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Clarkson University Grad Helps Build City of the Future

[A photograph for media use is available at ]

Like an island in a sea of oil, a new kind of city is rising out of the Arabian Desert and a Clarkson University Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering alumnus is one of the key players in making it happen.

Sameer Abu-Zaid is in charge of power and distribution for Masdar, a revolutionary type of city under construction in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Masdar, Abu-Zaid said, means "source" in Arabic. Masdar is designed to be "the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city which will be totally powered by renewable energy."Masdar

A longtime leader in oil production, Abu Dhabi is working to change its impact on the world. "Abu Dhabi has been a leader in fossil fuel for the past few decades" and is now striving toward "a leadership position in the renewable energy sector," Abu-Zaid said.

Goodarz Ahmadi was a professor at Clarkson when Abu-Zaid was a mechanical engineering doctoral candidate. Ahmadi, who is now Clarkson’s dean of engineering, said he remembers him as being "bright" and "hard-working."

Ahmadi and Abu-Zaid have stayed in touch over the years. "He was a great student. I was really impressed with his work," Ahmadi said.

Abu-Zaid received his master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Clarkson in 1987 and his Ph.D. in the same major in 1991.

He remembers his time at Clarkson, too. "Although my research at Clarkson was not directly related to my current job, my education at Clarkson gave me the foundations and the ability to research and apply new ideas," he said.

Abu-Zaid said he has always been fascinated by renewable energy. After working as an engineer in New York City, Oklahoma and Silicon Valley, Abu-Zaid saw that things were beginning to change. "I saw the global revival of interest in renewable energy, and decided to take courses and workshops in solar photovoltaic," he said.

When Masdar was founded in 2006, Abu-Zaid submitted his resume, was granted an interview and was offered a job. He started as project manager and was promoted to manager of the department of power and distribution.

Abu-Zaid said he enjoys his work. "Even though working at Masdar is very demanding, it is enjoyable because of the exposure to new innovative ideas on a daily basis."

Masdar, he said, promotes renewable energy by investing worldwide in companies that specialize in renewable energy. The city is heavily involved in research and development of innovative technologies and constructs its own renewable energy projects. Masdar also established the region’s first graduate level institute, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which focuses on renewable energy and sustainability.

Abu-Zaid said Masdar is paving the way for similar projects in the future. "We are also setting the standards for future sustainable cities and we will be able to apply the lessons learned from Masdar City in cities that will be following the Masdar City model."

He said Masdar allows scientists and engineers to test their theories in real life. "Masdar City is a living laboratory for all the generous ideas that spring around the world."

Building the world’s first sustainable city, he said, is not easy. "The biggest challenge is the fact that no such city of this size has been built before, hence, finding construction materials, methods, and standards to meet our sustainability goals is a challenge."

Abu-Zaid said he plans to stick with that challenge and see it through to the end. "I hope to continue with Masdar and see the completion of the city," he said.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Exterior rendering of Masdar headquarters. Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are the design architects of the project. (Photo credit: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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