Ali Abdel Hafiz, Hanadi Salem and Inas Rafaat
The American University in Cairo (AUC), celebrated last week the graduation of four students, who constitute the inaugural class of AUC’s master’s program in nanotechnology, launched in 2010. “The program, being one of the first nanotechnology programs offered locally and in the Middle East, acts as an incubator for highly qualified scientists, engineers and researchers serving locally and regionally in the various institutes, research centers and industries in the 21st-century fields of nanosciences and nanotechnology,” said Hanadi Salem ’83, ’87, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the nanotechnology program.
The program is distinguished by top-notch faculty with extensive expertise in nanosciences and nanotechnology; state-of-the-art facilities, including equipment and software packages necessary for synthesis of nanomaterials, design and modeling of nanostructured bulk products processing technologies; as well as fabrication and characterization of micro and nanosensors and devices, which are housed in the Yousef Jameel Science and Technology Research Center and various AUC departments.
Mohamed Sallam, one of the four graduates who joined AUC’s Master of Science in nanotechnology program two years ago, dreamed of working as a biomedical researcher. Today, he is researching therapeutic forms for the treatment of breast cancer, using the most recent technology in structural biology, protein engineering, translational immunology and bio-nanotechnology. The project is a joint collaboration between the German Cancer Research Center and Heidelberg University in Germany, as well as the Free University of Brussels, Flanders Inter-University Institute of Biotechnology and Janssen Pharmaceutica in Belgium.
Sallam holds a patent for a bio-nanotechnological technique for therapeutic and diagnostic applications, and is currently working under Nobel laureate Harald zur Hausen, who discovered a cause of cervical cancer, paving the way for the creation of a vaccine.
“Nanotechnology is an area that draws from all fields of science and engineering,” Salem explained. “Research and development in this field requires background knowledge of at least two or more disciplines. This program is unique because it provides students with an interdisciplinary background; it is the only program in Egypt to do that and one of the few worldwide.”
Ten students enrolled in the program during the first year, and the remaining six are expected to complete their theses and graduate this year. There are currently 40 students enrolled in the MSc program and seven in the nanotechnology PhD program.
Hani Tawfik, a graduate of the program who hopes to work as a researcher in micro-electric mechanical systems, emphasized the importance of its interdisciplinary nature, affirming that this gives him an edge in his current doctoral studies in electrical engineering at McGill University, the top university in Canada and one of the top 20 worldwide. At McGill, Tawfik is working to develop micro-sensors and actuators that can be integrated into handheld devices, such as smart phones. “I sense a difference between me and my colleagues at McGill because of the interdisciplinary knowledge that I gained during my master’s studies,” he said. Tawfik believes that conventional Master of Science programs provide knowledge in only one particular field. “AUC’s nanotechnology graduate program, however, provided the depth of knowledge required for each discipline (chemistry, physics, electrical and mechanical engineering) and how they are all related to my work.”
Ali Abdel Hafiz, another graduate of the program who is hoping to pursue a PhD in material science or biomedicine, said, “as students, we all came from diverse backgrounds, so when instructors presented the course material to us, they made sure we can work together on projects that everyone would understand. They put a lot of time into designing courses that enabled us to draw on our strengths to grasp foreign concepts. I was able to have joint thesis supervisors from different departments, which really increased the depth of my research and improved the quality of the work.”
For Inas Rafaat, who holds a BSc in electronics engineering, the diverse courses outside of her area of specialization were essential for her future research. “I want to work in micro-electro-mechanical systems, which is a multidisciplinary field that requires diverse knowledge,” she said, “so it is important for me to be familiar not just with electronics, but with chemistry, physics and biology, as well.”
The recent graduates have published their work in noted scientific journals, including the Journal of Optics Communication, the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems and Applied Clay Science.