“The projects he chooses in his lab are always so unique”

Marieh Handawi studies some of the world’s most fascinating crystals alongside one of the world’s leading chemists

When talking about crystals, you may think of millennials who are into harvesting positive energy and natural self-healing lifestyles. But the crystals Marieh Handawi deals with in her lab are of another kind altogether.

As a Global PhD Fellow in Chemistry with the Naumov Group at NYU Abu Dhabi, Handawi gets to work on multiple research projects. For one, she has been investigating the transportation of live viruses through crystals. Using a plant virus, the group has discovered that when placed inside inorganic crystal like calcium carbonate, the crystal acts as a shield and protects the virus from harsh external conditions. 

This opens up the possibility of transporting viruses or proteins in a more economic way rather than the chain of costly transportation, which requires constant refrigeration between 2-8 degrees Celsius — something not viable in third world countries and very expensive in hot countries like the UAE. The next phase of research will be studying the transportation using human viruses.

Read: Abu Dhabi student developing heat-proof vaccine to help tackle disease across the globe

Marieh Handawi in the chemistry lab at NYU Abu Dhabi.


In the chemistry graduate program, students are given the opportunity to work with two principal investigators (PI) for four weeks each. After that time, they can decide which PI they would like to work with for the rest of their program — great for new graduates who may be still unsure and would like some time with their selection.

“It’s a great option to experience what (these PIs) do in the lab for four weeks,” Handawi added.

Supportive Faculty Mentor

It was not hard for Handawi to select her PI, Associate Professor of Chemistry Pance Naumov, who was recently named a Harvard Radcliff Institute Fellow.

She knows about his projects and admires his working style, but most importantly, Professor Naumov is supportive and accommodating, she says. 

I get anxious about my projects but he’s always available to help me out and calm me down.

Marieh Handawi, Global PhD Fellow in Chemistry

As a chemist, Professor Naumov always made sure that in Naumov lab, Handawi gets to do more biological experiments due to her background, and collaborate with other lab members. “(Also), the projects he chooses in his lab are always so unique,” Handawi added.

Research Highlights in the Naumov Lab

Bright Hot Crystals

NYUAD researchers achieve solid state Thermochemiluminescence with crystals that emit light when heated.