More Than A Stack of Papers

Undergraduate research generates important knowledge about things and issues that didn’t even exist a few decades ago

Some older generations who never experienced bitcoin or virtual reality, rapid environmental changes, or the growing influence of big data, might need a dictionary to understand some of the innovative student research happening at NYU Abu Dhabi.

The students are proving that undergraduate research in 2019 is much more than a stack papers. It is a significant piece of work with potential real world importance whether constructed by hand, written, or performed.

A senior’s final project at NYUAD is called a Capstone. Students have their final year to finish it and are called upon to present the work to their professors and peers about a month before graduation in May. Capstone research comes in all shapes and sizes, from stage plays to new technologies, chemistry experiments, and scholarly thesis’ about human behavior and the state of the planet.

Increasingly, the Capstone is a reflection of what’s happening in the world, a creative endeavor seen through a unique student lens that offers realistic solutions to pressing global problems. A lot of the research, ranging from political processes to urban life, picks up on key trends, such as:

  • cryptocurrency
  • virtual reality programs for education
  • biodegradable building materials to reduce our carbon footprint
  • radio-controlled cars powered by both solar and battery
  • e-voting
  • machine intelligence
  • new methods of water purification
  • movie downloading behavior
Virtual reality
This is just a small sample of Capstone research on things and issues that didn’t even exist a few decades ago. A study into how Airbnb affects long-term rental property prices is a good example of an emerging and trending topic that students are paying attention to. Airbnb, a short-term accommodation provider, only arrived on the market in 2008.

For her Capstone, economics major Nadine Laze examined patterns in the performance of the long-term market in Dubai, and compared it against the growth of Airbnb.

Similar to previous studies done in the US, my study on the impact of Airbnb supply growth on the long-term rental property price increase in Dubai, indicates an existing positive relationship."

Nadine Laze, Class of 2019

More specifically, her research found that a one percent increase in the Airbnb supply is associated with 0.089 percent increase in long-term rental prices in Dubai.

Modern Human Behavior is Complex

Laze and fellow seniors in the social sciences study the complexities of 21st century societies to better understand human networks and behavior. Why are some societies the way they are?

Stigma is a global problem, but in Pakistan, the problem of a double-stigma is salient, writes Aaima Humayun, a major in social research and public policy. “The victims of acid violence, in addition to the stigma associated with irrevocable physical disfigurement, also suffer the allegation of an immoral character, causing inflated psychological and social difficulties.”

Drawing on a series of interviews with female victims of acid violence in Pakistan, Humayun’s Capstone research explores the discursive strategies acid victims use across different situations.

Ahmed Meshref's Capstone research on the transitions of single men with high school degrees or less, in and out of the labor force, and in and out of employment won a prize at the 7th annual UAE Undergraduate Research Competition.



I was really lucky to work with amazing mentors at NYU Abu Dhabi … whose efforts made this possible. Winning this competition is a great boost to continue doing more advanced research in the future.

Ahmed Meshref, Class of 2019

Health and Environment are Top of Mind

NYUAD Capstone research in the sciences generates critical knowledge related to human health such as smoking rates, or the connection between sleep and depression, and also investigates how climate change has affected sensitive ecosystems in Abu Dhabi and beyond, from fisheries to coral reefs.

Biology student Ali Syeda writes, “the biomass of commercial fishes found in the UAE has dropped by 85 percent in the last 40 years, adding pressure on the fisheries industry, which is the Arabian Gulf’s second most important resource after oil. Understanding the connectivity of populations through population genetics would provide much more robust information on how the size and spacing of marine reserves should be structured.”

Sleep and depression
Coral ecosystem

Coming to grips with climate change, however, isn’t just about the science. Art has a critical role in education and building awareness.

Using GPS and an app called Echoes, Keira Simmons, a music student, created a soundwalk experience along the Abu Dhabi Corniche waterfront that asks listeners to imagine past, present, and future environments.

Abu Dhabi Corniche

"Listening to Abu Dhabi is a creative sound art project drawing on data-driven and theory-driven research to explore how Abu Dhabi residents’ relationship to the city will change as sea levels and temperatures rise,” she writes.

“Asking participants to walk through space while listening to environmental changes layered on their immediate experience creates that personal connection and sense of urgency. The project asks participants to question how we relate to and understand ourselves in relation to the changing climate of Abu Dhabi.”

Research Works of Art

These days, not only is our physical environment transforming around us, human relationships are changing too. Arts and humanities students ponder human experiences through Capstone theater performances, storytelling, and visual art exhibitions like painting and photography.

Visual art exhibition
Theater performance

Composed from interviews with students in New York and Abu Dhabi, On Our Borders is a verbatim performance by theater major David Ethan Lee about what he calls Third Culture Kids.

In a world still catching up with the profound shift in globalization, he asks “are we defining identities and communities in ways that further the global circulation of ideas? Is it possible to create a world where everyone can be part of a greater whole? What does it mean to be a global citizen, not fully belonging to any one nation? And is it viable to reconcile our desire for cross-border communities with rising nationalist governments, parties, and polices?”

The fundamental challenge of student research at NYU Abu Dhabi is to enter unmapped terrain. Provost Fabio Piano says, “NYUAD students demonstrate a rare combination of global perspective and international diversity. They pose novel questions. These projects include examples of the finest scholarship and creative accomplishments.”