It has been five years now since the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology began its classes aimed at providing Abu Dhabi with the human capital and intellectual property needed for the UAE’s intended knowledge-economy transformation.
In this half decade, we have seen Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 go from a plan on paper to a strategy in action with the development of new advanced industries, provision of government funding for research and development, creation of supportive policy for enhancing entrepreneurship and facilitation of startup companies.
Come June 4, the Masdar Institute will be hosting the commencement of its fourth group of graduates. Like previous classes, they will join the UAE economic market, where the ground has not only been laid for the knowledge economy, but the first green shoots are beginning to appear from the broader innovation ecosystem that the Masdar Institute is proud to be part of.
As the UAE draws closer to its goals for advanced high-tech industries and high-worth human capital, Masdar Institute is evolving to meet the country’s research and development needs.
To be able to develop the sectors targeted by Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 – including energy, micro-electronics, aerospace, biotechnology, health care and water – the emirate needs to produce novel technology and systems and a steady stream of high-quality technicians, engineers and scientists to produce them.
Last year we launched the new Masdar Institute Research Centres (iCentres). iWater, iSmart, iEnergy and iMicro each focus on an area of critical need to Abu Dhabi’s future progress, including research that relates to competitive hi-tech industry and will provide the emirate a scientific and technical foundation for emerging industry, to create an ecosystem conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Institute Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (iInnovation) in particular is responsible for the difficult challenge of taking concepts out of the lab and into industry.
We also are looking into “disruptive” technologies that will shake up the way we do things and produce new industry pioneers. New manufacturing systems like the Internet of Things and 3D printing can bring about massive improvements in quality of life, efficiency, creativity, and customisation.
The Masdar Institute’s graduate engineering students already are showing entrepreneurial instincts. In the past 18 months alone, a Masdar Institute MSc student won the Khalifa Fund’s Technopreneur Competition for his technology-focused business concept; two others students formed start-up companies; five students won national or regional business-plan competitions; and two Masdar Institute students were selected to compete in the second round of the Khalifa Fund Ibtikari Competition.
Early stage research may seem wasteful to some, but remember electricity was little more than a scientific curio for a century or more. In the same way, the groundwork for the innovations that will shape our lives in the next century must be laid today with early stage research. We are proud to be among those explorers charting the path ahead.
And as the world’s population expands and lives longer than ever, we are turning our attention towards research that can improve longevity and healthcare.
There is a huge need for technology that can provide portable health diagnostics, drug delivery, and mobile monitoring, which our staff and students in our departments of electrical engineering, computer science and microsystems engineering are working to provide.
Ongoing work by our chemical engineering and engineering systems management researchers also aims to develop synthetic biology, big data and decision sciences that can increase, enhance and guide treatment options.
With this groundwork for Abu Dhabi’s advanced economy transformation now firmly laid by Masdar Institute, and the first saplings beginning to take root, I can leave Masdar Institute with pride and confidence.
As this fourth batch of students graduate to their next challenge, I too graduate as president of the Masdar Institute and will remain as one of its loyal alumni. I will be supporting the Masdar Institute from afar, but with no less vigour or enthusiasm.
Dr Fred Moavenzadeh is president of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.