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Illustration courtesy of Yes Magazine

NYUAD versus COVID-19: Student & Administrative Efforts Against The Virus

NYU Abu Dhabi students and faculty have been actively engaged in efforts to combat the Covid-19 spread and understand its impacts on the world today.

Aug 30, 2020

The NYU Abu Dhabi community has initiated and contributed towards multiple projects as a part of the global response against Covid-19. Three NYUAD students were recruited by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health to work in Covid-19 labs run by Pure Health as a part of the UAE’s frontline defenses against the virus.
Alongside Sion Hau, Class of 2021 and Anique Ahmad, Class of 2020, Ayham Adawi, Class of 2022, was one of the students who spent two months working in the Covid-19 testing facility. After responding to a Facebook post seeking student volunteers, Adawi was contacted by Dr. Ayaz Virji, Director of the Health Center at NYUAD, who in turn put him in touch with another member of the administration. A week later he was contacted by Pure Health, the leading testing company based in Abu Dhabi, after which he began a process that he describes as demanding, challenging at times, but ultimately extremely rewarding.
Although he felt terrified in the beginning, doing experiments without supervision and overwhelmed by the long hours filled with endless samples, Adawi soon found himself adjusting with the help of what he conveys as a very supportive community who helped alleviate the pressure of work through humor. Adawi also received support from the company which provided him transport to his home, offered him residence at a nearby hotel and enabled him to engage with each of the four sections of testing (accessioning, sample processing, extraction and PCR) before assigning him to the department of extraction.
Reflecting on his experience, Adawi notes that his work was kept interesting by the constant variation and unexpected changes. “There was always some kind of issue that all of us would start discussing and working on and that was the exciting part,” he shared. However, it is not only the remarkable efforts of the students that have anchored NYUAD’s role in the pandemic, but also the many initiatives that have been taken up by university’s administration and faculty.
The first among such endeavours was announced on March 10, when the university showcased the work of Alberto Gandolfi, Professor of Practice in Mathematics, who was collaborating with student volunteers around the world to collect data on the mortality rates of the disease. This was followed by an update on March 24 regarding the attempts of Timothy Dore, Associate Professor of Chemistry and his team to build broad-spectrum antivirals targeting SARS-CoV-2.
Less than two weeks later, on April 4, the research of Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Assistant Professor of Psychology, on assessing the mental impact of Covid-19 was publicized. In a statement to The National, Professor Bélanger stated that the goal of the study was to see how “people’s mindsets, attitudes, feelings, beliefs or intuitions – which translate into behaviour” were influenced by the pandemic; he received 61,608 respondents from 115 different countries to that end.
May 2020 saw the start of another major effort, as the university issued a statement that declared its coordination with Mubadala Healthcare, a UAE corporate giant responsible for Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, to produce a reusable variation of the N-95 masks. This collaboration between university faculty and specialists at the clinic resulted in a 3D printed prototype of a mask that possessed two unique traits: the capacity to utilize replacement filters and the capacity to be sterilized after use. Variations of said prototype are currently undergoing further trials in nonlive conditions at Cleveland Clinic with the aim of helping to perfect the design for use by medical professionals.
The latest announcement so far relating to NYUAD’s anti-Covid-19 efforts came in July 2020, when the university announced that it had provided 10 research grants designed to [“combat COVID-19 in the UAE and beyond”] ( As reported by NYUAD Public Affairs, Provost Fabio Piano expressed his confidence in the value of these research projects and felt that it was another way in which NYUAD has moved rapidly to deploy its considerable academic and research expertise in the fight against this pandemic. All these grants were awarded internally to professors already working with the university in the Departments of Science, Social Science and Engineering.
Toby Le is Deputy News Editor. Email him at
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