For the first time, a team from The American University in Cairo (AUC) has been awarded a grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) Seed Fund to support collaboration on solar energy research between AUC and MIT. The team, led by Nageh Allam, associate professor of physics, includes two AUC graduate students who will have the opportunity to travel to MIT next spring and work alongside their graduate counterparts, as well as invite MIT students to AUC. Allam pointed out that scientific collaboration is at the heart of the MISTI program. “This fund will enable my students to exchange ideas with researchers at MIT,” he said, adding that in emerging scientific fields like renewable energy, sharing information and resources is essential. “This opportunity will help them conduct the experiments that we don't currently have facilities for at AUC, which will expand their knowledge and understanding about the subject: solar cells.” The main focus of our current research projects is to design and fabricate nanostructured materials for enhanced solar energy conversion, namely solar fuel and solar cells.”
Ahmad Amer, one of AUC master’s students on the project, joined the team because he was excited to develop innovative new technologies and make a significant contribution to the scientific community. “The project's topic itself is on the cutting-edge of solar energy physics,” he said. “If we succeed to attain the projected results experimentally at MIT, this would mean setting new boundaries for the research community on developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy conversion systems.”
Ahmed Hafez, the other graduate on Allam’s team, was also inspired by the potential to contribute to research in one of the most pressing issues facing scientists today. “The solar and renewable energy applications are strongly needed to replace the current fossil fuels source of energy,” Hafez said. “It is a promising research field that attracts scientists worldwide.”
Amer acknowledged that with MIT being one of the top research universities worldwide that is constantly developing groundbreaking research, institutional collaboration means working with some of the top researchers from around the world. “MIT has a very vibrant, multicultural research community, with a very small acceptance rate. We will have an opportunity to meet and work with a few of the brightest minds in the world,” said Amer.
The MISTI Global Seed Funds was created to encourage collaboration between MIT students and faculty members and their counterparts abroad to launch joint research projects. There are several country-specific seed funds including the MIT-Egypt Seed Fund, which focuses on awarding grants to research pertaining to essential issues in Egypt. These issues include water, energy, climate change and the environment, urban planning, entrepreneurship and innovation, and health. Allam submitted the proposal to MISTI jointly with Vladimir Bulovic, a professor at MIT in electrical engineering and computer science.
As part of the grant, students from MIT will also have the opportunity to come to AUC. Allam noted that the MIT students will have the chance to learn wet-chemistry synthesis techniques and computational models already mastered by the AUC team. When AUC students travel to MIT, they will be able to utilize the universities’ sophisticated facilities to make ultrafast laser measurements in order to better understand the mechanism of solar energy conversion in the materials they are working with.
For Amer, joining this project is also a chance to expand into new aspects of his field as he advances in his studies at AUC. “Working in the field of solar water splitting during my master’s at AUC, I found this opportunity an exploratory leap into a neighboring field, advanced solar cells, which I always thought about focusing my PhD studies in. This is my chance to delve into this field before I finally decide on my PhD topic,” said Amer. “With my academic career just beginning, a research opportunity at MIT will give me the skills I need to jumpstart my PhD, while raising my research standards to those of elite research institutions worldwide.”
Beyond the research outcomes of Allam’s team, the project also encourages future cooperation and a strong relationship between MIT and AUC. Amer is certain the team will demonstrate the high quality of students coming out of Egypt. “This is a very good chance for us to prove ourselves as Egyptian researchers, leave a good impression and hopefully raise the acceptance bar for Egyptian students applying to MIT,” he said.
Allam added, “This increases the chances of AUC graduate students securing a PhD scholarship at MIT.”