INTELLIGENT AMBITIONS

Abu Dhabi 2016 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Behjat Al Yousuf, Interim Provost of Masdar Institute, on diversifying the economy, the institute's diverse programs, and the focus for 2016.

Dr. Behjat Al Yousuf
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Behjat Al Yousuf is the Interim Provost of the Masdar Institute. She earned her bachelor of science in engineering analysis and design from the University of North Carolina and went on to receive her PhD in software engineering from Reading University in the UK. From September 2012 to February 2013, Yousuf worked as the Executive Director for the Institute for Human Capital Development at Zayed University, where she developed research-based career advancement programs that increased national development in the knowledge base economy and established an entrepreneurship center for small businesses. She is the author of several publications and holds numerous distinctions.

What role does Masdar Institute play in terms of research and as a feeder for human resources for Masdar City?

Masdar Institute develops human and intellectual capital for the global community—not just Masdar City. Graduates have been employed at leading organizations such as Microsoft, GE, YahSat, Mubadala, MOFA, Siemens, ENEC, IRENA, and Nestlé, and have joined PhD programs at leading universities including UCLA, MIT, NYU, UC Berkeley, UT Austin, and Imperial College, London. We, of course, work with Masdar, which includes Masdar City, on a number of projects. Masdar Institute and Masdar were born out of Abu Dhabi's vision to diversify the economy away from its reliance on oil and gas and into advanced and sustainable energy, and thus share many common objectives. We have collaborated with Masdar on projects like Shams 1, the Masdar Solar Hub, and on the recently launched Ghantoot desalination projects. Masdar is one of many commercially driven organizations we work with.

Can you describe the programs you offer, particularly ones that relate specifically to projects that the institute is involved with?

Masdar Institute is a graduate-level university, and we are a research-driven university in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Our programs are all in the field of advanced engineering. Currently, we have nine MSc programs and an interdisciplinary PhD program, and all have many active research projects with relevance to the UAE's strategic objectives. This semester, we launched a Master's concentration in space technology with YahSat, which coincides with the UAE's strategic objective of having a space program and a mission to Mars. Even before the UAE's announcement of its Mars mission, we had undertaken a number of research projects with applications for the space industry. We have partnered with local stakeholders to create our space concentration so that UAE nationals can receive the type of training and experience needed for the country to achieve its space ambitions.

How are you utilizing the various research centers that you have at the institute?

We have two basic models of research centers, namely our Institute Research Centers, which we call our iCenters, and our sponsored research centers. The iCenters follow basic themes of significant relevance to the UAE: water, energy, microsystems, and smart systems and advanced materials, which we pursue research leadership in. A fifth iCenter, the Innovation Center, works with these four thematic centers to identify the potential of technologies that have been tested and developed through the research labs and creates a proof of concept, which will further lead to prototypes and eventually to opportunities for those to become commercial products. This is a unique model, different from most of the innovation centers that are available. We are working with university research technology that has been taken to commercialization. We are following the MIT Deshpande Center model where they look at an innovation, determine potential for a certain prototype, and then seek to take it to new levels from there.

What will Masdar Institute be focusing on in 2016?

We believe we have a robust, structured approach to research that will continue to support the UAE's economic diversification efforts long into the future, without the need to change our focus on an annual basis. Our research foci reflect the areas where we feel we can have the biggest impact on the UAE's goals, namely energy, water, and the nexus between them, with food also being a part of that nexus. We emphasize an environment of collaboration, through which our research centers support each other so that whatever we do will be deeper and more aligned with our key areas of focus, particularly energy and water. When it comes to materials and smart cities, they are all working toward these strong thematic areas.