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Wojouh: Riad Halaby

One of the greatest assets of Greater Tripoli is its very own people. Whether in Tripoli or abroad, Greater Tripolitans have continued to excel and innovate. As a result, Tripolicy has decided to launch a series called Project Wojouh to shed light on some notable figures and rising stars.

Visualization of the Salt and Shades Project

Riad Halaby is an Architecture graduate from the Beirut Arab University. He was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon. Riad and his team recently took part in the Cool Abu Dhabi Competition and were selected to have their design project implemented in Abu Dhabi.

A feat that took much effort and innovation, Tripolicy's Raafat Yamak spoke with Riad Halaby on his latest achievements, and the potential for Tripolitan institutions to increase their funding for research and development.

Raafat Yamak: Thank you so much, Riad, for being here with Tripolicy today. Our team at Tripolicy would like to congratulate you on your latest achievement in Abu Dhabi. Many social media pages in Tripoli have praised your team and brought renewed interest in the potential of this city's younger generation. Can you briefly go over the initial aim of your research project?

Riad Halaby: First of all, thank you so much for having me. I'm an avid follower of Tripolicy and I appreciate the work you are doing. Secondly, social media has really given me too much credit. This was a team effort that required every member's 100%. It was only through this that the team I was a part of was able to achieve this milestone. Regarding our research, we enrolled in a competition organized by Abu Dhabi's municipality called Cool Abu Dhabi. The goal was to find ways of lowering the temperatures of public spaces. There were over 1,500 participants in this competition. As you know, the United Arab Emirates can get extremely hot especially during the summer,

RY: That's a huge number of participants! So, was your team the only team picked to have their research project implemented in Abu Dhabi?

RH: Nope. So out of all the projects presented, only 10 were chosen. We were one of those 10 and the plan is to attempt implementation in the near future.

RY: Awesome, it's always refreshing to see fresh ideas emerging from Tripoli. What does your team's project actually entail? How would you best describe it?

RH: With the help of Dr. Ali Sedki, Dr. Mustafa AlKhalifa, Dr. Neveen Hamza, who came up with the brilliant idea, and Dr. Mohammad Mahgoub, we were able to come up with an extremely creative idea known as "Salt and Shades". Basically, we would use waste salt from desalination as a source of dryness in order to reduce the effects of humidity. Constructing salt columns, they would act as a source of shade while maintaining Abu Dhabi's standards of aesthetics. Although it may seem simple, there are some heavy chemical processes involved, and we were blessed enough to have our proposal recognized by Abu Dhabi.

RY: It's an amazing accomplishment especially since Abu Dhabi is very picky about the projects that it may potentially take on. You're talking about a city with one of the highest GDP's in the world. I always find it commendable when solutions can be given to someone while utilizing something so readily available, like salt. Not to take away any of your thunder, I presented a research paper of my own in Abu Dhabi regarding the use of salt water to generate fracturing fluid instead of freshwater. I think it is a testament to the way Abu Dhabi has developed, through their recognition of research and development.

RH: Don't worry, I don't mind if you talk a little bit about yourself as well [ Laughs ]. I think it's great how you were able to use salt in your own research as well. It is a simple ingredient but with so many applications and associated obstacles as well!

RY: Was this your first competition, by the way?

RH: No, I've actually competed in many other competitions, including in Tripoli. We won first place in more than one competition in Lebanon but unfortunately none of our projects were implemented due to lack of funding and political instability. I've also participated in workshops, among them in Rome, Italy and Muscat, Oman.

RY: Awesome, that's really great to hear and unfortunate that we couldn't see some of your teams' designs at work in Lebanon. Moving on from the technical aspect of the Salt and Shades project, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts regarding research and development in Tripoli. How do you see it and is there room for improvement?

RH: There is definitely room for improvement. Frankly, the issue stems from our educational system. Our educational system focuses disproportionately on solely memorizing and regurgitating. Research is not given the importance it deserves like in other places in the world. To further emphasize the scope of the problem, it becomes difficult to even discuss this issue when the internet service is so weak and choppy. Funding is also another problem. Lebanon has been going through extremely tough financial events that have placed universities on cost-saving mode.

RY: Do you see any loop-holes or ways to overcome these very macro-level problems facing Lebanon and Tripoli in particular?

RH: There are some ways but it is difficult. One way is to stay active on social media and reach out to competitions happening outside of Lebanon. With COVID-19, everything is happening online making it easier for Lebanese passport holders to take part in these competitions without going through the hassle of getting a visa and physically being there.

RY: I guess there is a little silver lining coming out of this worldwide epidemic.

RH: [ Laughs ].

RY: Sorry, can't help it. That's the Lebanese coming out of me. You have to find the positives in everything.

RH: Couldn't agree more.

RY: Final question I wanted to ask you, and to end on a positive action item, if you had one suggestion towards improving research studies in Tripoli, what would it be?

RH: Well, that's a million-dollar question. I would say what we need is merely a space. And what I mean by a space is that it should be an area open to all Tripolitan researchers who can come and share their ideas, network, critique each other, and offer solutions to the city's widespread problems. Unfortunately, the networking circles here are not strong and this has been a major obstacle for Tripoli. One model we can learn from is Beirut Digital District (BDD). This is a district that attracts Beiruti researchers and innovators and the primary focus is to provide that necessary channel for networking. I don't see a reason why we can't have a Tripoli Digital District.

RY: With people like you, I'm certain that it can become a reality. I want to thank you for your time and effort. It has been an extremely informative and fun chat with you. We hope to hear more of your successes and wish you the very best.

RH: Thanks for having me and looking forward to hearing more great things about Tripolicy as well.

About the Author:

R. Mahmoud Yamak is a petroleum engineer currently residing in Houston, TX. He is a commentator on Arab and Middle Eastern affairs who has previously written for the Daily Sabah, The New Arab, Muftah Magazine, among others.

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