Young innovators of the UAE’s science scene - in pictures

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There is no challenge too great for the young minds across the country who are determined to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. From using body temperature to power devices to creating sand that can address UAE’s water issues, pupils as young as 13 through to university have stepped up to the plate to create for a better future.

Reem Al Marzouqi, 24

• Car for the disabled

The perseverance of Jessica Cox, the world’s first licensed armless pilot, drove 24-year-old Emirati innovator Reem Al Marzouqi to build a car for the disabled. The model, which she began working on three years ago with her UAE University colleagues Hazim Waleed and Husam Haboush, drops a steering wheel for three levers on the floor that allow the driver to completely control the car with their feet. The design was granted a US patent in 2013.

“I started working on the idea in the first year of university,” says the architecture and engineering student, who graduated this year. “I was really impressed by Jessica Cox and wanted to work towards building something that would make the life of those with disabilities easier. When I started, I had no clue about designing cars and I remember my professor said he wouldn’t be able to award marks to my idea because we had to modify an existing device for the disabled. I was thinking out of the box.”

With one success in the bag, Al Marzouqi is on to her next interest: robotics. “I’m currently building a robot that will be robot that will be able to assist people with disabilities take professional photos. I’m working with my mother and brother to create this.”


Shamma Al Bastaki, 19

• Grain of Gold

Teenagers Shamma Al Bastaki and Hayat Al Hassan may just hold the key to UAE’s water security issues. The 19-year-old students came up with Grain of Gold, a type of sand that is chemically manipulated using nano technology to make it hydrophobic, or water resistant. Their innovation came second in the environment category at the Intel Science Fair in the United States last year.

“About 70 per cent of fresh ground water is used for agricultural purposes,” says Al Bastaki, who is studying social research and public policy at NYU-Abu Dhabi. “Plants are watered three to five times a day and because our sand is very fine, water tends to seep way below the plant’s roots, where it is not needed. In one of our experiments we used this hydrophobic sand to create a table to prevent that seepage and evaporation. We managed to save 60 per cent of the water.”

The students are working towards improving the sand to be used on a larger scale at the moment.

“I’m not a hard-core science student and lean more towards the humanities,” says Al Bastaki. “But science has always piqued my interest. I’ve also been writing poetry since I was a child and hope to get a novel published one day.”

Abdul Muqeet, 13

• Paper Bag Boy

He is a 13-year-old champion of the environment and the UAE community fondly calls him the Paper Bag Boy. Abu Dhabi student Abdul Muqeet has been saving the environment one paper bag at a time since the age of 8. He has been recycling newspapers and magazines to make bags, files, envelopes, storage boxes and shoe boxes in a bid to get people to make the switch from plastic.

“Plastic bags harm the environment a lot,” says the Grade 9 student from India. “It is the top cause of pollution and are a bigger threat than nuclear weapons to the world today.”

He has distributed more than 6,000 bags across the country and his presentations to schools, universities and offices have made an impact and helped spread the word. More recently he has turned his energy to convincing people to save water.

In his spare time, Muqeet is as passionate about football as he is about mother nature.

“I love playing football and am a huge Manchester City fan. My biggest dream would be to meet the team and visit Etihad stadium one day.”​

Rofaida Bin Salem, 20

• Energy harvesting system using thermoelectric generator

Our bodies are a great source of energy, enough to power up a small medical device. Rofaida Ben Salem and her team at Abu Dhabi University have designed a bracelet that converts the temperature difference between the human body and surrounding environment, and channels it into electrical energy.

“The outcome can be used to manage a low-power medical application,” says Salem, a 20-year-old electrical engineering student at the university and the team leader. “Our research shows that the temperate difference tends to be between 3°C to 5°C, which can be converted within seconds by our bracelet. If the temperature drops, it may take a few minutes.”

The team has managed to draw that energy to run a temperature sensor with great success and are in the process of modifying it to apply to other devices. The energy is transmitted through a wireless system to the device. The system also has a corresponding app that helps to keep track of temperature readings.

“They say science and sports don’t mix but I disagree,” says Salem. “I’ve been the captain of the volleyball team for eight years and have noticed that sports helps me relax, and that’s the only way I can overcome obstacles that arise when we are working on projects such as this.”

Suhaib Alturk, 17

• Cooling jacket

We’ve all had that moment in the heat when we have wished that our clothes had an in-built cooling system. Seventeen-year-old Suhaib Alturk from Sharjah has converted his desire to reality: inventing a jacket with cooling fans powered by walking. The jacket comes with a pair of shoes that have a generator attached to the soles, which converts steps into electrical energy.

The energy is stored in a battery found in the jacket’s pocket, which can also be used to recharge any USB device, including your mobile phone. The teenager exhibited his invention at the Wearable Tech Show UAE this year. “I want to major in mechatronics,” says Alturk. “I’m always tinkering and am always thinking about ways to solve different problem by making things. When people meet me, they don’t immediately see an inventor in me. They are always surprised when I tell them I’m an inventor. I’ve proved them wrong and my parents are very proud of me.”