Zewail City at ESOF2012

Egyptian teenager shines at ESOF 2012 Dublin

A number of sessions were held at the European Science Open Forum (ESOF2012) on Thursday, 12 July 2012, at the Convention Centre in Dublin. One of the most interesting sessions was the Invention Convention, where creative young minds pitched their innovations in three minutes or less to a panel of distinguished judges.

At the Invention Convention, 15 participants competed for three titles. Ger Fitzgibbon, a chemist at Trinity Technology and Enterprise Centre in Dublin, won first prize for developing a patch that delivers insulin.

In addition, Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, a 17 year old Egyptian high school student from Alexandria, won second prize for developing a cheap technique that turns plastic waste into biofuel.

Science in the City Blog interviewed this incredible young woman, who says she has a deep passion for science projects that can offer solutions to some of her country's problems.

When did you first become passionate about science?

My passion started when I was 7 years old. My science teacher was the main reason, as he used to explain science in a very exciting manner that encouraged me to keep asking questions.

How did you become involved in science and research?

The first step was when I attended a number of summer science programs at the Planetarium Science Center at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Soon after, I heard about the Science and Engineering Fair, also organized by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. I participated in 2010 and then 2011 with the plastic waste recycling project.

The same project was then chosen to compete in the 23rd EU Contest for Young Scientists where I won a special prize donated by the European Fusion Development Agreement- Joint European Torus (EFDA-JET).

Who encouraged you to pursue your science projects?

My parents and my wonderful mentor Dr. Tarek Fahmy, a chemical engineer who was my supervisor during my first research project. Also, Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute Professor  Dr. Mamdouh al-Melawy, head of the petroleum refining department, where I conducted my experiments, as well as Dr. Ahmed al-Sabagh, head of the Institute, who offered me all of the institute's facilities and labs for the conduction of my research. I also received a great deal of support from the ResearchDevelopment and Innovation (RDIProgramme at the Ministry of Higher Education.

How did you hear about the Invention Convention and what did you do to win?

It was the experience of a life time to compete with the brightest European students and to have the distinct opportunity of showcasing my science project at such a great event. When I won the EFDA-JET prize, I found an open call for applicants to showcase their innovations at one of ESOF’s sessions, namely the Invention Convention. I pitched a three minute presentation and won second place among the top 15 finalists who were offered the opportunity to attend the conference.

Did you face any challenges while conducting your research?

There are common challenges due to the fact that our education system doesn't give us basic information related to chemistry, biology and physics until the second year of high school, therefore, I needed to read more in order to strengthen my background and this took much time.

Furthermore, in the town I live in, the facilities needed for certain research studies are not available, so I had to travel all the way to Cairo and put off school for a while.

For my current research I need to analyze a number of samples, however, I cannot do this at Alexandria University labs, so I have to contact certain companies or labs for this purpose and this takes a long time. Sometimes, it takes them up to two weeks to respond. This affects the rigid timeline I draw up for the research study.

Do you have any planned projects?

My plastic waste recycling project was mainly concerned with using a cheaper catalyst in the conversion process of plastic waste into hydrocarbon fuel. I'm currebtly working on another environmental project with my twin and team mate Hend Faiad concerning the enhancement of biogas production from food waste.

What kind of support do you expect to receive from Egypt’s scientific community?

Hend and I hope to receive technical and financial support from research institutions. This happened with the Institute of Graduate Studies and Research at Alexandria University. However, we need more support from the industry sector, especially during the experimentation phase. We also hope to eventually get the chance to join Zewail City of Science and Technology and study at its university.

What are your future plans?

My plan is to try to find a balance between my research studies with my school studies so I can achieve high grades and secure an opportunity to study environmental science or maybe chemical engineering at a place like Zewail University. I also hope to become involved in undergraduate studies since I'll be working on the implementation of my project on a wider scale, as I plan to make it the business I will run, God willing.