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New Effort to Share Scientific Equipment Creates Potential Efficiencies

Many Arab researchers have complained about the lack of communication and collaboration among themselves. But researchers in United Arab Emirates have made a step forward in collaborating by establishing a platform that provides a way to share equipment across universities and other research institutions.

The Emirates Platform for Scientific Laboratories, also known as Open Labs, allows researchers and scientists to access the most advanced laboratory equipment without having to purchase it and creates an environment for scientists to exchange knowledge, expertise and scientific results. Launched last May, the platform is the first of its kind in the U.A.E.

“The platform will transform the country into a scientific laboratory that utilizes the advanced infrastructure available in universities,” Sarah Bint Yousif al-Amiri, the Emirates’ minister of state for advanced sciences, said in a written statement. “It makes it accessible to scientists and researchers to carry out scientific research that offers innovative solutions to be used in health, industry, energy, food security and other sectors.”

The platform offers an opportunity for all researchers and students in the U.A.E. to have relatively quick and direct access to more than 150 research devices throughout the country. The government estimates the collaborative platform will cut the cost of research by 30 percent.

The U.A.E.’s spending on research and development was 0.87 percent of gross domestic product in 2015, according to World Bank indicators. In 2018, investment in research and development was $1.42 billion. Still, spending does not exceed 1 percent of GDP, as in most of Arab countries.

Egyptian public universities have taken a similar step, although that effort is till early on its development.

“This is very important project, as it provides advanced research equipment to researchers and students, with a higher operating rate for these devices to make the most of them,” Tarek Kapiel, a professor and research consultant, said of the Emirates’ new platform.

“It should decrease the costs of scientific research activities as there will be no need to purchase equipment more than once and instead relying on unused devices elsewhere, creating a network among scientists,” said Kapiel, who is an assistant professor of botany and microbiology at Al-Baha University, in Saudi Arabia, and Cairo University, in Egypt.

In the U.A.E., the Open Labs platform is one of the Emirates Scientists Council’s initiatives to support research and scientists as part of the  Advanced Sciences Agenda 2031. Institutions participating in the platform include Khalifa University, the United Arab Emirates University, the American University of Sharjah, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy and New York University Abu Dhabi.

Al-Fanar Media tried to contact these organizations and universities to get their feedback on the platform, but none of them responded to our inquiry.

Such a platform represents a suitable solution for enabling researchers to make the most of scientific equipment in various laboratories and scattered throughout the country, said Kapiel. “I do not know if it has worked effectively on the ground or not,” he added, “but of course it’s a good step to support researchers and enhance cooperation among them.”

In Egypt, public universities have opened some central laboratories where important equipment is located to researchers but the collaborative effort is still limited.

“Unfortunately, the cooperation is still weak as it depends on officials’ personal decisions,” Kapiel said. Some of heads of research laboratories of the largest universities do not permit any colleague from outside the laboratory to use their devices. “I hope it works will in U.A.E.,” he said, “so it could encourage others to cooperate and share facilities as well.”


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