Posted on April 20, 2020

Qatar National Research Fund has announced the winners of its 12th annual Undergraduate Research Experience Program competition, which – for the first time in its history – was taken into the digital sphere following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Responding to the pandemic, as soon as remote working policies took effect across the country, Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) shifted the event online to ensure that the 46 projects – representing six universities in Qatar – were made available to view through a virtual exhibition. Out of these competing projects, 14 were shortlisted and invited to pitch in front of an expert panel of judges in a webinar open to the public.

Dr. Abdul Sattar Al-Taie, Executive Director, QNRF – a member of Qatar Foundation – said: “This year, we took an innovative and agile approach to ensure that the UREP competition continues as scheduled, albeit the challenges posed by the COVID-19 situation, by providing alternative online platforms. In a challenging time like this, we are reminded of the indispensable role that researchers and scientists play, as the whole world is counting on them to develop a vaccine or cure for COVID-19. “Platforms like the UREP competition not only encourage our students to pursue research-oriented careers, but also help them realize the impact that their research ideas hold. This year, as in previous years, we had an impressive pool of projects, which demonstrates that the future research and scientific leadership of Qatar is in safe and capable hands.”

This year, first place went to the research team from Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar, whose members Dana Al Ali (pictured left), Ameena Shafiq (pictured right), Nada Mhaimeed, Mohammed Salameh, Zain Burney, and Krishnadev Pillai explored the role of human gut microbiota in autism spectrum disorders and inflammatory bowel diseases. Ms. Al Ali said: “Our experience in UREP was great. It introduced us to various aspects of research –from hypothesis conception and IRB approval, to dealing with unexpected difficulties that arose during the running of the project, as well as result analysis and the importance of running an awareness campaign.

Second place was awarded to AlReem Al-Dosari, Soltan Mohamed, and Buthaina Al-Abdulla from Texas A&M University at Qatar for their project on the effect of nanoparticles on alternative fuel sprays at high-pressure conditions. Ms. Al-Dosari said: “This research program has contributed to making me a well-rounded graduate, and now I am able to apply to high-ranked graduate schools with an impressive research studies record. Moreover, it opened my eyes to contemporary problems that the industries in Qatar and around the world are facing. I sincerely thank QNRF for offering such a valuable and enriching program to students in Qatar. It has motivated me to keep working hard to serve my country and contribute to its research infrastructure.”

Finally, a team from Qatar University was awarded third place. Members Abdulrahman Mahmoud, Elshaikh Mohamed, Omrane Abdallah, and Aiman Abducarim were recognized for their project that investigated the human circulatory system simulation for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy.

The QNRF competition was held in collaboration with Qatar Shell Research and Technology Centre (QSRTC). Mr. Hussain Al-Hijji, Vice President, QSRTC said: “UREP is a founding pillar of QNRF. It is truly an exemplary program that has a track record of excellent delivery and execution. Not only does the program introduce undergraduates to research, but also prompts them to embark on a journey of life-long learning. I am very happy to see that so many participants of UREP are choosing further studies as their future path.”

He added: “We are delighted to be cosponsors of UREP, as it aligns with our vision of fueling innovation into Qatar’s energy ecosystem.”