Dh30m fund for university research
SHARJAH // The American University of Sharjah has given the go-ahead to three new research centres that will pave the way for work in fields as diverse as Islamic finance and archaeology.
The centres - for research into Gulf coastal ecosystems, Islamic finance and banking, and humanities and science - were approved last week by the university's board of trustees, which gave the projects a Dh30 million endowment over five years.
Dr Mark Rush, dean of the college of humanities and science, hopes the centre for humanities and science will be at the "avant garde" of research. He said recent events in the region had left researchers around the world scrambling to catch up.
The centre will study areas such as social media, education, the role of women, the role of science, Arab youth and the effects of changing technologies on people's lifestyles - in which Dr Nidhal Guessoum, head of the physics department and one of the centre's founders, believes there is "huge international interest".
"One of the reasons the Arab Spring took everyone by surprise was because people hadn't paid attention to how social networks allowed the youngsters to mobilise and pursue a revolution ... [There] used to be an ironclad system that nobody was able to break - but people did it, through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos."
He believes this interest means funding is unlikely to be a challenge, but predicts much will come from abroad - as is the case with a Dh3m three-year grant Dr Guessoum has just received from the Templeton foundation in the US, to study the interaction of Islam and science.
Many details about the new centres remain to be filled in, including allocation of budgets and staffing, and the appointment of directors.
The university's chancellor, Dr Peter Heath, is keen to ensure their work was relevant locally, so it could help the country's policymakers.
For the coastal ecosystem centre, AUS is talking to the Ministry of Environment, among others. He also expects the centre's researchers to work with counterparts in Oman and Kuwait, to assess the Gulf-wide impact of construction and desalination plants.
"It's a highly used environment, both in terms of trade and oil shipping ... the Palm island has destroyed a vast chunk of the coral in Dubai and the Northern Emirates," he said.
Meanwhile, the university's physicists are working with its archaeologists and members of the Sharjah Department of Antiquities, using X-rays to study ancient artefacts.
It will allow them to see "both what was written and what was erased", said Dr Guessoum, "really indicating more about the culture of the time".
"The region is full of heritage and that's one of the primary interests in Sharjah and the UAE. Now, the science allows something - blending the modern techniques and the modern interests of the region."
In setting up the centre for humanities and science, its academics are busy establishing ties with institutions around the world such as the London School of Economics.
Dr Mark Rush, dean of the college of arts and science, said an interdisciplinary approach would help the centre compete for a relatively small pool of funding. The university has already been working with institutions such as the neighbouring University of Sharjah.
"Real advancement comes from cross-fertilisation and that's what will come under the auspices of the centre," he said.
Similarly, the University of Sharjah is insisting that its researchers take an interdisciplinary approach. Projects have brought together areas such as biotechnology and medicine and psychology and engineering. "No significant research can work without it," said the university's chancellor, Prof Samy Mahmoud.
Updated: February 27, 2012 04:00 AM