NYU Abu Dhabi announces recipients of grants

University announces cash for projects including new translations of classical Arabic texts and providing electricity to rural areas.

ABU DHABI // Philip Kennedy is intent on translating classical works of Arabic literature. His university colleague, Alec Marantz, is on a mission to find out how the brain processes language. The work of both professors will be funded by substantial grants from New York University Abu Dhabi, among the first projects to benefit from a US$20 million (Dh73m) initiative to fund science and humanities research at the university's new campus, it was announced.

How to provide electricity into rural areas will be the third area of research to receive money. First announced in October 2007, NYU Abu Dhabi was set up to be an American-style research university that attracts top students from around the world, and is funded by the Abu Dhabi Government. This year, it will admit its first class of approximately 150 undergraduate students. They will attend classes in a new campus downtown until the university's permanent home on Saadiyat Island is ready.

Funding for the new research has been drawn from NYU Abu Dhabi's general operating budget, the size of which has not been disclosed. The $20m will be spread out over five years and divided among three projects to be based in Abu Dhabi. David McLaughlin, the provost of NYU, said the funding demonstrates Abu Dhabi's commitment to the new university. "From the earliest days of our discussions, our partners have made clear their desire that NYU Abu Dhabi become a world-class research university," Mr McLaughlin said in an e-mail. "I believe this funding reflects that mandate."

NYU received $304m from external sources alone for research last year. The NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, which administers the Abu Dhabi grants, plans to give out a second wave of funding this autumn. Eight projects are being considered. "The institute, and specifically its research component, is an essential element of NYU Abu Dhabi," Mr McLaughlin said. "Research will form an integral part of the undergraduate experience at NYU Abu Dhabi and will eventually drive our graduate programme."

NYU's academic leaders in New York and Abu Dhabi selected the three projects to be awarded funding. Faculty overseeing the projects do not have to reside in Abu Dhabi, but they must travel frequently to the capital and be active participants in campus life. Two of the three faculty who were awarded funds are based in New York. Mr McLaughlin said the research would help Abu Dhabi become "a capital of ideas and education".

Prof Kennedy, the faculty director at the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, is an associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and comparative literature. He will lead the effort to translate classical Arabic texts. "Outside the classroom, outside the Arab universities, outside Islamic studies departments, very few people know that there is anything else but the Quran and Arabian Nights," Prof Kennedy said. "There is so much of this literature. If it becomes accessible for a world leadership in a consolidated way I think it has it has a real edifying role to play."

The finished books, which will be published by NYU Press as part of a special series, will feature Arabic and English text on facing pages. Prof Marantz, who will lead the study into how the brain processes language, has a background in linguistics and psychology. Most research in the field has been based on English, but he plans to use the laboratory's Abu Dhabi base to study speakers of Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog.

Prof Ali Idrissi, the chairman of the linguistics department at UAE University, will work as the senior research associate on the project. Dr Yaw Nyarko, a professor of economics, has been given a grant to study how technology can be used to bring low-cost energy to rural areas, spurring economic growth in the developing world. klewis@thenational.ae