Engineering with Impact

Innovation and Technology

NYU Abu Dhabi is a liberal arts college nested within a research university. At the same time it is a hub of innovation and technology that has produced developments ranging from drones to potential cancer treatments.

After visiting Wadi Wurayah National Park in Fujairah and meeting the rangers who work there, a team of undergraduates came up with an idea to make the rangers’ jobs easier — and potentially to save their lives. The innovation won the 2015 UAE Drones for Good Award, which came with an AED 1 million prize.

The wadi rangers maintain camera traps that are used to monitor the movement of wildlife throughout the park. The traps snap photos when they sense movement. But in order to retrieve images from the devices, rangers must navigate treacherous terrain in oppressive heat to the over 100 traps throughout the park. “It’s a very dangerous job for a tiny SD card,” said Martin Slosarik, NYUAD Class of 2017.

We approached this project in terms of the human costs, and that’s why we’ve become so emotionally invested in it.

Martin Slosarik, Class of 2017, Team Wadi Drone
Martin Slosarik (Class of 2015) sends NYUAD's award-winning Wadi Drone into flight in a desert region near Abu Dhabi.

So the team developed a fixed-wing drone that can circle over the camera traps and download the images wirelessly, making the rangers’ work safer and faster. “We approached this project in terms of the human costs, and that’s why we’ve become so emotionally invested in it,” Slosarik said.

Health Innovations

Farah Benyettou is a research scientist in the Trabolsi Research Group at NYUAD. The group uses chemistry to create molecules that can be used for a variety of different purposes. But Benyettou focuses on engineering nanoparticles that can be deployed to treat cancer.

Nanoparticles are — as their name suggests — tiny, much too small to be seen with the naked eye. In the lab at NYUAD, Benyettou has created magnetic nanoparticles that absorb a cancer-fighting drug commonly used in chemotherapy.

Inside the the Trabolsi Research Group chemistry lab in the Experimental Research Building at NYUAD.

“The problem with chemotherapy is that the anti-cancer drugs don’t go just to the tumor,” Benyettou said. “They travel throughout the body and harm healthy cells as well as cancer cells."

The hope is that the drug-carrying nanoparticles could be directed to the tumor with a magnet and release of the drug, limiting damage to healthy cells. She hopes to test the treatment in animals soon.

“I’m not saying that I am going to cure cancer,” Benyettou said. “But if I do one small thing, and other researchers in China, France, and the US do something, then all together we are going to fight this disease.”