The First to Specialize in Nanotubes in Egypt: Amal Esawi Works to Make Aluminum Stronger and Lightweight

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"When I first joined Yousef Jameel Science and Technology Research Center, I developed a huge interest in nanotechnology. We all got into it and started researching it. Little was known about it back then," said Amal Esawi '89, ‘90, professor of mechanical engineering. "I found a nanomaterial named carbon nanotubes (CNTs) the closest to my field of mechanical engineering and started working on it. I was the first to specialize in nanotubes in Egypt."

Esawi was recently recognized as one of the top 2% most impactful scientists globally, named in the Stanford-Elsevier's Scopus database as one of the most cited scientists. The list is created by experts at Stanford University, based on data from Elsevier's Scopus. It includes the top 2% scientists in 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields. It provides standardized information on citations, h-index, co-authorship-adjusted hm-index, citations to papers in different authorship positions, and a composite indicator.

Esawi has been researching carbon nanotubes since 2006. Her main focus is to investigate new ways to make aluminum strong but still lightweight by enforcing it with carbon nanotubes. Aluminum is a material that is indispensable in our modern world, we use aluminum every day in home appliances and kitchen utensils, but, more importantly for Esawi’s interests, in aircraft, cars, wind turbines and sports equipment. Esawi adds CNTs to bulk materials using low-cost manufacturing techniques. CNTs have been described as a wonder novel material of the 21st century. "They are seamless tubes of carbon with diameters less than 100 nm that have outstanding mechanical, thermal and electrical properties and thus are being considered for potential applications in almost all fields such as biomedical, transportation, sports, environment, microelectronics, energy harvesting and storage," she explained.

Making use of her background as a mechanical engineer, Esawi chose to investigate the use of CNTs in composite materials for structural reinforcement, conductive polymers, water filtration, lubrication and sensors. "The lighter and stronger the material is, the better the applications are," she said. "I believe that improving the current performance of materials by adding nanomaterials such as CNTs while still using low cost or traditional manufacturing techniques will allow scalability and ease of fabrication."

It's not just the current low cost of these materials that make them so appealing but also the fact that you can use less of them. "Due to the lightweight and strength of individual nanotubes, you can use less of them when you are adding them to aluminum," Esawi noted. "So you are minimizing the waste of materials, thereby increasing sustainability while reducing cost."

Carbon nanotubes are also used in desalination membranes by adding them to polymers, a research Esawi is working on with Adham Ramadan '91, professor of chemistry and dean of graduate studies. They also perform extremely well as strain and temperature sensors, an application Esawi is investigating with Mustafa Arafa, professor of mechanical engineering.

“I always wanted to be an engineer since I was a little girl. I wish to see more young ladies studying science and engineering, pursuing their dreams and conquering this field of study. Through science and engineering women can contribute to making the world a better place,” Esawi emphasised.