Water is essential to life. Recognizing the capital importance of its conservation, the UAE-Swiss Research Day 2012 united stakeholders from two countries that, at a first glance, stand out for the contrasts involving the abundance, use, and politics of water. During the two day event, held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the 11th-12th of November, contributions by politicians, policy makers, business people, academics and students, and informal discussions among the participants, brought the common ground and shared convictions between both partner-countries into the limelight.
“Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous line came up several times during the two day event as an epitome of the situation in many Gulf countries, in particular that of the United Arab Emirates. An arid climate and one of the world’s highest domestic water consumption rates are drawing on the country’s aquifers, increasing its dependence on the costly and energy intensive practice of desalination.
In his welcoming address, Dean of EPFL Middle East, Franco Vigliotti, expressed his hopes that the conference would lead to a place where choices involving the consumption of water are made more consciously. He further pointed at the role of investment in research and development in achieving a high degree of innovation, innovation that is now burgeoning in universities in the UAE.
Some of this innovation was showcased in presentations by students and faculty from local universities that participated in the event, as well as from students working in Lausanne Switzerland on projects funded by EPFL Middle East. These presentations focused on a wide range of applications in the human water cycle, from solar powered water desalination and treatment and water distribution networks to monitoring the environmental impact of desalination technologies on ocean currents.
Students from Swiss and Emirati universities presented their research into water, energy and sustainability in a poster session, which gave rise to vivid interactions between the conference participants. Two poster prizes were awarded, one to the Swiss poster that received most votes, and another to its Emirati counterpart.
Fabrizio Lo Conte and Laurent Fabre, the founders of eSMART, a home automation solution that aims at reducing a household’s monthly energy bill, took home the award for the best Swiss poster for the second consecutive year. The Emirati prize went to Aravind Muthiah, a student from Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, who is working on dye-sensitized solar cells that are based on a technology developed at EPFL. As the dye for his solar cells, Muthiah uses a cheap and readily available home-grown solution: tannins extracted from date fruits cultivated throughout the Middle East.
The UAE-Swiss Research Day 2012, organized under the umbrella of the third Emirati-Swiss Friendship Forum, was hosted at the Zayed University campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai under the patronage of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Advisor to the President of the UAE, H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and President of Zayed University, H.E. Mr. Pascal Couchepin, Former Swiss President, H.E. Dr. Alain Berset, the Swiss Minister of Education and Research.