By Teresa CromptonMohammad Al-Sayah (Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, CAS) has returned to AUS after spending twelve months at Harvard University working in the labs of the Whitesides group. His Sabbatical Leave was supported by a Distinguished Scholar Award from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) in Kuwait.
How did you get the invitation?
I was invited by Professor George M. Whitesides, Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology at Harvard. He is the author of around 1,200 papers, the inventor of over 110 patents, and the recipient of around 40 awards. Initially, I received a verbal invitation from him a few years ago when I was attending an NSF-sponsored workshop on Micro and Nanofabrication that he was conducting for about 15 young chemists from the Middle East. Upon approval of my Sabbatical Leave from AUS early last year I followed up on the invitation.
What are your impressions of Harvard?
The first thing that I noticed was the diversity of researchers and students in terms of both culture and expertise. This, added to state-of-the-art facilities and a spirit of team work, in most cases, provide a great atmosphere for research and innovation. Once I had a first-hand experience with the research there, I realized that I was in the place where the future of science and technology is being shaped. Harvard is also a place for creating and testing innovative methods of teaching and learning. For example, Harvard was a leading institute in creating the not-for-profit online program (HarvardX) offering free online specialized courses to everyone in the world.
What did you do?
I spent a year with the Whitesides group conducting research on three projects:
i) studying the influence of hydrophobic effect on protein-ligand interactions
ii) investigating current tunneling through self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) of organic compounds for application in molecular electronics
iii) developing paper-based assays for detection of Malaria
The experiments and data collection of the protein-ligand and molecular electronics projects were completed before the end of my stay and the results of the former project were recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The manuscripts for reporting the results of the molecular electronics project are under preparation and will be submitted soon. Finally, the project for developing a paper-based assay for Malaria is now in the final phase of optimization and data collection.
How has the visit impacted your future plans?
I am hoping to maintain collaboration with the Whiteside group and am planning to spend my summers for the next few years in their labs. For research to have a high impact, it should provide solutions to current problems and questions. Such research must be supported by good infrastructures and excellent financial and human resources. My experience at Harvard gave me new perspective and ideas on conducting research in an atmosphere with limited resources; although it will be less efficient and much slower, it is still doable.
Teresa Compton is a Grants Writer at the Office of Research and Graduate Studies at American University of Sharjah.