American University of Beirut

Ivory tower: meet real world


​Feb. ​1​, 2022​

​Challenging the way universities engage with communities outside their campus walls can be difficult, with few paths to follow. AUB, though, has grown accustomed to forging its own path. It is no surprise that in 2020, the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) launched a program called “The Institute​” to support local and regional businesses by partnering with them to access MSFEA's faculty and student expertise, advanced prototyping, and analytical labs.  "We recognize that as a university, we have a strong stake in the health of the companies that employ our students and serve our society," says Dean Alan Shihadeh. This effort is part of MSFEA's broader strategy to contribute to the vitality of Lebanon and the region. 

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, MSFEA offered INDEVCO's Sanita brand R&D support to re-purpose one of its diaper lines into an EU-rated surgical mask line. With the help of MSFEA faculty, students, and MSFEA research spaces, the project went from a concept to the marketplace in less than nine weeks, producing at-scale surgical masks rated to EU standards from materials not impacted by the global supply chain crunch during the early months of the pandemic. Today, the mask is sold in stores across Lebanon and came out when there was a critical global shortage of verified masks.

"We strongly believe in the importance of strategic partnerships between universities and private corporations as a driver for innovation. Collaboration on this project is an example of such a partnership. In that respect, we are very hopeful on the upcoming results and look forward to having a final workable solution that could be field-tested." Mr. Emile Azar, General Manager of Metacs sal.

Professor Fouad Azizi worked with INDEVCO on a separate project to create recyclable packaging materials. The current products available on the market are, in the majority, non-recyclable, so the search for new packaging material that is cost-effective and can be produced in-house is critical to creating more sustainability. Professor Azizi partnered with INDEVO to identify candidate materials, understand their barrier mechanism, develop its formulation, and then find and test methods for efficient production. It's an innovative solution to a growing source of waste. "It's simply a win-win program for all parties: AUB/MSFEA, faculty, students, and industrial partners, as it allocates funds to the greater good in Lebanon to help its struggling economy," says Professor Azizi.

This mentality of centering education and university initiatives around community wellbeing drives MSFEA's R&D program. The program's director, Professor Riad Chedid, explains how the essence of this program is to engage MSFEA students and faculty in tackling local challenges. Engineers, above all else, are problem solvers, and the problems they attempt to solve are often those that impact society. Universities can play a critical role in creating change to some of the most pressing challenges affecting the people and communities around them. 

"We sometimes hit a wall in our R&D department for either lack of resources or know-how. This is when we seek help from research centers, mainly universities." – Mr. Ziad Boustany, CEO of S. & A.S. Co. Ltd

Professor Naseem Daher worked with S. & A.S. Co. Ltd to design efficient programming for elevator systems. The project leveraged adaptive control theory to design and develop a scheme used in elevator applications to minimize rollback and energy consumption. Through this partnership, they "were able to show the value that MSFEA engineering can bring to the table as a formidable R&D partner to local industries," says Professor Daher. CEO of S. & A.S. Co. Ltd emphasized, "A solution like the one we are seeking with MSFEA would put us up to par with the competition. It's instrumental to our growth."

With the MSFEA R&D program still in its infancy, it has exceeded expectations. Models such as these provide a pathway for how universities can create impact and exist beyond the ivory tower. As Professor Azizi notes, "concerning the future, I believe that MSFEA will become a go-to R&D consulting pole for various industries. Its faculty's hard work and motivation will undoubtedly pay off in the end for Lebanon."

For more information about The Institute at MSFEA, check out this story as well.​

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