The past couple of days have been quite different from the first. Lots of lectures, lots of learning. Learning about what we're supposed to be learning, not about all the random strange things that we've thought about along the way. That's not to say that all of the the extra bonus conversations we've had haven't been worthwhile... We went to Masdar and we've learned about almost every alternative technology being developed today. I won't go into all the details, but the amount of research that is happening is incredible. And that's saying a lot, considering MIT is a pretty happening place.
Highlights from yesterday were seeing the technologies that we've been researching so extensively actually being implemented. We saw a 10 megawatt field of photovoltaic solar panels (5MW of thin-film and 5MW of crystalline cells) and the magnitude of such a proposition became clear. Row after row of sun-speckled panels lined the desert floor like engineered vegetation. The technology made the area flourish. As we studied the panels, we noticed a gadget moving slowly across the top of one row of panels, wiping the sand off the shiny surfaces. To our surprise, it was manually run by two workers, not the high-tech robot we expected. Next month they plan to have a competition to design a robotic alternative, but you can't argue against carbon neutrality.
At night, speaking to current students of Masdar, we heard what it was actually like to be a part of Masdar. They seemed excited to be apart of such an empowering movement, yet there was perhaps some apprehension about the university being so young. The program has a lot of room to grow, but as the students mentioned, they had the opportunity to give feedback and have their input considered in the development of the university.
Today we had a lot of lectures (someone even said it was worse than MIT!), but it was incredible to be so close to people doing all of the research we hear about everyday but feel so removed from. We even got to speak with the US embassador of the UAE. His knowledge of the relationship the US has with the UAE brought a more global perspective to our topic. This larger view was echoed in many of our lectures today, one of which focused on Mubadala. Mubadala, as their website says, "brings together and manages a multi-billion dollar portfolio of local, regional, and international investments." Basically, they are in charge of government money and fund projects in oil and gas exploration, alternative energies, health care, and a slew of other areas.
My first impression of them, I have to admit, was a little close-minded. I figured the only reason they would be investing so much money in the amazing technologies we saw was because they were at risk of losing everything. They managed to convince me that, though they are concerned with money, as it is a company, they also have the people's best interest in mind. What made the most sense to me was that there is incentive for them to invest, even if all of their money from oil wont run out in the near future. The benefits of having diversified investments, and energy from multiple sources, makes their funding worthwhile.
Another exciting moment for Lauren and I came when one of the professors mentioned something about the cementitious properties of the ash from his waste-to-energy process. A little background: For 1.016, Lauren, Marcela, and I are working on creating carbon neutral (or even carbon negative) bricks that could replace the the cinder blocks made with portland cement. Currently we are searching for waste products that could be cementitious. We might even get a chance to take a sample back home of the ash to test for cementitious properties! I don't know what customs will think of that...
Lastly, we went to the Marina Mall, your average shopping center. But I think it was a little more exciting for me than for everyone else. I had the chance of meeting a family friend (that I had previously never met) who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 10 years. Meeting her gave me such an interesting view on the life of a resident in the UAE, because my knowledge about the locals is very limited.