Region’s First Global Nanotechnology Conference at Masdar Institute Accelerates Research and Development in Emerging Nanotechnologies

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 03 March, 2015 – Experts at the ‘Nanotechnology for advanced energy harvest and storage devices’ symposium hosted by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) last week  revealed a global interest in forming international collaborations to move forward emerging nanotechnologies. Professors from participating institutions discussed breakthroughs in nanotechnology, such as its role in the development of high-efficiency energy harvesting and storing systems, as well as advanced materials, devices and sensors. Dr. Ammar Nayfeh, Associate Professor, Masdar Institute, who championed this conference expressed, “The impact of hosting a conference on nanotechnology at Masdar Institute and in Abu Dhabi can not be quantified.  It marks an important milestone for the UAE in term of research and development and fits exactly with the ‘Year of Innovation’ theme recently announced in the UAE.”

“We are pleased to partner with the National Science Foundation to deliver a conference of this caliber for the first time in the UAE,” said Dr. Fred Moavenzadeh, President, Masdar Institute.  “Masdar Institute’s role in fostering research in nanotechnology innovation reflects our vision of further diversifying the UAE’s economy. We hope that, through this meeting, new partnerships will be established and existing ones will be strengthened to contribute to the UAE’s burgeoning human capital.” Masdar Institute’s research in nano science and technology  helps find solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges, such as clean energy, water and food security and health, and will continue its collaborative efforts in the fields of nanotechnology, contributing to the UAE’s transformation into a knowledge economy.

Nanotechnology is a rapidly developing field in science today. From faster computer chips, to tiny medical devices that repair clogged arteries, to filters that clean water pollution, the application of nanotechnologies has seen remarkable growth – especially in the field of renewable energy. But as was emphasized throughout the event, this growth does not happen in isolation. Instead, it relies on mutual collaboration and interdisciplinary partnerships in order to achieve the common goal of finding sustainable solutions to our global challenges of energy security and climate change.

Masdar Institute and NSF jointly sponsored the event, which was tasked with promoting the discovery, integration, dissemination, and employment of new knowledge and technologies, including nanotechnology. To achieve this goal, NSF supports fundamental research in science and engineering, funding the best ideas and people, some 2,000 colleges and universities across America. The significant potential of nanotechnology – a technology which involves imaging, measuring, modeling and manipulating matter at the nanoscale level, or a hundred-thousand times thinner than a human hair – prompted NSF to dedicate close to half a billion dollars towards research and development (R&D) in this field.

Participating institutions included the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Chicago, Masdar Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, National Research Center of Cairo, University of Jordan, Yarmouk University, Karachi University, Lahore University, National Center for Technological Foresight in Kazakhstan, Fatih University, KACST in Saudi Arabia, Saigon High Tech Park in Vietnam, Khalifa University, Gazi University and Bilkent University.

Throughout the meeting, professors showcased their specialized research areas and many focused on how their research contributes to the enhanced harvesting and storing of renewable energy, particularly solar energy. Solar technologies usually focus on either capturing the sun’s light or its heat for electricity generation. Nanotechnology plays a significant role in helping to harvest and store the sun’s light and heat more efficiently.  

Keynote speaker Dr. Munir Nayfeh, Professor, University of Illinois and President, NanoSi Advanced Technologies, addressed the need for participants to collaborate and form partnerships so that their concerted efforts in nanotechnology advancement can gain traction in the commercial marketplace, thus attracting grants and donations from notable funding agencies. Dr. Nayfeh described the purpose of the conference as “a catalyst for producing coherent, complementary partnerships.” While the meeting centered on the role of nanotechnologies in renewable energy, Dr. Nayfeh explained that the discussions would transcend renewable energy, as advancements in nanotechnology have wide-ranging implications in health, safety, and social welfare.

On capturing the sun’s light, Dr. Ammar Nayfeh, Associate Professor, Masdar Institute, shared some of Masdar Institute’s groundbreaking nano-scale research, including the development of thin-film solar cells which use nanoparticles to more efficiently trap the sun’s light, leading to an increase in the potential amount of electricity which can be generated from solar cells. Similarly, Dr. Nicholas X. Fang, Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discussed his work in the use of nano-structures to efficiently extract and harvest light on thin-film solar cells. Additionally, Dr. Ali Kemal Okyay, Assistant Professor, Bilkent University, shared his research in enhancing the light absorption ability of dye sensitized solar cells – an efficient type of thin-film solar cell.   

Many industries outside of solar energy are positively affected by nanotechnology R&D. Participants shared research projects on the development of devices and sensors which are used in other priority economic sectors, such as the oil and gas, medical, and defense industries. For example, the research of Dr. Amal Al Ghaferi, Associate Professor, Masdar Institute and Dr. Irfan Saadat, Professor, Masdar Institute, aims to develop nanoparticle-enhanced sensors for monitoring scale deposition – a salt mixture which coats pipelines and limits production – in oil pipelines. These smarter sensors will bring the industry a more efficient way of collecting oil while reducing losses.
On the second day, participants toured Masdar Institute’s Cleanroom Fabrication Facility – which includes Class ‘100’ and Class ‘1000’ cleanrooms for researchers to build nano-components – Electron Microscopy Facility, Photovoltaic Testing Lab and the Digital Systems Laboratory.

Dr. Irfan Ahmad, Executive Director, Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology and Professor, University of Illinois, concluded the meeting with a poignant reminder of the meeting’s purpose: To establish meaningful multidisciplinary research collaborations across universities and public and private entities to tackle our shared global challenges. Dr. Ahmad expressed that these collaborations inspire an entrepreneurial spirit among students and faculty and stimulate the region, bringing with it an economic boom and interest from external stakeholders. Dr. Ammar Nayfeh, summed up the conference by saying:  “We are very pleased we could host this important meeting on nanotechnology for energy at Masdar Institute. The meeting was highly successful and has resulted in discussions and collaborations that will spark research in the UAE and across the region.”

This nanotechnology meeting is one in a series of similar meetings and workshops to bring academicians and experts together, so that they may design multi-institutional research projects that will generate game-changing nanotechnologies for applications in renewable energy, health, and other prominent economic sectors.

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