CITIES’ Newsletter: Issue #6 CITIES’ Exciting Start to 2022

CITIES Research

The Center for Interacting Urban Networks (CITIES) at New York University Abu Dhabi promotes excellence in research aiming for real improvements in terms of economic opportunity and growth, safety and security, health and wellness, and the overall quality of everyday life in urban areas, with a particular emphasis on Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

Issue #6 of our newsletter offers an overview of CITIES’ exciting start to the year 2022, highlighting some of the ongoing research, educational, and outreach initiatives.

Creating Better Concrete from Desalination Waste
Kemal Celik, Assistant Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering, CITIES Investigator

Since the cement industry is responsible for 8% of the global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, developing new sustainable cement binders lies at the heart of the collaboration between CITIES and AMBER Lab. Magnesium-based types of cement are studied as potential sustainable binders. It is possible to extract different types from the effluent of water desalination plants. The safe disposal of this effluent, referred to as brine, is associated with environmental and economic challenges as brine disposal in the sea can cause an increase in sea’s temperatures and salinity levels. This is particularly important for the UAE that generate around 20% of the global brine production. Our team, led by Professor Kemal Celik, is working on introducing an exciting sustainable cement produced from water desalination brine in the UAE called CalMag.

With CalMag, we aim to solve multiple environmental issues simultaneously. We recycle this abundant waste and produce CalMag to fulfill the UAE’s vision to transition to a circular economy. CalMag is produced at much lower temperatures, unlike traditional cement (110 versus 1450 degrees Celsius) with locally available materials. The most exciting fact about CalMag is that it absorbs CO2 during the hardening process, making it a potential carbon-negative product. 

We are now scaling up the production process of CalMag and further enhancing its properties to build stronger concrete with minimal water demand. Professor Kemal Celik, as a member of the UAE Climate Change Research Network (CCRN) launched by the Ministry of Climate Change & Environment (MOCCAE), is determined to transparently evaluate the environmental impacts of CalMag and assess the introduction of this potential sustainable product in the UAE cement industry at a policy level.
For related information, check this video:

A Tale of Three Cities: Harnessing Techno-social Networks for Spatial Equity
Surabhi Sharma, Program Head of Film and New Media, Associate Professor of Practice of Film and New Media, CITIES Investigator

G. Pawar, a 24-year-old resident of a Mumbai suburb, had to discontinue his education after graduating from high school. He works as a delivery partner at an online food and delivery service. The smartphone and the internet are central to his work. He logs in 7 days a week for 8 to 10 hours every day on his motorbike, driving around 50 to 60 km every day. He earns between 10 to 12$ per day. Monetary incentives are based on reviews by the customer. Good reviews are based on reaching before the delivery time. The stress and urgency to negotiate crowded and potholed roads take a toll, but the extra income through incentives is essential for Pawar’s earnings to support his family. This summary of one amongst 30 interviews conducted with platform workers across the city gives a sense of the issues around safety, and mobility in a gig economy.

Overlapping this research is the study of the census data on how workers travel, specifically focused on Mumbai city and Mumbai suburbs. Representing big data through graphs and illustrations, the project attempts to engage with the commuter. The ensuing conversations in the form of interviews and visual travel diaries aim to bring in the everyday lived realities of mobilities. Access to data from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s citizen helpline services led to spatial and thematic analysis of commuter complaints and their resolution. Our research has led us to interrogate ways in which access and equity are undermined for large sections of people in a city like Mumbai.  
Through a multi-modal approach using social media, a website, and published articles, this project seeks to represent diverse inquiries around media networks constituted by the multiplication of technologies that promise access and equity but which often exacerbate spatial and information inequities that may interact and compound.

Towards More Sustainable Anti-fouling Coatings for Urban Marinas
John Burt, Associate Professor of Biology, and Maryam Al-Memari, CITIES Kawader Research Assistant

In a collaborative effort among CITIES, Sultan Qaboos University (Oman), and the coatings manufacturer Hempel, CITIES Kawader Research Assistant Maryam Al-Memari and Investigator John Burt have successfully managed the installation of a field experiment in an Abu Dhabi marina (Hidd Al Saadiyat) to assess the relative efficacy of several sustainably-oriented anti-fouling coatings commonly used on marine infrastructure and boat hulls. The results of this research can help guide urban marinas towards more sustainable environmental practices. After two months of deployment in Abu Dhabi, various experimental tiles have been created, with algae and different invertebrate growth visible on some treatments but not others. Each of the 70 tiles will be tracked for 12 months to understand how community development is affected by several antifoulant treatments. 

CITIES Partnerships

 CITIES and FortyGuard, a tech startup under HUB71 in a mission to cool down cities, have joined forces to combine data science, predictive analytics, and new sustainable construction materials to understand how the built and natural environments behave in a city and combat the urban heat islands effect. This partnership will create several networking opportunities between the two institutions, encouraging student participation in research and connection and collaboration between researchers. HE Badr Al Olama, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Hub71, and Executive Director, UAE Clusters, Mubadala Investment Company, HE Masaood Al Masaood, Chairman of the Emirates Angels Investors Association, and Fatma Abdulla Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Strategy and Planning, attended the event.

CITIES Faculty Prof. John Burt and Prof. Kinga Makovi Received NYUAD Faculty Awards

Please join us in congratulating John Burt, Associate Professor of Biology and CITIES investigator, and Kinga Makovi, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy and CITIES Co-PI, for obtaining the Transformative Research Award and the Teaching Excellence Award, respectively.

The NYUAD Faculty Awards are bestowed on NYUAD standing faculty who embody the values and mission of the University. The work of award recipients truly exemplifies the central pillars of faculty engagement in research, teaching, and service. The recipients were evaluated with great care by the Award Review Committee and selected by the NYUAD leadership for their transformative research, teaching excellence, and distinguished service.

 CITIES Student-led Activities 

Fully aligned with Abu Dhabi 2030 vision, CITIES always promotes innovative research projects, educational initiatives, and student-led activities that have a strong local impact and global relevance.  

The DIDI Project Design Space

 DIDI is a design and innovation program hosted by Dubai’s Institute of Design and Technology aimed at high school students worldwide. This program encourages design thinking methods to solve today’s problems and create a better tomorrow. The team TechPhantom (Amtul Baseer, Jaydev Nair, Jazlynn Mujeeb Valiyara, Reel Osman, Trun Vishal Ramteke) had the opportunity to solve problems for real-life clients, in their case Schneider Electric. Over eight months, they worked on developing a Smart Home prototype based on a four-step design process: analysis, ideation, prototype creation, presentation, and pitching. The final steps of the process are the boot camp and final event, where the selected teams will pitch their prototyped solutions to a jury of clients, other professionals, DIDI professors, and experts. The team collaborated and came up with numerous ideas to create a sustainable home (in terms of construction materials and features) and makes the best use of technology. 

The ASCE@NYUAD student team and CITIES have supported the team, and they have been chosen for the DIDI Project Design Space finale.

  “We’d like to thank Jason, Jennifer, Mawadda, Yasmeen, and the CITIES team for
taking the time to speak with us and guide us properly. The NYUAD Student
Research Team’s research was incredibly helpful. They helped us understand how
buildings can be designed to minimize the Heat Island effect to assure a more
comfortable future. For instance, we learned how using green rooftops and
construction materials could play a key role in managing temperature. And more
importantly, they helped nurture our designing abilities, guiding us to identify the
root of a problem and then develop methods to create solutions. They essentially
gave us a crash course on the design. We also learned that designing is not about
how things look but how things work. We think their support and feedback truly
enhanced our home, and we felt it was essential for us in reaching the DIDI
Project Design Space finale.” 

 CITIES Post-Graduation Research Fellowship

This highly competitive Fellowship Program is designed to support exceptional NYUAD graduating seniors with a demonstrated interest in academia. It also aims to retain outstanding academic talent within the region and contribute to the growth and development of research in the UAE. It is an excellent opportunity for students to explore research directions and graduate school possibilities, specifically in the area of Urban Science, spanning disciplines from Engineering through Computer Science, Sociology, History, and the Arts. CITIES was the first research center to offer this opportunity at NYUAD in 2020/2021. The success of this initiative is clearly reflected in the quality of the research conducted by the fellows and their career paths after completion.

2021/2022 CITIES Post-Graduation Research Fellows

Vince Nguyen has been admitted to the Masters in Digital and Interaction Design at the School of Design at Politecnico di Milano. He is forever grateful for the fellowship that allowed him to master his design research skills while opening doors for more exciting opportunities ahead. Sungmin John will be heading to UC Berkeley for the MS program in Transportation Engineering

New 2022/2023 CITIES Post-Graduation Research Fellows 

This coming year, as a new CITIES’ Post-graduation Research Fellow, Aaron Marcus-Willers will work alongside Professors Matteo Marciano and David Wrisley on an interdisciplinary research project that focuses on assessing and demonstrating the impacts of large-scale urban development on both human and wildlife populations in the Abu Dhabi islands through acoustic surveys of biophonic and anthrophonic sound, as well as through quantitative, questionnaire-based research among affected populations. The project proposes an interdisciplinary approach that bridges acoustic ecology with the fields of environmental, digital, and spatial humanities, in which field recordings and their spectral analyses will be compiled with interview-based data in a multimodal representation of data-based storytelling. It is his hope that this project will also create a foundation for further research in this area—a largely understudied topic in the region—by creating an open repository of high-quality acoustic and survey-based data. 

At the same time, Yaman Garg, the other CITIES’ Post-graduation Research Fellow this year, will work on developing a methodology for the validation of CFD microclimate models of arid regions such as the UAE, using the NYUAD campus as the laboratory. The model will simulate the campus microclimate, including the thermal comfort, represented by Physiological Equivalent Temperature (PET), and its output will be validated against an extensive set of field measurements using micro-weather stations, contact temperature sensors, and surface temperature data from satellites. Thus, it will help in the production of reliable insights that will be essential for cities such as Abu Dhabi to tackle their energy, health, and climate issues affected by temperature. The study will be supervised jointly by Professor Kemal Celik at NYUAD and Professor Masoud Ghandehari at NYU Tandon.

CITIES Publications

Below, we list publications from the first quarter of 2022. They highlight some of the research pursued in CITIES. You can access the whole list of publications and other research outputs using this link.