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Secondary School Success: IAEA and UAE Permanent Mission Recognize the Winners of UAE’s National ‘Nuclear Science for Development’ Student Competition

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Lorenzo Copia, Isotope Analyst, demonstrates how some naturally occurring radioactive isotopes present in water—such as tritium, carbon-14 and noble gas radioisotopes—are used to estimate groundwater age. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

Six students from the United Arab Emirates had a chance to look behind the scenes at the IAEA  when they visited Agency’s Headquarters and the Seibersdorf laboratories as winners of the UAE’s national ‘Nuclear Science for Development’ student competition. During their visit, from 27 to 29 November, the students met Agency staff and experts, as well as counterparts from the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates.

The six competitors, students of the Al-Heera and the Al-Hudaibah Secondary Schools, were declared the winners of the national competition at an October 2019 event held at Khalifa University. The competition was organized by the UAE Permanent Mission to the IAEA, under the umbrella of an ongoing technical cooperation project[1] designed to expand and sustain interest in the nuclear field among secondary school students

First launched  in 2018, the UAE’s National Student Competition targets secondary school students between the ages of 13 and 17, aiming to inspire them to explore how nuclear science can support sustainable development. Students are invited to develop a project which showcases how nuclear applications might address the Sustainable Development Goals. This year's competition focused on the following Goals: Zero Hunger, Climate Action and Life on Land.

“The UAE Permanent Mission is proud to have launched this dynamic project, which already has had a proven impact nationwide, and in the region,” said Ambassador Hamad Al-Kaabi, UAE Permanent Representative at the IAEA. “In two years, with the support of the Ministry of Education, and national partners, we reached a thousand students, from all over the Emirates, mostly girls. We raised awareness of the IAEA’s work and its contribution to the SDGs.”

Takuya Matsumoto, who also works in the IAEA’s Isotope Hydrology Laboratory, describes how the IAEA supports Member State efforts to better understand the age, origin and composition of their ground and surface waters. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

This year’s competition attracted entries from around 100 teams, representing more than 400 students in total from schools all over the Emirates. The proposals were reviewed evaluated for their technical accuracy and scientific rigour by a high-level expert panel, comprising experts and representatives from the UAE Ministry of Education, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and the IAEA.

The panel experts selected ten finalist teams, who presented their project designs at an event hosted by Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. Following a careful assessment of each project, two winning teams were recognized for their creativity and inventiveness in the area of nuclear applications: The ‘Hydro Vibes’ team, which sought to leverage the hydrogen produced by nuclear power plants to fuel hydrogen-powered cars; and the ‘Insect Sterilization’ team, whose project aimed to use gamma rays to sterilize and control red palm weevils, which regularly infest palm trees and devastate their fruit.

“Our country’s palm trees faced a serious problem, namely the red palm weevil, and we were determined to find a solution,” explained Jumana Seddiq, a member of the Insect Sterilization team. “The insect sterilization technique is environmentally-friend and has no side-effects on the fruit themselves. So we can target these pests, which are excavating palm trees from the inside-out, without affecting the coconuts.”

The winners of the national student competition join the IAEA experts who helped to assess and evaluate all of the project proposals. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

Jane Gerardo-Abaya, Director of the Technical Cooperation Division for Asia and the Pacific, met the students to acknowledge their efforts. “We are so proud of this initiative, and of you, the winners, for your dedication to this initiative to spread nuclear science,” she said. “Your projects showcase your knowledge and creativity, and we hope you take this opportunity to meet with IAEA experts and scientists as inspiration for your futures.”

Following the announcement of the winners at Khalifa University, the winning teams were invited to Vienna to visit the IAEA. They explored the IAEA’s Isotope Hydrology Laboratory in Vienna, and the eight nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf. These tours of the Agency’s laboratory facilities gave the six visiting students a close-up, and in some cases hands-on, experience with the nuclear applications and techniques which they had studied in their classrooms.

[1] RAS0079, ‘Educating Secondary Students and Science Teachers on Nuclear Science and Technology’

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