Year in Review: Research

A look at some of the impactful research conducted at NYU Abu Dhabi that is outside the realm of COVID-19.


It’s difficult to look back at the last year and not focus on the singular event that permeated every aspect of the globe: COVID-19. The pandemic has completely disrupted the lives of people around the globe. 

While populations and industries adapt and adjust, the research coming out of NYUAD progressed to explore multifaceted topics and issues beyond COVID-19. 

Such is the way of life at the University — our desire to carry on expanding human knowledge through curiosity, innovation and exploration. 

Here’s a look back at some of our most read stories that were not COVID-19-related.

For Water's Worth

Professor of Engineering and Director of NYUAD Water Research Center

Water is a valuable resource in many parts of the world. The UAE depends on desalination and the technology behind it. However, in some cases, the technology behind purifying seawater is in major need of an upgrade and NYU Abu Dhabi researchers are providing new, sustainable solutions to this age-old challenge of sustaining life in the desert. Nidal Hilal, professor of engineering and director of the NYUAD Water Research Center, and Raed Hashaikeh, professor of mechanical engineering, research the challenge of solving water scarcity in the Arabian Gulf.

City Life. It's in our Nature

Humanity is moving away from the countryside to cities at a rate faster than ever before. People are abandoning the way they’ve existed for thousands of years to engage in hubs around the world. The allure of living in an urban environment continues to drive millions to consider the move to cities despite the stresses that comes with it. Three professors from different fields of study at NYUAD look at why, and how, humans exist in cities. They research the science of congestion, the psychology of our willingness to exist in close quarters with complete strangers, and the social networks that form as a result.

Modern cities can provide more than just a living space for residents.

Programming Prejudice

Nizar Habash, program head of computer science.

The people working in industries that rely on working on computer programming and artificial intelligence have accidentally bequeathed human prejudice in much of the coding we use today. Nizar Habash, the program head of computer science at NYU Abu Dhabi who works on machine translation and Arabic language processing, has noticed that in attempting to create artificial intelligence based on human intelligence, the programming world has embedded prejudice, unknowingly or not.

The Way we Were

Ancient receipts, boats made of reed, and old photos long forgotten serve as wayfinders for researchers challenging the historical narrative of the Middle East. Three professors research clues of our past to gain a better understanding of how we lived then, and the path that led us to exist today.

Hints of the past can help inform our understanding of our history.


Our yet unexplained fascination with the falcon remains a mystery.

The symbiosis between humans and falcons has been a fruitful relationship that has existed in almost every civilization that gained access to the falcon. That relationship has sustained into the modern era. Research from NYUAD looks at why falcons have captured the imagination of scientists and artists alike. Faculty at the University take two different academic approaches to explain the relationship between bird and human. 


Subscribed since 1832

Political scientist Rahul Sagar has spent the past five years scouring hundreds of libraries around the world to build a digital resource that helps explain the story of modern India. He worked on Ideas of India, a digital index of the English-language periodicals that Indians began publishing after the advent of modern education in 1832. These periodicals served as the forum where statesmen and intellectuals formulated and debated the ideas that have shaped India.


The digital index can help understand the ideas that have helped shape modern India.

Mission Remission

Wael Rabeh, associate professor of chemistry, in his lab at NYUAD.

NYUAD faculty researching cancer take three different, unique approaches to the disease that kills millions every year. Through research that is looking at how humanity deals with the disease and potentially finds a steadfast cure for cancer, Wael Rabeh, associate professor of chemistry, Rafael Yong-Ak Song, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, and Jeremy Teo, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, are working on ways to better understand the disease.


The Art of Research

Art speaks for itself. But often when it does, it forgets to communicate the amount of effort and the rigorous research behind its creation. Even if art shows some traits of the painstaking process used to make it, the research needed to create a body of work is often masked in the final product. Three different researchers explain their process of knowledge generation through the work they do and the projects they present.


A visual representation from SPEECH forged in bronze for an exhibition at Grey Noise Gallery, Dubai.

This Digital Life

Data is increasing by the day, but how do we manage it?

The world revolves around data, lots and lots of it. While one researcher is trying to make big data more useful to more people, another works on ways to protect it from attacks. Research from NYUAD looks at big data and the ways we use it to progress technology and life as we know it.

Troubled Waters

Rapid human-caused change to the environment is jeopardizing the survival of one of our planet’s keystone species. Associate Professor of Biology John Burt and Assistant Professor of Biology Shady Amin, study corals in the Arabian Gulf and how climate change is changing ecosystems that house the majority of fish life on the planet.

Ocean life is threatened by the human-induced changes on our planet.

Raised Religious

Research is uncovering how Islam influences young people.

The politicization of Islam has misconstrued the religion’s impact on individuals as they grow up in an increasingly divided world. Economist Samreen Malik studies issues impeding development in low and middle income economies. John O’Brien, a sociologist and ethnographic researcher wrote a book about a group of young American Muslims living in a major city in the US, said it’s a combination of elements that make the group feel less alienated despite the last two decade’s media depiction of Islam.