A defining feature of NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ali Trabolsi's office is the large whiteboard that looms on the wall. Decked in hexagons, subscripts, curt lines, and symbols, he uses this simple technology to illustrate the makeup of the complex chemical structures he and his team study at the University's Center for Science and Engineering.
At the Center, Trabolsi leads the Trabolsi Research Group, which focuses on supramolecular multifunctional systems: these are modified molecules developed by chemists for applications in a variety of fields, including medicine and engineering. In the past two years, the group has produced cutting-edge research that may help improve the effectiveness of drugs used for cancer treatment.
The group nurtures a collaborative approach that draws on the varied expertise of Trabolsi and the other researchers. Indeed, he describes his own training in chemistry as an amalgamation of several approaches. As a PhD student he studied physical chemistry at the University of Strasbourg in France. Following his PhD, he focused on organic chemistry, host-guest chemistry, and supramolecular chemistry in positions at the University of California Los Angeles and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He joined NYUAD two years ago, in August 2011, after working as a research scientist at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. "When I moved to NYUAD I decided to take a bit from all of my past experiences," he said.
Trabolsi’s composite background, combined with those of his team, has produced important research. With NYUAD Postdoctoral Associate Farah Benyettou and NYUAD Assistant Professor of Practice of Biology Rana Al-Assah, he recently published a paper in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B that describes the creation of a composite nanoparticle that may potentially be used to treat cancer.
It is no coincidence that Benyettou and Trabolsi collaborated on this project. "When I started at NYUAD," Trabolsi said, "I hired Farah, who is the main author of the article. I said, 'Why don't we combine your expertise in iron-oxide nanoparticles and my expertise in supramolecular chemistry, and let's come up with a new idea' — and that's exactly what we've done."
Benyettou has studied iron-oxide nanoparticles for years: "She knows how to make them, she knows how to control their size, and she knows how to functionalize and characterize them," Trabolsi explained.
Also trained in France, Benyettou studied physical chemistry before working toward a PhD that focused on a new way to treat cancer with magnetic iron-oxide nanoparticles. And in her first postdoctoral fellowship she learned many of the techniques she has applied at NYUAD.
For Benyettou the collaborative culture of the research group has been a boon: "When I joined this group, Ali let me do the research I wanted to do without any boundaries, without any limits."