x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A passion for ideas brings its reward

Viewers of a reality television show decide that the best invention is the Dozan, an automatic tuning device for string instruments.

DOHA // It was a TV show designed to promote innovation and to show young people across the Arab world that mere ideas can be transformed into reality. But immediately after the Stars of Science finale late on Friday night, reality was just beginning to sink in for the winner of the competition: the 22-year-old Lebanese engineer and oud player Bassam Jalgha.

"This is amazing, but it brings a lot more responsibility and I have to be up for it," he said after learning he had won with 62 per cent of the votes. "I have so many other projects that I have in my mind, but for now I have to take this project to the next level." In the end, his passion for music and engineering proved to be the winning formula, as Mr Jalgha walked away with more than US$300,000 (Dh1.1m) in prize money. His invention - "Dozan", an automatic tuner for string instruments - was chosen by viewers around the region who voted via SMS.

Developed to generate an interest among young Arabs in scientific and technological innovation, the reality TV show Stars of Science made its debut on May 29, with 16 participants chosen from across the Middle East for their unique ideas. It was the projects, rather than participants, that were culled over the course of the five-week series. All 16 original participants remained, split into two teams headed by the finalists - Mr Jalgha and Mohammed Orsod from Sudan, who had developed a device that tests the quality of cooking oil.

Ahmed Abu Salim, a long-time Palestinian resident of the UAE, entered the competition with his idea for "drinkable energy", but by the final round he had been absorbed as a member of Team Orsod. "The whole experience has been an interesting one, and we have all learned a lot in scientific and human terms," he said. "It is especially important for young people, for them to be shown something new." Viewers followed the contestants as they started with just an idea and continued through to developing the marketing concept for the final two products.

The competitors were guided by three judges - Dr Sadeg Faris, a Libyan engineer and holder of more than 100 international patents, William Sawaya, who advised on design issues, and Mona Zaki, a well-known Egyptian businesswoman. "This process has been so wonderful, because all these young people came just with ideas and they have gone through everything from engineering to design, business and marketing," she said. "For me, the final two products were equal and it was then up to the public. I am just so proud of what they all learned."

The final episode was beamed live into homes across the Arab world from a specially designed set at the Aspire Sports Academy in Doha. More than 440 people formed the audience, many showing their support with placards bearing the name of their favourite invention. Among the audience were Mr Jalgha's parents - his mother Dolla and father Fouad - who had flown in from Beirut. Seated beside them was Hani, Mr Jalgha's elder brother who had travelled from Sydney.

"Of course we are so proud of him and I was telling everyone to watch the show and to vote for him and support him," Mrs Jalgha said as they waited for the show to start. The tension mounted as white-clad dancers, fire-breathers and acrobats took to the stage for the first of several performance pieces. Finally the 16 contestants walked on to the stage, all clad in black and white, with Mr Jalgha and Mr Orsod in the middle.

Philippe Starck, the French designer, was among the guests on the final show and he encouraged the contestants to embrace their creativity. "It is so important because before everything there is creativity and it is a big honour to be a creator," he said. Chants of "Dozan" and "Orsod" rang out, and Lebanese and Sudanese flags waved, before the name of the winner appeared on large screens behind the contestants.

The Jalgha family rushed on to the stage as their son held up the Stars of Science trophy. The runner-up was gracious in defeat. The main goal is to inspire young, would-be scientists around the Arab world, said Mr Orsod, a university lecturer from Khartoum. "I am happy to see this result. It is not just about dollars. I feel like I won for working with my team who supported me, and I will continue to work on promoting my device."

The show was conceived by the Qatar Foundation, chaired by Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani. Stars of Science is now preparing for a second season. zconstantine@thenational.ae