Today marks my 9th day here in Masdar City- an ambitious but incomplete eco-city project on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, UAE. So far, it seems that Masdar City consists of six main things:
- Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST), founded in 2007 and currently enrolling a couple hundred engineering students and employing around 80 faculty. The cluster of buildings that make up the Institute sits on a raised platform in the middle of the very sandy and fairly empty construction site. I will be doing surface science research in one of the labs here during my stay.
- The infrastructure that supports MIST, including some extra housing slightly outside the construction site where I currently live, shuttle buses that run in between that housing and the campus, one dining hall, two restaurants, and a bank.
- The construction site for the soon(?)-to-be International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters
- The recently completed Siemens building, which will soon serve as a branch for the company and will bring Masdar City its second batch of citizens in the upcoming year
- A solar power plant and a solar thermal concentrator
- Headquarters for the city project itself (including a different dining hall that I intend to try tomorrow!)
My research is going really well- the project I am working on, instead of focusing on coatings for solar panels like I expected, is looking instead at biomaterials based on the local fish. I think that the switch, though surprising, has turned out to be good for me. It's a very interesting area of science that I'm not sure I would have explored by myself, and I am enjoying getting acquainted with a new field. My other mission here is to try to figure out what is motivating (or holding back) this crusade for sustainability in one of the world's largest oil-producing countries. That project is moving in a less straight forward way, but I am learning more and more about Masdar every day from the point of view of its science-oriented first residents, and the picture they are painting is not what I expected. I am starting to believe that this city may never expand beyond its current size.
The engineering research has been very time consuming (since there is little to do in the city, we regularly work until 10 or 11pm), but I hope to be able to start poking around on the administrative side of things soon. This university seems to be completely unique in student body, funding structure, and research focus, and I look forward to gaining knowledge about it while I attempt to generate knowledge within it.