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UAE researchers receive UK grants

ABU DHABI // Two teams of UAE researchers are among the first to receive grants from a total of Dh45 million being awarded by the British government in the Arabian Gulf to tackle global challenges.

Researchers at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and Khalifa University are each receiving Dh1.8m for work on sustainability, in desalination and algae control.

Eight grants are being given.

Clare Grundy, deputy country director for the British Council and Gulf programme director, said that collaboration was “a key driver for innovation” and crucial for the UK and Gulf to tackle “global challenges” such as sustainable energy.

“When we opened calls for research in July, we received 172 applications from the Gulf,” Ms Grundy said. “We didn’t expect to receive that many.”

Most submissions, which could be for research but also for training and leadership, came from the UAE and Saudi Arabia – about 40 from each.

All applications went through a comprehensive international peer review before funding was approved.

With the funds, the Masdar Institute will continue its collaboration with the University of Manchester on desalination to improve techniques using membranes to reduce the energy required and increase the volume of fresh water produced.

Desalination is one of the main reasons the UAE has among the world’s largest carbon footprints.

The lead researcher on the project, Prof Linda Zou, said she would be able to hire a post-doctoral research assistant and a postgraduate student using the grant, which is for two years.

“It’s really good news and good timing,” she said.

After two and a half years in the UAE, Prof Zou is seeing many more such opportunities arise, having recently been funded for work on cloud seeding.

She called the grant an acknowledgement of the importance of her research.

“Desalination is an area so important to this region and this grant signifies the importance of the development of new technologies for this issue.”

Khalifa University will collaborate with the UK’s University of Bristol on a project to improve detection, prediction and prevention of harmful algal blooms, which are increasing in Gulf waters and can have a significant impact on health, tourism, desalination and aquatic industries.

“Having got two of these eight grants speaks well of the UAE. It was a very competitive process,” said Dr Steven Griffiths, associate provost for research at Masdar.

Dr Sheikha Al Dhaheri was one of three Emirati scientists to travel to the UK in January as part of a leadership programme for women in science and research, with funding coming from the same source.

The executive director for terrestrial and marine biodiversity at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi said the trip helped her professional development.

“It’s so different for women researchers to step out from the laboratory and research-based jobs into higher management positions, which sometimes can be a shocking experience,” she said. “As such, it’s vital to provide preparation courses and to listen to others who went through it.”

The Gulf, Science, Innovation and Knowledge Economy Programme is led by the UK government’s department of business, energy and industrial strategy, in partnership with the British Council in all six Gulf countries.

Research topics ranging from nanotechnology to cyber security will be included in the funding

According to Unesco, the UAE spends 0.7 per cent of its GDP on research.

In Vision 2021, the UAE states its goal is to reach 1.5 per cent.

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The National