications and attract further attention and interest from the scientific community. Looking to the future, they hope to continue to enhance the design of robots by examining several aspects of bio-inspired swimming including locomotion pattern, kinematics, hydrodynamics, propulsion mechanisms, body morphology and material. They are also working on incorporating further sensing capabilities in the robots to enable real-time monitoring of temperature and pressure, tracking position and visual inspection of the underwater environment.
Dr. Zahid Khan of the AUS Department of Civil Engineering undertook sabbatical leave over the course of 2021 and 2022 at the University of Waterloo in Canada. As well as working with the University of Waterloo during his sabbatical, Dr. Khan also collaborated with the University of York in Canada and Centrale Lille in France.
The focus of Dr. Khan’s sabbatical research was the dynamic characterization of sand treated with Microbially Induced Calcite Precipitation (MICP) through ultrasonic testing and the evaluation of dynamic properties of soils with resonant column testing using Hilbert transforms (a technique used to obtain the dynamic properties from spectral analysis of signals), and particle filters.
MICP is an environmentally friendly technique for the improvement of soils and its dynamic characterization is of significance to researchers and practitioners. Dr. Khan’s research saw MICP treated samples tested with ultrasonic testing using dry point transducers. As a result, new prediction models were developed to evaluate the wave velocity as a function of bio-cementation. A new technique involving Hilbert transform and particle filters was also developed for characterization of soils from resonant column testing. This will help to evaluate the shear wave velocity and damping ratio of materials from non-linear free decay response in resonant column tests.
The research on the MICP treated soils will now be further developed to understand the process at a micro-mechanical level. Ideation sessions Dr. Khan held with Dr. Dipanjan Basu at the University of Waterloo have helped identify many potential projects for research collaboration. An exploratory proposal involving Dr. Basu has been submitted for possible funding. This exploratory project will be based on developing a new drive system for a different ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) testing standard.
During his sabbatical, Dr. Khan also attended the 74th meeting of Canadian Geotechnical Conference in Niagara Falls, Canada, and published four articles in highly ranked journals during the sabbatical.
In recent years, the UAE has been at the forefront of smart city development. Governments across the Emirates have been investing in smart city technologies with the potential to make their cities safer, more efficient and more sustainable. Professor Vian Ahmed of the AUS Department of Industrial Engineering has been keenly following the uptake of smart city innovations across the country, with a view to shaping educational campuses to become ‘smarter,” and contribute to the UAE’s broader goals for smart city development.
“I have always been very passionate about studying effective teaching and learning practices and how the arrival of new technologies can be utilized to improve educational practices,” said Dr. Ahmed. “I am keen to understand how what we have learned from creating smart cities can be applied to the creation of smart campuses, and in turn, how smart campuses can help countries like the UAE achieve their visions for economic growth and development. To date, there has been little research in this field—something that I have hoped to address through my current research project.”
Dr. Ahmed has been at the forefront of research to define the criteria of what makes a campus “smart” and the relative importance that students and other university stakeholders place on each of these criteria. Using AUS as a case study, Dr. Ahmed’s research has laid the groundwork for developing a decision support tool. By identifying which smart city criteria various university stakeholders (such as students, administrative staff, faculty and IT personnel) consider most important, university administrators have been better able to make decisions about which criteria or solutions to invest in in order to make their campuses smarter.
The next step for her research is to further understand which smart city applications are most desired by university students, faculty and staff. She also hopes to study new pathways for future smart applications within campuses other than AUS, investigating how smart campuses can improve education quality and sustainability.
“The research has raised awareness about the importance of investing in smart campus applications and making sure that such applications are chosen based on evidence. It is through such investments that higher education institutions can become pivotal partners in smart city development,” Dr. Ahmed said.
Dr. Taleb Ibrahim of the AUS Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Dr. Mustafa Khamis of the AUS Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences have led a multidisciplinary team from across the university to tackle the removal of pollutants from wastewater. The research demonstrates how interdisciplinary work across different fields of science can help overcome issues of critical national importance, such as the preservation of water in areas of significant water scarcity.
The UAE, like many of its neighbors, faces chronic water scarcity as a result of geography and a population that has grown rapidly over recent decades. Novel ways of reusing water are therefore of great importance, with reclaiming and treating wastewater that can be used for different applications a high priority.
The team led by Dr. Ibrahim and Dr. Khamis has focused on how industrial waste can be removed from wastewater so that it can be reused for a number of purposes. The removal of heavy metals, emulsified oil, phenols, insecticides, pesticides and highly corrosive contaminants from gas, oil and pharmaceutical operations has been a focus of the team’s work.
The removal of these items from wastewater is being developed based on low-cost natural products, nanomaterials, ionic liquids, deep eutectic solvents and immobilization of these compounds on solid surfaces. In addition, these novel adsorbents are being researched for their function as non-invasive disinfectants for the removal of viruses, bacteria, algae and nematodes from water.
The application of the research to the treatment of spent caustic wastewater is of high importance. This wastewater, a by-product of oil production, is of a complex, toxic and corrosive nature. It contains, in addition to sodium hydroxide, compounds with high levels of chemical oxygen demand and is therefore hard to treat using conventional methods. The researchers have been successful in applying hydrophobic ionic liquids in liquid-liquid extraction mode to treat the spent caustic wastewater. Tests have revealed that 99.9 percent of pollutants were removed from the contaminated water in less than five minutes.
The next focus of the team will be on improving the treatment technology and applicability under field conditions, with the group researching the immobilization of ionic liquids on solid surfaces.
Researchers in the AUS College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics have developed a novel method employing state-of-the-art femtosecond laser technology to improve the hydrogen generation efficiency of copper electrodes when their surface is processed with an intense femtosecond laser.
Hydrogen has long been known as a low-carbon fuel, with electrochemical water splitting for efficient hydrogen production considered a critical step in the hydrogen economy. Proton exchange electrolysis and alkaline exchange electrolysis are the top contending technologies for green hydrogen production by converting electric energy to chemical energy. To make these technologies cost-effective, higher conversion efficiency electrode materials that are economical and durable are needed. In this regard, noble metals, such as platinum and their alloys have been used as electrode materials. However, the utilization of platinum and its alloys has adversely affected the electrochemical performance of electrolyzers due to their high mass loading, and poor durability, in addition to their high hydrogen-production cost. There exists, therefore, a collaborative global effort to develop stable and inexpensive electrodes that require less energy compared to platinum. To fulfill this objective, various laboratory-based chemical methods that are sophisticated but not always environment-friendly have been used. Apart from reaching efficient hydrogen production, mass production of uniform and stable electrodes using chemical methods remains a challenging task.
Researchers at AUS have been exploring ways of overcoming this challenge. Shahbaz Ahmad, a student in the the AUS Materials Science and Engineering PhD program, supervised by Dr. Mehmet Egilmez and Dr. Ali Alnaser, has been focussing laser energy on a copper electrodes, increasing the surface area of the electrodes by more than 50 times through the generation of periodic microstructures. Compared to traditional chemical techniques, the laser treatment technique is very efficient, taking only a couple of minutes to treat an electrode that is two centimeters by two centimeters in size. The high-speed laser treatment used by the researchers also creates favorable metallic oxide layers on the electrode surface, acting as active sites for water splitting, playing an indispensable role in the electrocatalysis process.
The technique has many benefits. As it doesn’t require the addition of any expensive or potentially toxic adhesives, it is cost-effective and environment-friendly. From a commercial perspective, the combination of the laser-enhanced surface area and the laser-generated favorable metallic oxide layers is expected to lower the amount of electric energy required to produce hydrogen from water, hence lowering the hydrogen production costs.
The results of the research have been published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy and have been presented and recognized at the 23rd World Hydrogen Energy Conference held in Istanbul,Turkey.
Dr. Ali Alnaser at work in AUS laboratories, furthering research into femtosecond laser-matter interactions
Using intense laser pulses with femtosecond duration, a team of researchers led by Dr. Ali Alnaser, Head of the Department of Physics in the AUS College of Arts and Sciences have synthesized trihydrogen ions from water molecules adsorbed on the surface of nanoparticles. Their work was published in the article "Anomalous formation of trihydrogen cations from water on nanoparticles" in the highly regarded peer reviewed journal Nature Communications. The research, which was conducted in the materials science research laboratories at AUS in cooperation with scientists from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Germany, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India, led to the discovery of a novel reaction method for the production of protonated hydrogen (H3+). Owing to its highly reactive nature, protonated hydrogen promotes the formation of more complex hydrocarbons. It is therefore regarded as an important catalyst for the synthesis of organic, carbon-based molecules that form the basis of life.
As a hybrid between the atomic and the macroscopic realms, nanoparticles and generally nanomaterials are of increasing utility due to their unique characteristics and potential advantages in many scientific and technological fields. For instance, nanoparticles have been utilized in laser acceleration of ions and plasma dynamics. Additionally, based on their surface chemistry, nanoparticles have been shown to induce unexpected effects on biological tissues and cells. To illustrate, mesoporous silica nanoparticles have shown remarkable ability as drug delivery agents when used in targeted cancer therapies, opening possibilities of a potentially safer and more effective treatment compared to contemporary methods (like chemotherapy). The promising applications of nanoparticles in various fields are driving extensive research on nano-scale materials. Specifically, in the light-matter interaction domain, intense femtosecond lasers have been used to study the effects of composition, shape, orientation and size of nanostructures on their light absorption properties and the spatial distribution of their ion and electron emission. Probing the formation of chemical bonds and proton transfer within and across molecules adsorbed on the surfaces of nanoparticles is a grand challenge that seeks to formalize deep insights into ultrafast and novel chemical reactions.
It is well-known that the aggregation of water molecules on aerosolized nanoparticles is of paramount importance in terrestrial atmospheric chemistry. Both in the Earth's troposphere and in interstellar space, water molecules have a not-insubstantial probability of encountering nano-sized substrates that are vulnerable to intense electromagnetic radiation. Tracking and manipulating the behavior of water molecules adsorbed on such substrates opens up the possibility to extrapolate from isolated water molecules to the formation of larger organic entities. For instance, the formation of the trihydrogen cation has long elicited the interest of various branches of the scientific community, as this cation represents a critically important precursor in the formation of complex organic compounds that are believed to play a vital role in the creation of life in the universe. Therefore, the possibility of forming a trihydrogen cation from water molecules adsorbed on nanoparticles is expected to shed important light on the evolution from water to larger molecular entities.
Regarded as the most important ion in interstellar chemistry, the trihydrogen cation (H3+) plays a vital role in the formation of water and many complex organic molecules believed to be responsible for life in our universe. Recent laboratory studies have focused on forming the trihydrogen cation from large organic molecules during their interactions with intense radiation and charged particles. In contrast, the studies by Dr. Alnaser and his colleagues focus on forming H3+ from bimolecular reactions that involve only an inorganic molecule, namely water, without the presence of any organic molecules to facilitate its formation. In the experiments, water molecules adsorbed on the surface of silicon dioxide nanoparticles were irradiated with extremely powerful, ultrashort femtosecond laser pulses, essentially mimicking the effect of the high-energy radiation to which dust or ice particles are exposed in outer space. The unprecedented generation of H3+ was enabled by “engineering” a unique reaction environment comprising water-covered silica nanoparticles exposed to intense, femtosecond laser pulses. This sequence of events in turn enabled the trihydrogen cation H3+ to be produced via a reaction between pairs of water molecules. The experiments by Dr. Alnaser and his colleagues demonstrate that the production of H3+ on water-coated dust particles can take place in the absence of any other factors. This new approach has the potential to be extended to the production of other new molecules that can have significant biological and environmental applications in terrestrial and non-terrestrial situations.
The test set-up of a reinforced concrete T-beam with carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) U-Wraps and splay anchors in the Universal Testing Machine in the Construction and Structures Lab on campus.
The United States’ infrastructure is aging and, with half the country’s bridges exceeding their lifespan of 50 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers has reported that most require rehabilitation. Traditional repair methods used steel or concrete but now carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) materials are the preferred option, due to being lightweight and corrosion resistant with superior mechanical properties. CFRP materials in the form of thin plates or sheets, can be used to strengthen re-inforced concrete (RC) beams in flexure or bending by applying it on the tension side of the beams, the shear, in the form of U-wraps, and in column confining applications.
However, the dominant failure mode of RC beams externally strengthened with CFRP is the premature debonding of the CFRP laminates from the concrete substrate, before utilizing its strength. To prevent such a sudden failure, studies show that proper anchorage of the CFRP laminates may prevent or delay the debonding. Recommended by the American Concrete Institute (ACI) in 2017 for future research (code 4402R-17), Dr. Rami Hawileh and Dr. Jamal Abdalla from the AUS Department of Civil Engineering have been studying the effect of using CFRP splay anchors to anchor U-Wrapped CFRP sheets to rectify the problem.
The CFRP splay anchor consists of a bundle of carbon fibers with one end splayed out to form a fan shape. The straight end is inserted into a predrilled hole in the concrete while the fan shape is splayed out against the surface to form the anchor.
“We knew from previous investigations that this type of anchor could delay or prevent debonding of CFRP laminates,” said Dr. Hawileh. “However, few tests had been conducted to study the effect of the CFRP anchors on the strength and ductility or tensile strength of re-inforced concrete T-beams shear strengthened with CFRP sheets.”
Dr. Abdalla emphasized that the outcome of this research was both crucial and timely. “It will advance the knowledge in using CFRP splay anchors as an effective anchorage system for externally bonded shear strengthening.”
Working with Haya Mhanna, a civil engineering master’s student in her final year, the professors carried out studies on six T-beams that had been cast in the Construction and Structures Lab on campus. Five of them were strengthened by U-Wrap sheets and anchored by different configurations of CFRP anchors, with one left unanchored to serve as a benchmark specimen.
Three-point bending tests were carried out and results showed that the FRP splay anchors were successful in preventing debonding of the U-Wrap sheets. Mhanna, who wrote a paper on the pilot study, explained: “The study investigated the effect of the CFRP anchor inclination angle on the performance of RC-strengthened beams.
Test results showed that the anchors delayed CFRP debonding, improved the shear strength, and significantly enhanced the ductility of the unanchored RC beam specimen. In addition, small anchor inclination angles performed better in terms of enhancing the shear strength and ductility of RC T-beams than perpendicular anchors. This study will contribute in the development of design recommendations of CFRP anchor splay systems.”
Dr. Hawileh and Dr. Abdalla stressed the importance of students carrying out pilot studies and having hands-on experience prior to writing and defending their master’s thesis proposals, saying that by designing reinforced concrete beams by calculation, then making the physical beams, they could see first-hand whether their calculations were correct.
The professors work with the US company Structural Technologies, which is involved in the strengthening of structures. Dr. Hawileh developed a course on this subject for civil engineering students, some of whom are now working full-time in the company’s branch office in Dubai.
Observing the Milky Way
Dr. Randa Asa’d from the AUS Department of Physics spent her sabbatical using the largest telescopes in the southern hemisphere to trace the chemical enrichment history of our galaxy and other galaxies far, far away.
“We now know that chemical elements such as iron and calcium were formed in the core of stars through nuclear reaction,” said Dr. Asa’d, who is investigating both our Milky Way galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, some 160,000 light years away from us. “Our goal is to be able to trace the galaxies’ chemical enrichment history.”
Getting telescope time at these large telescopes is very competitive. The number of powerful optical telescopes is limited compared to the number of astronomers in the world who wish to use them for their research. However, over the past two years, Dr. Asa’d’s research projects have been awarded telescope time with world-class telescopes in Chile.
Using the SOAR Telescope, Dr. Asa’d and her collaborator, Dr. Igor Chilingarian from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, observed a group of stars that were born at the same time and have the same chemical composition in order to study how the chemical composition of the galaxy evolved with time. “The groups range in age from 30 million to more than one billion years old,” she explained. “By studying the chemical composition of those groups of stars at different ages, we can chart how the chemistry of the galaxy changed or was enriched. Our initial results confirm that we can study the chemical history of galaxies that are more than tens of millions light years away from us.”
Dr. Asa’d also led a research project using data obtained with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile to provide the first information about the chemical composition of one of the stellar groups within the center of our galaxy. The project was in collaboration with researchers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, the University of Cambridge, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).
Dr. Asa’d’s work has attracted AUS students interested in optical astrophysics. A number of them are co-authors in peer-reviewed articles published in top journals. Two students, Farah Balaha and Maryam Alhosani, had the opportunity of traveling to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics to work with Dr. Chilingarian during the summer of 2018. Based on her experience, Maryam was chosen by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to participate in their summer internship program abroad.
Dr. Asa’d is pleased that by working with her on research, a number of students have obtained places in graduate school or employment in research-based companies. “The work I do here at AUS is exciting and, more importantly, adds value to the ongoing research in astrophysics, as well as giving our students the opportunity to explore a field that’s literally out of this world!”
The United Arab Emirates government is rapidly embracing new technology to develop a smart economy, with plans to have every new building in Dubai 25 percent 3D printed by 2025.
While there are many advantages in using 3D printing in the construction industry, a team of engineering professors at AUS explored the risks in order to help those involved, such as government agencies and designers, mitigate the pitfalls. “The main benefits of 3D printing in construction involve the ease of building and sustainability. It’s faster, costs less and shortens the supply chain,” explained Dr. Sameh El-Sayegh, Professor of Construction Management from the Department of Civil Engineering. “In terms of sustainability, we can build more eco-friendly structures with less waste and safer work sites.”
He and his colleague in the research, Dr. Lotfi Romdhane from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, examined the challenges facing this new technology through current literature and found that they were mainly related to the material used in construction. In addition, structural integrity and lack of codes and regulations were frequently cited as major challenges.
Construction projects are naturally risky endeavors as they involve the use of different materials and several project stakeholders with different objectives. The professors, along with Research Assistant Solair Manjikian, a recent civil engineering graduate, reviewed literature to investigate new risks in construction projects that use 3D printing and identified the 30 most probable risks.
These risks were grouped into six categories: material, equipment, design, construction, management, and regulatory and economic. They developed a survey to assess the probability and impact of the risks, which was completed by 37 respondents who had experience in 3D printing.
The risk priority was calculated using the fuzzy logic approach. The results showed that the main risks were a lack of codes and regulations, delay in government approval, a shortage of labor skilled in 3D printed construction, a lack of knowledge and information of 3D printed design concepts and changes in 3D construction codes and regulations.
“This research fills an identified gap in literature related to 3D printing in construction and provides insights into the key risks affecting this disruptive technology,” Dr. Romdhane pointed out. “These risks, if unmanaged, may hinder its successful implementation.”
The team has produced a paper based on their research, which has been published, by the Archives of Civil and Mechanical Engineering Journal. Dr. El-Sayegh said that the research outcomes would no doubt be beneficial to all involved in construction projects. “We would especially like to disseminate the results to government agencies, owners, designers, contractors, material suppliers and equipment manufacturers. The research in this emerging area will continue with students in the new Master of Science in Construction Management (MSCM) program, which will launch in Fall Semester 2020.”
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Dr. Oussama El-Kadri in the lab
The release of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere is now known to cause atmospheric degradation, leading researchers worldwide to urgently seek ways in which to mitigate its effect on global warming and, ultimately, climate change.
Since 2012, Dr. Oussama El-Kadri from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at AUS has been successful in his investigation of porous organic polymers in the capture and storage of CO2 and other hazardous emissions.
“Gas released from the chimneys of fossil fuel-fired power plants accounts for over 65 percent of total CO2 emissions worldwide,” he said. “While nuclear energy is considered one of the better alternatives for replacing carbon-based energy sources, exhaust fumes from nuclear power plants contain radioactive iodine that can accumulate in living matter and the environment, leading to severe radiological effects.”
Following a sabbatical in 2016 spent collaborating with scientists at the Virginia Commonwealth University in the US, Dr. El-Kadri focused his research on the development of novel luminescent-porous organic polymers (L-POPs) and their utilization in the capture and storage of CO2 and radioactive iodine, as well as heavy metals in aqueous solutions.
“The polymers are like sponges with a high surface area and can be used for multi-functional applications under practical conditions,” he explained. “Over the past four years, we have developed more than 15 L-POPs and tested their ability to detect and capture small gas molecules and heavy metal ions. Most of these novel materials showed exceptional CO2 and iodine uptake of 7.06 mmol/g and 410 wt%, respectively, which are among the highest values reported for porous organic polymers. The same materials are also able to selectively detect heavy metal ions at very low concentrations.”
In addition to CO2 and iodine, solid and liquid waste contains toxic heavy metals that can leach into the aquatic environment, leading to contamination of ground and surface water, which affects the ecosystem and the availability of clean drinking water.
Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayah, also from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, is working with Dr. El-Kadri on detecting the heavy metal ions using L-POPs. “My specialty is in detecting these metals in the polymers, which are irradiated by shining a UV light, or through optical observation, which could be a simple change in color, like a litmus test,” he said. “We are also working on using the L-POPs for natural gas, and increasing its efficiency by filtering out CO2, which could be of huge value to the oil industry.”
The next stage for the research team is take the results from the theoretical design stage and prepare materials for synthesizing in the lab to maximize the capture and storage of the emissions, in order to assess its viability as an affordable product in the marketplace.
The team has produced a number of papers on their research and, as Dr. El-Kadri pointed out, “quite a number of researchers are working on this and we are all working on pieces of the puzzle, but we are part of a bigger solution.”
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system, causing seizures or a loss of awareness, and its accurate, rapid and cost-effective detection is being researched by Dr. Hasan Mir and Dr. Hasan Al-Nashash from the AUS Department of Electrical Engineering.
“Detecting epilepsy using an MRI in a hospital is a costly procedure, as the patient is obliged to stay for an extended period while undergoing tests on the machine,” said Dr. Mir. “It is also time-consuming to produce the image of the abnormal brain wave that pinpoints the affected part of the brain.”
He pointed out that while the 3D image produced is of high resolution because of the length of time taken to produce it, the location of the abnormal brain waves may have shifted, and the tests would have to be repeated. “We are working with the team at Dubai’s Rashid Hospital on detecting epilepsy using the electroencephalogram or EEG, which records electrical activity in the brain at a faster rate than an MRI.”
However, while the EEG is portable and can be worn like a cap at home for a length of time to collate data on abnormal brain waves that occur during a seizure, the data requires significant processing in order to find the affected area of the brain.
Dr. Mir’s background in antenna signal processing led him to use array signal processing that focuses on synthesizing signals from the EEG. He spent part of a sabbatical at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea and at China’s Shenzhen University to study the development of algorithms to specifically interpret the images produced by the EEG for more accuracy in detecting the area for possible corrective surgery.
With the help of a grant from the Al Jalila Foundation, a UAE-based non-profit organization promoting medical research, he hired Sajedah Al-Momani, an AUS graduate working on a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering, to help him develop the algorithms.
“Becoming involved in this research and meeting with people with epilepsy increased my awareness of their difficulties in dealing with seizures,” she said. “The need to perform an accurate localization of the seizure onset zone (SOZ) and determine the eligibility of the patient to undergo surgery have been the main motivation behind our research. An algorithm to localize and track the source of the seizure has been developed and tested over simulated data. We are aiming to further apply our proposed algorithm on real epileptic data.”
Simulation modelling has now been completed and Rashid Hospital will supply clinical data to enable the AUS team to carry out further research on the software, which they hope will prove successful enough for dissemination and adoption by diagnostic centers.
Utilizing the nuclear reactor (at the back of the image) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland, Dr. El Khatib carried out experiments on the small-angle-neutron scattering (SANS) instrument (on left, in red), to investigate Heusler alloys for their magnetic cluster structures.
Keeping abreast of the latest research in one’s discipline is the responsibility of all university professors, which often requires them to travel abroad to where they can collaborate with colleagues in the field. Dr. Sami El Khatib from the Department of Physics took this opportunity by accepting a research invitation to the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department (CEMS) at the University of Minnesota in the United States.
Dr. El Khatib spent his sabbatical time working with Professor Chris Leighton, one of the leading experts in the field of magnetism. “We investigated the low-temperature magnetism of Heusler alloys which comprise nickel, cobalt, manganese and tin, in order to see if they could be applied as low-cost alternatives in sensors, actuators and magnetic refrigeration systems.”
However, Dr. El Khatib was quick to point out that his research focuses more on the fundamental science of magnetism, rather than its application. “My PhD was on neutron scattering of heavy compounds, and during my time at graduate school I utilized the spallation neutron source at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center [in New Mexico].”
Employing his experience in neutron scattering, he travelled to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland to conduct experiments on Heusler alloys and oxide materials using the state-of-the-art, small-angle-neutron scattering (SANS) instrument at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR).
Dr. El Khatib was the main investigator in three major projects, and a good portion of his sabbatical time went into mastering new experimental techniques at the University of Minnesota’s laboratories. With the new materials science lab at AUS, his research will continue: “I am exploring the magnetism on other materials, such as nickel and iron disulfides, which are potential candidate for solar devices,” he said. “The research done over the course of the sabbatical has resulted in the publishing of a paper and more manuscripts are being prepared for publication shortly.”
The method of de-icing a bridge in winter in the US state of Nebraska is now being used by AUS engineering professors to explore the effective monitoring of stresses and strains in concrete structures.
Dr. Sherif Yehia in the Department of Civil Engineering developed, and subsequently patented, a conductive concrete material while working on his PhD at the University of Nebraska during the 1990s. While there, he worked with the Nebraska Department of Roads, which was concerned with dangerous road conditions during the winter, especially for motorists crossing Roca Bridge. By using his conductive concrete in the bridge’s construction, it allowed an electrical current to run through it and keep the surface ice-free.
Dr. Yehia has now called on his colleagues in the College of Engineering to work with him to see if the conductive concrete material can be used as a sensor in Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) systems. “Concrete structures are designed with safety and durability in mind,” said Dr. Yehia. “However, unexpected events such as undue loading or seismic activity can happen which might incur stresses and strains that, if not detected in time, may cause catastrophic failure of the structure.”
Current sensor types, such as electrical strain gauges and vibrating wire gauges, are embedded during construction but deteriorate over time. Conductive concrete (CC) uses carbon powder, graphite and steel fibers to improve electrical conductivity and mechanical strength. Having proved effective in de-icing, Dr. Yehia found the conductive concrete effective in cathodic protection, or preventing corrosion in a building’s steel reinforcement.
The current two-year research project is now investigating its potential in self-sensing applications due to its ability to change its conductivity under pressure or undue loading.
Dr. Taha Landolsi from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering led the first phase of the research, which investigated compression using fiber-optic sensor samples along with the conductive concrete sample. “The fiber-optic sensors were sensitive to both static and dynamic compressive loads, but their relatively high cost prohibits large-scale adoption of such a solution in commercial applications,” he explained. “With the proposed CC-based approach, axially loading CC samples produced a change in their conductive properties and, as a direct consequence, induced a change in the values of a direct-current signal. With the proper calibration, this approach can be an efficient load-sensing technique of concrete structures.”
Dr. Nasser Qaddoumi from the Department of Electrical Engineering investigated the effect of compression of the samples on microwave signals. “We knew that a CC structure, if compressed, will have an effect on the propagation of electromagnetic waves inside it,” he said. “Given the material composition, we wanted to further investigate whether frequencies from the microwave range in the electromagnetic spectrum would be the most suitable ones for accurately measuring these compressive effects.”
Working with the team for the past year was a Fulbright Scholar from the University of Nebraska, in addition to an AUS master’s student and an electrical engineering undergraduate. They have been helping to design and build the concrete specimens and conduct an evaluation of the mechanical properties of the material.
Dr. Yehia and his colleagues are now involved in the second phase of their research, applying bending load to assess deformation of the material samples. “In the evaluation stage we will see how we can correlate this resistance with stress and develop guidelines and recommendations for the use of conductive concrete in applications, such as self-sensors in buildings, as part of a structural health monitoring system.”
Healthcare is one of the seven priority sectors marked out by the UAE government for its National Innovation Strategy to help achieve UAE Vision 2021. Taking this further, AUS professors involved in supply chain management are exploring how hospitals can become more innovative in the context of sustainability for more environmental impact.
Dr. Abdulrahim Shamayleh from the Department of Industrial Engineering teamed up with Dr. Abdelkader Daghfous from the Department of Marketing and Information Systems, which runs the minor program in supply chain management, to carry out the research and also to spark interest among students in the minor program.
Dr. Shamayleh had conducted training courses earlier for the Dubai Health Authority’s procurement department on healthcare supply chain management. “The success of the program led to their request for research on a more sustainable process, and I had the opportunity of bringing in eight of our students to help carry out this project,” he said, adding, “it’s great to engage students in our research, as it’s not about us and really about giving them opportunities for real-world interaction.”
The first part of their two-year research project entails a systematic review of literature about sustainability in healthcare, with a focus on medical equipment and material supply chains. Dr. Daghfous explained that information was scattered at present: “We want to integrate what’s out there, uncover what’s missing and to help others investigate new avenues for research.”
The second phase will entail research in the field to build a framework for guiding healthcare professionals in formulating a strategy on sustainability-oriented innovation in their hospital or clinic.
Dr. Shamayleh said that he and his team of graduate students would meet with healthcare managers, specialists and government officials to investigate the obstacles they face and what they require to initiate a practice of sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI) in healthcare management. They then hope to develop case studies on up to 10 hospitals across the United Arab Emirates, which will lead to SOI initiatives that can be implemented, both locally and regionally.
They pointed out that sustainability in the healthcare supply chain included recycling medical equipment by refurbishing it and sending it to where it was needed, such as health authorities in impoverished countries, as an exercise in social responsibility.
Having done a lot of research into innovation over the past 25 years, Dr. Daghfous said he found that little had been done to enhance innovation in the healthcare supply chain. “This industry is so important, with huge environmental impact, that it’s vital to develop a model that would combine innovation with sustainability.”
Dr. Md Maruf Mortula is seen with the research tanks on campus.
Providing clean drinking water is a challenge worldwide for utility companies managing a maze of underground pipelines, where leakage can cause a deterioration in the quantity and quality of supply.
Professors in various AUS engineering departments have come together to tackle this challenge to infrastructure management and are exploring smart ways of detection to ensure safe and reliable services. Dr. Md Maruf Mortula had already submitted preliminary research on using smart technologies in leak detection, which led to collaboration with his colleagues in his own Department of Civil Engineering, as well as in the Department of Electrical Engineering and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
“Water leakages are a danger to public health when unsafe water is supplied to consumers, and possible flooding can cause traffic disruption as pipes typically run alongside roads,” said Dr. Mortula. “The ensuing search for the leak in pipes buried far underground can cause additional disruption without an accurate method of detection, which is why we felt there was an urgent need for a solution.”
The research project, which intends to develop data-driven techniques to detect leaks, had the additional help of five students for the initial mapping out of a model of leaks underground using specially equipped cameras. Three pipes were fitted across a rectangular tank, each one with a typical cause of leak: a crack, a hole and a leaking joint. The tank was then filled with earth, covering the pipes. Water was passed through the pipes and pictures were taken of the area around each pipe using two infrared cameras and two cameras fitted with spectrometry imaging systems, to pinpoint from where the water was leaking. This visual data on the different types of leaks has now been recorded for use in the next part of the project.
Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) has some 3,700 km of pipeline crisscrossing the emirate, and it manually records water quality and water pressure at specific locations in an effort to detect leaks across the network. Currently, a lessening of both chlorine in water samples and water pressure denotes leaks in a given area. Dr. Mortula is working with his departmental colleague Dr. Tarig Ali to collate and triangulate the data from these monitoring locations using geographical information system (GIS) software in order to give a more accurate location of leaks.
The team will then send drones fitted with the cameras to these sites to take shots of the area, which will be compared with the recorded samples to identify the type and intensity of the water leak. For more inaccessible areas, Dr. Lutfi Albasha, in the Department of Electrical Engineering, will use ultrasound imagery.
Dr. Taha Landolsi of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering will integrate the different smart technologies on one common platform and analysis of the data will be carried out by the team, with the assistance of two master’s students, one visiting research scholar and one post-doc researcher.
“We are very grateful to SEWA for allowing us to use its water distribution system as a living laboratory,” said Dr. Mortula. “The work we are doing, if successful, will be of enormous value, not only to SEWA but to other water utility companies as we refine the process and make it more user-friendly and cost-effective.”
At work in the lab are Dr. Yehya El Sayed (left) from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Yassir Makkawi from the Department of Chemical Engineering.
The United Arab Emirates has an ambitious plan to generate 44 percent of electrical power from renewable resources by 2050, while minimizing waste disposal by landfill. In support of government efforts, a team of AUS professors are exploring the use of concentrated solar energy in converting waste into biofuels and biochar.
Dr. Yassir Makkawi from the Department of Chemical Engineering explained that the huge amount of organic waste produced in the UAE includes household and industrial waste, as well as food waste from various sources, such as hotels, restaurants, schools and hospitals. “This organic waste could be utilized for biofuels, which are a promising alternative to fossil fuels. Not only that, the waste can also be converted to biochar, a type of charcoal that enriches the soil and is particularly valuable to semi-arid land like the desert, where there’s a scarcity of plant life and fresh water.”
The team is also investigating the use of biomass, or organic matter in the form of salicornia, a succulent, salt-tolerant flowering plant commonly known as samphire, which grows wild in coastal areas. The researchers are working with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai, which has carried out field studies on the plant under harsh desert conditions. These studies show that salicornia production can reach up to 140 tonnes per hectare, while its seed yield is up to 3.5 tonnes per hectare. “The seeds have a high oil content, with qualitative and quantitative characteristics similar to other bio-energy crops, such as willow and miscanthus,” said Dr. Makkawi. “For these reasons, it’s considered an ideal biomass for biofuel production in the UAE.”
Atlantic coastal areas are a typical habitat for samphire.
Dr. Dionysia-Angeliki Lyra from ICBA is leading the project on the agronomic evaluation of various Salicornia bigelovii genotypes under various saline water treatments (brackish groundwater, seawater, reject brine from desalination and aquaculture effluents), which will be harvested for further analysis by the AUS research team.
“Another unique opportunity offered by this project,” said Dr. Amani Al-Othman from the Department of Chemical Engineering, “is the opportunity to investigate the potential application of hydrogen-rich gas produced from biomass as a fuel in a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC), in order to produce electricity. Such an approach for energy generation would help in reducing reliance on fossil fuels."
The three-year project aims to develop biofuel and biochar production by using concentrated solar power. “This is a new concept that will make a significant improvement to the overall efficiency of the process,” said Dr. Makkawi, adding, “the project outcomes will contribute to the scientific community, and to the global effort in developing renewable energy resources.”
Concentrated solar radiation could be up to 5,000 times stronger than normal solar radiation and this could provide a nearly 50 percent improvement in efficiency compared to existing systems, producing higher quantities of biofuels and biochar. “Historically, the earliest attempts at solar-biomass conversion goes back to the mid-1970s. However, with the growing demand for clean energy and stricter environmental regulation, there is now a renewed interest in solar-thermal conversion of biomass as a modern concept for bio-energy.”
Dr. Mohamed Gadalla from the Department of Mechanical Engineering explained that the process had a number of innovative aspects. “In addition to combining two of the most abundant energy resources—solar and biomass—to develop a modern, renewable energy technology such as biofuel, we are designing an advanced solar reactor as a conversion system in a single closed loop.”
Salicornia growing in the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture.
The team’s project involves extensive experimental work, as well as theoretical and computer simulation analysis. In addition to ICBA, they are collaborating with experts in mathematic modeling, solar thermal conversion and bio-energy technologies at universities in the UK: the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University, the UK Biochar Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, and the University of Birmingham’s School of Engineering.
AUS undergraduate and graduate students are also working with the team on bio-energy research, some of whom will be appointed as researchers for the project. “AUS is known for its strong emphasis on practical experience provided to students,” said Dr. Yehya El Sayed from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. “Some students will participate in this project as part of their graduate thesis or undergraduate senior project research courses. Sharing the outcomes of our research with our students in other courses will help us in delivering our message on environmental sustainability.”
Spent caustic waste before and after treatment
The UAE’s thriving oil production of nearly four million barrels a day brings with it the responsibility of safely disposing of waste from its refining. In an effort to improve the treatment of this waste, a team of AUS professors have spent the last two years investigating the removal of phenolic compounds, the most difficult class of waste in terms of treatment and disposal. Having achieved a removal success rate by more than 99 percent, the race is on now to make the process industrially viable.
“The treatment of spent caustic waste from refineries and petrochemical industries is not only complex but also highly expensive due to the high chemical concentration of hazardous compounds, a high pH, variations in waste composition and the need to comply with environmental regulations,” said Dr. Taleb Ibrahim from the Department of Chemical Engineering. “Several existing technologies to treat one of the pollutants—phenolic compounds—require extreme operating conditions of pressure and temperature, which are neither environmentally friendly nor cost-effective.”
Dr. Ibrahim called on his colleagues in the department, Dr. Paul Nancarrow and Dr. Nabil Abdel Jabbar, along with Dr. Mustafa Khamis from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, who carried out research on campus with the assistance of graduate student Muhammad Ashraf Sabri.
Using a real sample of caustic waste containing more than 1,000 components from a local oil refinery, the team focused on treating phenolic compounds in a simpler and environmentally friendly manner by using hydrophobic ionic liquids, which eventually proved successful. “Our research proved that what would have previously taken more than a day for the phenols to be fully flushed out, this process would now take just five minutes.”
A paper on the results of their work was published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, entitled “Spent Caustic Treatment Using Hydrophobic Room-Temperature Ionic Liquids.”
However, work on the regeneration of the ionic liquids, necessary for the process to be industrially viable, was not as successful, so further research is underway. “In addition to physical experimentation, we’ll carry out computer modelling to test various hypotheses, which will help to reduce the time in the lab,” said Dr. Nancarrow.
The team, along with Muhammad Ashraf Sabri, who is now a research associate, will be joined at the end of the year by a post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Amir Sada Khan. They are also working closely with colleagues at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, and at Queen’s University Belfast, which is a world’s leading center for research into ionic liquids.
“The second phase of the project involves modifying the surface of nanomaterials with ionic liquids so that phenolic compounds can become attached and then safely removed from the spent caustic waste,” explained Dr. Abdel Jabbar. “Early results show that this process allows the ionic liquids to be easily regenerated, giving us an environmentally friendly alternative to the conventional treatment technologies.”
Working closely on a research project requires scientists to have a good understanding not only of their discipline but of one another, and this team has a history of working very well together.
“We have been collaborating since 2012 and have co-authored more than 20 papers, so you could say we have a great understanding and respect for each other’s expertise,” said Dr. Khamis. “Our latest research project is a good example of interdisciplinary research for a real-world application.”
A neuron reconstruction
Classifying nerve cells in the brain to better understand their function has been limited up to now. However, AUS professors are working together using a newly developed method for analysis that will help with early detection.
Neuroscientist Dr. Reem Khalil is exploring the brain’s visual cortex, which processes visual information, to see how the nerve cells, or neurons, communicate with other cells, especially the pyramidal neurons (pyramid in shape) as they constitute 80 percent of neurons in the brain. “This study of neurons is particularly important for understanding human visual perception,” she said. “Our project aims to identify different classes of neurons in order to understand how their shape correlates with the physiological function. Revealing differences in morphology, or shape, among classes of neurons will further help us in detecting abnormalities that arise during brain development. This is important as abnormal connections in the brain result in various neurological disorders.”
Dr. Khalil intends to carry out tracer injections into an animal’s primary visual cortex in a lab in the future to stain and visualize neurons, in order to study their morphology. In the meantime, she is studying digitized reconstructions of animal brain cells that are widely available to the scientific community.
She shares her research with junior and senior students in her neuroscience classes, and she has had the assistance of a master’s student Shaima Al Suwaidi, who has now gone on to do her PhD at McGill University in Montreal.
Working with Dr. Khalil on the project is Dr. Sadok Kallel from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who said that conventional techniques in identifying the shape of neurons have proved insufficient in revealing subtle morphological differences. “We will go beyond standard statistical methods and use the newly developed theory of Topological Data Analysis (TDA) to explore the morphology of pyramidal cell neurons in order to organize them into well-defined classes,” he explained. One of the two PhD students he is supervising in Tunisia has visited AUS to help with the TDA work.
Computer scientist Ahmad Farhat is working with Dr. Kallel in developing machine-learning algorithms in order to distinguish the classes, based on TDA, which was developed to search and extract hidden features from within large data sets. “We brainstormed many ideas and implemented quite a number of them in developing our own algorithms for detection,” he said, adding, “now the next step is testing it.” The team is also collaborating with Dr. Pawel Dlotko, an applied topologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences, to expand on these techniques so they can be utilized to analyze other biological tree-like structures.
Dr. Khalil pointed out that the algorithms will be applied to the second goal of the project, the study of how each class of neurons refines during development. “These TDA techniques to classify pyramidal cells in the visual cortex can be applied further as they can potentially be used to classify any class of neurons in any brain region,” she explained. The algorithms being developed will also be beneficial in her work, she said, in collaboration with colleagues in New York University in Abu Dhabi, on the neural circuits that underlie mood and sleep disorders.
An artist’s impression of an afterglow, right. Courtesy NASA
Co-authoring a paper in a notable journal is always an achievement for a well-established university professor; for two AUS students, the experience may be the catalyst for their future careers in astrophysics.
Mouza Almualla, a physics and electrical engineering major, and Khalid Alqassimi, who majors in mathematics, are listed among the authors of a paper recently published by the prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The paper, “Optimizing Multi-telescope Observations of Gravitational-wave Counterparts,” was the result of their work during a summer internship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where they carried out research on optimizing the search for electromagnetic emissions following gravitational waves from neutron star mergers.
Both Almualla and Alqassimi are involved in the university’s Astrophysics and Space Science Group, run by physics professor Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, who works closely with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), where a number of AUS alumni work. “The center has been the driver of the UAE’s planned mission to Mars, and they called for research proposals from institutions in the country in order to galvanize scientific research into astrophysics,” he said. “We were successful in our proposal submission on gamma-ray bursts, and for the past three years we have been funded and collaborating with scientists internationally on our project. When we put forward the work we planned for the internship at Caltech, they were happy to support us.”
An artist’s impression of a gamma-ray burst. Courtesy NASA.
The AUS students were asked to make improvements on a big computer code called gwemopt (gravitational-wave electromagnetic optimization), written by Dr. Michael Coughlin, the David and Ellen Lee Postdoctoral Scholar in Caltech’s Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA). The code optimizes the optical-telescope search for afterglows after the merger of two neutron stars detected with both gamma rays and gravitational waves. “We could see that the program was good in searching the sky but we could see ways in which it could be enhanced,” said Alqassimi, “so we informed Dr. Coughlin and he said our additions to the program would be useful for everyone using it.”
The gwemopt program “tiles” or divides up a stretch of sky into sections and allocates time for observation through algorithms. Almualla’s first task at the Caltech lab was to create a new “tag” for the program that would find the tile with the highest probability of detecting the afterglow. She went on to create a “super-scheduler” sub-algorithm. Alqassimi worked on analysis of the algorithm library of the LIGO observatory operated by Caltech, as well as researching code to increase the efficiency of the perturbative/hierarchical tiling method.
The students are continuing their research at AUS under the guidance of Dr. Guessoum and Dr. Coughlin, and are working on writing a paper on the utility and benefits of the super-scheduler algorithm. “Telescopes can point to a certain part of the sky, whether the northern or southern hemisphere, but the weather, earth’s rotation or light pollution can prevent some observations from being successful,” Almualla explained. “The group wants to create a global network that can observe these afterglows with more efficiency, and the super-scheduler will help observatories schedule their observations for optimal discovery. The code will include information on earlier observations of that tile, in order to avoid unnecessarily repeating an observation.” She will be the “first author” of the paper, with input from both AUS and Caltech researchers.
Dr. Guessoum said that the internship has given the students an enormous advantage for their future. “Their experience at Caltech will be tremendously helpful when they apply to graduate school,” he pointed out. “They will have had first-hand experience of doing research in a top lab, experiencing the highs, as well as the frustrations when work doesn’t go to plan, so I see them being easily accepted by the best institutions.”
Alqassimi and Almualla described their experience of working with researchers at Caltech as life-changing. “Our office was located on the third floor of one building in Caltech, where on the last flight of stairs there was a painting of Professor Robert Millikan, the famous Nobel Laureate in physics,” said Alqassimi. “Every day I passed it I thought to myself ‘I am standing on the shoulders of giants’, and I think that’s the best way to describe the feeling of being among, and working with, great scientists at Caltech.” Talking about his future plans, he said that “regardless of whether I pursue mathematics or physics at graduate level, I will always be involved in some kind of research.”
Almualla felt her experience was humbling, “but it was also exciting to be with people who were passionate about the work and cared about it,” she said. “After my graduation I would like to go into the field of astrophysics or nuclear physics; the work we do here at AUS and at Caltech is leading me there.”
Al Khalid Lagoon
Rising sea-levels due to climate change are a global problem that will have an impact on local communities. In response, Dr. Geórgenes Cavalcante and his colleagues Dr. Mohamed Abouleish, Dr. Serter Atabay and Filipe Vieira from American University of Sharjah are examining how Sharjah’s man-made lagoons may be affected in the future.
Pointing out how coastal lagoons are one of the most important assets in the Arabian Gulf region, Dr. Cavalcante said that Sharjah’s lagoons play an essential role in the emirate’s socio-economic environment. “Not only are they part of the smooth operation of the port and its maritime traffic, the lagoons are where many of Sharjah’s residents spend their leisure time, whether swimming or sailing, or at the restaurants overlooking the water.”
Originally coastal salt flats and two tidal creeks (khor in Arabic), dredging started on Khor Khalid and Khor Khan in the 1970s, which led to the digging out of a bay to form Khalid Lagoon. Some 20 years later, Al Khan and Al Mamzar lagoons were created. Today, a man-made sand spit divides Al Mamzar between the emirates of Sharjah and Dubai.
Due to their shallowness and narrow channels to the wider Gulf, the lagoons may experience this rise more immediately. “During our two-year project, we will apply numerical models to investigate how the sea-level rise will affect what’s known as the tidal prism, the volume of water in the lagoons between high and low tide,” said Dr. Cavalcante. “We will also evaluate the time that water remains in the lagoons before being flushed out and replaced with water coming in with the tides. And, more importantly, we will carry out a series of surveys to monitor water quality.”
A possible cumulative effect of the rise in sea-level in such semi-enclosed water bodies is the increase of water turbidity, or cloudiness, caused by the increase in sediment fluctuation in and out of the lagoons. This reduces the light penetration and subsequently the growth of food sources for sea life. It also accumulates on the sea floor, which can change its topography, thereby affecting water currents.
The AUS research team will start assessing the existing environmental data available on the lagoons, such as the currents, tides, weather, salinity, temperature, oxygen, density of particles, chlorophyll and nutrients. This will reveal trends in water quality conditions to help inform their research, which will entail field surveys and numerical simulation in order to explore present and future conditions, as well as the projected 100 years sea-level rise, based on scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Field observation studies on the actual variables will be conducted to compare them with the modelling results. Dr. Cavalcante said he was looking forward to taking his undergraduate students out onto the lagoons by boat as part of their studies on coastal systems. “It’s important that students have the opportunity to study the impact of natural and man-made effects on the ecosystem first-hand by learning field observation methods using state-of-the-art equipment.” Water quality sensors will measure water oxygen, salinity and temperature, while water movement sensors will study waves and currents.
Dr. Atabay will involve undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Civil Engineering in data collection and in addressing concerns about the man-made structure supporting the lagoons. “This project will help us understand how the higher volumes of water and sediment, as a consequence of rising sea-levels, will have an impact on the structure,” he said. “The general findings will be disseminated as a student graduate project.”
The eventual results of the research team’s work will provide a comprehensive assessment of potential risks to water quality and also solutions in terms of the management of waste-water systems throughout the lagoons.
Dr. Ali Alnaser, Head of the Department of Physics, leads collaboration among colleagues from the departments of Physics, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.
Sharjah is the only emirate of the UAE that straddles the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, giving it a coastline on both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Their busy shipping lanes transport millions of barrels of oil daily, which could cause damaging oil spillage in the event of an accident.
In an effort to tackle this danger to an industry so important in this region, American University of Sharjah (AUS) professors and their students are collaborating on a project to rapidly and effectively remove crude oil from seawater by developing a mesh using femtosecond laser technology.
Currently used in newly emerging fields in science and engineering, femtosecond super-intense laser technology is being used for the first time in the Gulf region by the AUS team to research materials with various mechanical, chemical and thermodynamic properties, such as Teflon, titanium and silicon carbide, for potentially successful water-oil separation. To put this into perspective, one femtosecond is to one second as one second is to about 32 million years!
Traditional methods of cleaning up spilled oil from oceans usually involve the use of harmful chemical dispersants or by burning the crude oil, both of which have devastating consequences on the environment. By developing the mesh, the team at AUS hopes that their work will not only help reduce the economic cost accidents, but will also mitigate the environmental threats to marine life and coastal habitats.
The project is being conducted at the newly established research facilities and will be a collaboration among faculty and students from the departments of Physics, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.
Leading the project is Dr. Ali Alnaser, Head of the Department of Physics at AUS’ College of Arts and Sciences, who pointed out that the diversity in the expertise of the faculty working on the project is essential: “The research expertise of the faculty involved range from experience in the technology and applications of intense and ultra-short lasers and their interaction with matter in its different phases, to wastewater treatment technologies and the synthesis and application of novel adsorbents for the removal of pollutants from the environment.”
He stressed that using this contemporary femtosecond laser technology for the first time in this region would be of enormous importance in the classroom and laboratory, giving AUS students ample opportunity to employ new technology to overcome environmental challenges in the future. “This project will serve as an ideal training opportunity for our students who will have the opportunity of developing expertise and acquiring skills in advanced laser techniques, which are necessary for research relevant to the environment, as well as the energy industry.”
Working alongside Dr. Alnaser as a research assistant on the project, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science senior Saeed Alghabra works on data analysis: “I was asked to write the program for the ‘stage’, which holds the various materials that are placed in front of the laser and then I help analyze the results using a Drop Shape Analyzer, to determine whether the material is hydrophobic (repels liquid) or hydrophilic (attracts liquid), by using different parameters, such as the type of liquid, the angle and temperature.”
Explaining how a computer science major could fit seamlessly into a physics lab, Saeed explained that AUS professors facilitate cross-collaboration among disciplines, encouraging students to use their knowledge to co-operate on projects with others, thereby expanding their understanding beyond their chosen major.
Dr. Taleb Ibrahim from the Department of Chemical Engineering, who is also working on the project, explained that it is aimed at addressing one of the primary environmental issues of oil spillage and organic waste water treatment, with the capability of collecting underwater gases and separate micro- and nano-particles.
“By using a powerful state-of-the-art femtosecond laser system on micro- and nano-structure materials, along with a wide array of diagnostic equipment and fabrication techniques, we hope to develop new, more efficient, low-cost and durable materials to remove oil spills, and significantly reduce the environmental and economic impact of such spills,” he added.
Dr. Alnaser stressed how important the results of this research could be for this project and others: “The AUS femtosecond laser light-source is one of only a handful of facilities worldwide with similar characteristics. We hope our research will be successful, not only for this project, but for other research projects we are pursuing into a range of materials. We are confident that it will eventually open the door to a wide range of cutting-edge applications in materials science and engineering.”
In addition to Drs. Alnaser and Ibrahim, the research project team includes Dr. Mustafa Khamis, Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, AUS College of Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Satish Kannan, Department of Mechanical Engineering, AUS College of Engineering.
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science student Saeed Alghabra contributes to data collection and analysis.
Professors and researchers working in the dedicated lab
The side effects suffered by cancer patients when being treated with chemotherapy are reluctantly accepted as part of their fight in a cure. Knowing that these side effects are caused primarily because the treatment can kill normal and cancerous cells alike, Dr. Ghaleb Husseini is focused on advancing research that can lead to isolating the drug for a more targeted delivery. And results so far are positive.
Dr. Husseini is currently collaborating with Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayah, an organic chemist from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and three permanent master’s and PhD researchers.
“When we started our research in 2012, we studied a number of drug delivery systems in order to reduce the side-effects of the chemotherapeutic agent,” said Dr. Husseini. “After painstaking research in the initial chemistry synthesis and in vitro testing stages, manipulating cells in the lab, we are currently working on live testing using an animal model.”
Over the past seven years, the research team has investigated a number of nano-sized carriers, namely liposomes, to encapsulate the drug, as well as part of a molecule known as a moiety, which they use as a "key" to allow the tumor to be "unlocked." Once the carrier reaches the desired location, ultrasound is applied to release the chemotherapy drug directly to the cancer site, thus avoiding any interaction with the healthy cells in the body.
Out of seven moieties tested, three have been successful in initial chemistry trials and in in vitro testing: albumin for prostate cancer tumors; estrone, a derivative of estrogen, for breast cancer tumors; and transferrin for colorectal cancer tumors. The research group is currently pursing in vivo trials at the animal facility in the University of Sharjah.
Students have played an integral role in the team’s research efforts. According to Dr. Husseini, their tenacity and perseverance have propelled this project to national prominence and international recognition. “I was very pleased to have 10 master’s students working on the project at various stages over the years, who used aspects of the research in their theses,” he said. “We have five master’s students currently working with us in the lab.”
The research project began in 2012 with the winning of the AUS Provost Challenge competition on campus, which garnered AED800,000. Additional university funding is supplemented by support from Patient’s Friends Committee-Sharjah, AlJalila Foundation, Al Qasimi Foundation, the Technology Innovation Pioneer Award for Health Sciences from the UAE Government, and the Dana Endowed Chair for Chemical Engineering, of which Dr. Husseini is the current holder at the AUS College of Engineering.
An example of a typical, standalone EV charging station in the UAE
The widespread adoption and use of electric vehicles (EV) will depend on developing affordable and clean power sources. The UAE government is encouraging the use of EVs among residents through financial and other incentives, with a target of increasing the percentage of electric cars by two percent in 2020 and 10 percent by 2030. In support of this initiative, a team of professors from American University of Sharjah (AUS) and Khalifa University is developing a smart EV charging system that can communicate with vehicles to locate charging stations and calculate optimal-value charging rates.
Dr. Mostafa Shaaban from the Department of Electrical Engineering is leading the team’s work to plan an EV charging infrastructure and develop a smart management system. “The government’s ambitious plans for more EV use has involved the installation of a number of charging stations around the emirates,” he said. “We would like to develop this further by planning a charging station infrastructure that would minimize disruption to the national grid by using alternative sources of energy, minimize disruption to traffic flow, incentivize private investment and communicate with EVs for an efficient operation.”
As part of the infrastructure planning, the team will be working with electricity companies to investigate the use of alternative sources of energy in charging stations that, in conjunction with smart charging mechanisms, will reduce the load on the national grid.
Dr. Akmal Abdelfatah, a member of the Department of Civil Engineering, is already working with Sharjah Municipality on a project aimed at achieving better vehicle traffic flow around the emirate. To identify the most suitable locations for EV charging stations, he will develop models on the characteristics of traffic in the UAE, taking into consideration existing traffic flows and the rise of EVs on the roads, and build traffic profiles for residents’ trips for typical activities, such as work commuting, school runs and shopping mall visits.
Dr. Abdelfatah explained that the appropriate location of EV charging stations is important to ensure timely access for EV users and minimize the disruption associated with charging station queues, adding, “the selection of EV charging stations’ locations should minimize the negative effect on traffic performance in the surrounding area and the access time for EV users. This process has several constraints such as the remaining charge on the EV battery, the traffic congestion level on the route to each accessible charging stations, and the expected waiting time.”
The planning stage of the research will also entail using two EVs, a Renault Zoe and a Chevrolet Bolt, to develop driving models. Equipped with sensors and internet connection, the team will utilize the cars to gather real data on EV battery depletion under several driving, road and weather conditions.
Dr. Ashraf Khallaf, from the School of Business Administration’s Department of Accounting, will be involved in developing the business model for the EV charging stations to incentivize private investment. “We are working on an economically feasible model for the EV charging station that will be profitable for investors,” explained Dr. Khallaf. “And, as more EVs are purchased, the need for more charging stations will increase.”
He said that the planned EV charging stations would have several charging slots, with space for drivers to sit while waiting for their vehicle. “Investors will not only profit from the actual stations, but there will be provision for a coffee shop or restaurant, as well as a convenience store for EV drivers, which, in addition to providing food and beverages, and toiletries, could provide mobile charging stations, dry cleaning services, and even last-mile pick-up and delivery services by courier companies.”
Following the collation of data to build an EV charging station infrastructure, the team will focus their attention on devising a smart charging management system. Dr. Shaaban explained that the system would advise the EV driver of the nearest station to them and the traveling time, according to the state-of-charge (SOC) of the EV’s battery, as well as the times for reduced-rate charging. He will be working on the system with his colleagues from the Advanced Power and Energy Center at the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, Drs. Hatem Zieneldin and Ehab El-Saadany. Center Director,Dr. El-Saadany, said, “The UAE is looking forward to leading the region in EV development and utilization, and this project is aligned with the country’s long-term vision of energy-saving and environmental protection.”
The three-year project will involve student research assistants and graduate students in civil and electrical engineering. “As we work on the research project and uncover aspects of this new technology, we will be able to use it for real time teaching in the classroom,” said Dr. Shaaban, “and there will be opportunities for experiential learning for students by participating in field work.”
Dr. Shaaban and the research team hopes that the research will ultimately have a positive impact on the UAE’s EV charging infrastructure, which will in turn help promote the use of EVs and contribute to reducing carbon emissions.
Dr. Mostafa Shaaban, Department of Electrical Engineering, PI
Dr. Akmal Abdelfatah, Department of Civil Engineering
Dr. Ashraf Khallaf, Department of Accounting, SBA
Dr. Ehab El-Saadany and Dr. Hatem Zieneldin, Advanced Power and Energy Center, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department, Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi
Vigilance refers to the mental capacity to sustain attention over an extended time. Retaining focus above a constant level is of vital importance to many applications including transportations, healthcare, safety, education, airport security and surveillance, which are highly relevant to the world’s economy.
Dr. Hasan Al-Nashash is currently collaborating with Dr. Hasan Mir, Dr. Usman Tariq and Dr. Fares Yahya all from the Department of Electrical Engineering at AUS, Dr. Fabio Babiloni from Sapienza University of Rome, Dr. Fadwa AlL Mughairbi from UAEU and Biomedical Engineering graduate students Omnia Hassanin, Nadia Abu Farha and Rateb Katmah to work on this project.
Typically, vigilance level declines with time on task, with 50% of the decrement observed within the first 15 minutes. Vigilance decrement is a dynamic changing process because the natural mental states of users involve temporal evolution rather than a time point. This process cannot merely be treated as a function of the duration of time while engaged in mental tasks. The ability to predict vigilance levels with a high temporal resolution is of prime importance and is feasible in real-world applications.
Dr. Al-Nashash and his research team are working on developing novel methods to assess vigilance levels using high-density Electroencephalography (EEG), Eye-tracking, Functional near infrared spectroscopy imaging and behavioral data. However, vigilance assessment without a baseline remains challenging to the research community. We still lack a standardized method for measuring the overall vigilance levels of humans. Moreover, vigilance levels cannot be simply classiﬁed into several discrete categories but should be quantiﬁed in the same way as blood pressure. The research team members have multidisciplinary background including signal processing, machine learning and psychology. Thus, they proposed to utilize brain signals and artificial intelligence techniques to identify patterns associated with vigilance levels. Brain functional connectivity, network and graph theory analysis with machine learning algorithms can predict mental states more accurately than using traditional methods.
Our research team is also investigating alternative strategies aimed at maintaining an optimum degree of cognitive efficiency. They have proposed several methods including cognitive workload modulation and tactile stimulation. Recently, we have started exploring the use of audio stimulation for vigilance enhancement. We are doing assessment and enhancement in a close loop system. If the subject’s vigilance drops to a certain level, various frequency beats will be introduced to modulate brain activities. The optimum frequency beat is to be identified using machine learning and deep learning approaches, by quantifying their impact on vigilance level. Frequency stimulations are alleged to create the same brainwave pattern that one would experience during meditation. We also expect audio stimulations to decrease fatigue level, and increase alertness. This approach would thus result in minimizing the risk of danger, increase the productivity and indirectly enhance the quality of life. For more information, please refer to: https://www.aus.edu/faculty/dr-hasan-al-nashash/neuroengineering-researc...