ABU DHABI // The capital's plan to become a centre of alternative energy innovation is a step closer, with 24 professors now hired to conduct research and teach at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST). The institute is also jumping ahead of schedule and bringing 20 graduate students to the programme in the autumn to assist with research. "We wanted to test the market and see what kind of interest we could get from students," said Fred Moavenzadeh, a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is helping to co-ordinate the programme. "We have already received 75 applications without advertising anywhere."
The private, non-profit MIST will be the first part of Masdar City, a zero-carbon emissions development, to be constructed in 2009 - in time for the inaugural class. In the coming week, Masdar will begin putting advertisements in publications around the Middle East to solicit applications for another 50 faculty positions to be filled before the start of the new school year in autumn 2009. The first hires include a cast of top engineering and environmental design experts from around the world. They have degrees in specialities such as building technology, artificial intelligence and risk management, but many have also worked in the private sector. A key goal of MIST is not just to produce valuable research, but models and technologies that can work in the marketplace and help to transform Abu Dhabi from a petroleum-based economy to a sustainable energy economy.
"These professors will be developing everything from technology to intellectual property rights to transform this economy," Dr Moavenzadeh said. "They will be the manpower that will help enable this change." The idea for the institute predates the plan for Masdar City, which is perhaps the better-known project. MIT first started a partnership with Mubadala Development, the parent company of Masdar, three years ago to begin putting together the plans.
Dr Moavenzadeh - who is a professor of systems engineering and the director of MIT's Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development - is leading the team at MIT that is advising on MIST's research objectives, university structure and hiring. In addition to the initial group of 20 students coming this autumn, he said the professors were considering offering short courses and conferences on sustainability for local industry and government organisations. The target size of the university in 10 years is 150 faculty members and about 800 graduate students, all working and some living in Masdar City. So far, 75 students have applied to MIST, despite the fact that the institute has not officially started recruiting.
"Eight of them outright qualified," Dr Moavenzadeh said. "Another 30, we are waiting for the results of their exams." He said 20 applications came from universities in the UAE. "We were very pleased that the majority were female," he said. "The fact that there is so much interest in these technologies is rare." The rise of MIST is part of a wider resurgence of academia and research in the GCC countries. Universities are rising in Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait, where governments are using oil and financial services revenue to develop knowledge-based economies to ensure economic viability in the future.