Masdar Institute: seat of learning and living example of sustainability

When REEEP held a workshop on Linked Open Data alongside the 2012 World Future Energy Summit in January 2012, the event was hosted at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a new graduate level seat of learning designed to position Abu Dhabi as a knowledge hub and engine of sustainable socio-economic growth. The Institute is remarkable in many ways; not least for its campus, which forms the first prototype block for the Masdar City urban development. The over 300 students and faculty on site are actually the first residents of this much-anticipated community, heralded as a blueprint for the future of sustainable cities.

Wandering around the campus, several design principles are immediately apparent.  The environment is built specifically for pedestrians, with transport and services tucked one level below. This lower level contains the Personal Rapid Transit system, a group of driverless pods that whisk visitors and students the 600 metres from the parking facility at the edge of the site to the Institute itself.

Emerging on the pedestrian level, the campus buildings all draw strong stylistic references from traditional Arabic architecture, and are set close together to maximize shade and to funnel the breezes.  Windows are designed to capture natural light and reduce reliance on artificial lighting, while at the same time minimising the intense glare.  Other traditional elements include a wind tower which rises 45 metres above the podium to capture cool air and brings it down to ground level.  Its top is fitted with a light signalling the Institute’s energy consumption; red if consumption is too high, and blue when usage is below the norm.

Solar panels on the campus roofs add additional shading – and fully cover the Institute’s electricity needs.  Building materials were selected for their ability to keep out the heat, and the carbon footprint of each material is catalogued in a database that tracks its ecological footprint, including the emissions involved in its production.

The sum total is impressive: student residential quarters at Masdar Institute are designed to use 51 percent less energy and 54 % less water that the average UAE building.  On a hot day in 2010, a comparison of ambient temperatures at exactly the same time showed that a sheltered pedestrian street on the Masdar Institute campus actually felt 20 degrees Celsius cooler than a typical modern street in downtown Abu Dhabi.

But Masdar Institute is much more than simply an impressive campus: it is a graduate level research-driven university with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the flagship collaborator, with enviably high academic standards.  The Institute offers a selection of eight Master’s Degree Programmes: Engineering Systems and Management, Computing and Information Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Water and Environmental Engineering, Microsystems Engineering, Electrical Power Engineering, and Chemical Engineering.

Admission standards are strict. The first prerequisite is an undergraduate degree in a field similar to one of the graduate degrees on offer, with a grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4 point scale.  As instruction is in English, non-mother tongue students must have a TOEFL (IBT) score of 91 or better or 6.5 or above in IELTS, and all students must have a competitive GRE score with a minimum of 155 on the Quantitative section. The institute also puts particular emphasis on creating opportunities for talented UAE nationals with a Foundation Program that refreshes their knowledge and lays the groundwork for entry into one of the Master’s degree programs.

Once past the considerable admission hurdles; Masdar Institute students are granted a full scholarship that includes 100% tuition coverage, textbooks, a laptop, medical coverage, housing, and a monthly cost of living stipend.  They also benefit from the teaching talents of over 60 faculty members drawn from more than 20 countries, including graduates of Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and UCLA.  Though still a new academic institution, in its first year of operation alone, Masdar Institute professors and researchers published a total of 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

In both its physical premises and its high academic standards, Masdar Institute is clearly one of the world’s leading seats of learning for issues connected with climate change and energy security; the key drivers in the move towards sustainable lifestyles. Much more information on Masdar Institute programs and admissions can be found on the website:  http://www.masdar.ac.ae/

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