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AUS physics professor finds a rare technique

Sharjah, (UAE): A physics professor from American University of Sharjah (AUS) has developed a new laser-based technique that has great potential impact for providing new insights into laser-based diagnosis and treatment of diseases, in addition to manipulating the outcomes of the petroleum refining processes. Dr. Ali Sami Alnaser, Associate Professor in Physics, had his research published on May 8, 2014 in the prominent scientific journal Nature Communications. This is the first time original scientific research from the UAE has been featured in this journal.

The research, which was conducted by Dr. Alnaser in collaboration with scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, reports the development of a novel experimental technique that enables the steering and controlling of chemical bonds inside hydrocarbon molecules on an unprecedented time scale. They sculpted extremely short laser pulses to select which bond to break inside a certain molecule, and manipulated the outcomes of its interaction with the laser. With these tailored and intense pulses, they were able to capture and direct the trajectories of the electrons and atoms as they interact with the external laser radiation that tends to severely distort matter’s architecture and fragment it into smaller parts.

Dr. Alnaser said he plans to continue researching more complex targets that are relevant to medicine and energy and utilize the proper laser beams for that purpose. “Tracking in real-time and steering bonds in biological molecules, with these advanced powerful lasers, will provide deep insights into the origin of diseases at their most fundamental level and can help discover the most efficient ways of curing them. For example, the enormous intensity, and the proper frequencies of these lasers can be utilized in the early discovery and treatment of cancer. Furthermore, pulses from these ultrafast laser sources can be shaped to treat hydrocarbons molecules and synthesize new products that can be efficient and useful as far as energy and environment are concerned. The present study on hydrocarbons is relevant to the petroleum refining process. It has great potential in paving the way toward synthesizing new chemical substances with higher efficiencies, while at the same time reducing unwanted byproducts-such as turning waste into fuel- in addition to activating entirely new reaction pathways, for which no conventional methods exist”, said Dr. Alnaser.

“This is yet another example of the high quality or work done by our members of our faculty,” said Dr. Thomas Hochstettler, Acting Chancellor of AUS. “In line with the emirate of Sharjah’s emphasis on science and scientific research, AUS has actively encouraged research undertaken by its students as well as its faculty members. As an integral part of our university’s vision, active, ground-breaking research in a wide variety of academic fields has played a significant role since our very inception. This latest success achieved at the highest levels proves that the university’s efforts continue to bear fruit,” he added.

Experts in the field that were assigned by Nature Communications to review the article before accepting it for publication highly praised the work. “The paper by Alnaser et al. demonstrates the possibility to control the hydrogen atom loss from hydrocarbons. Coherent control of chemical reactions is one of the most fascinating applications of ultrashort light pulses with both fundamental and practical implications. The idea of steering chemical reactions with light has been dreamt since the invention of laser sources. Indeed this research field has a great potential impact. In this framework, the results reported in the manuscript are novel, timely and open new perspectives in the field,” commented one reviewer.

In 2011, Dr. Alnaser was named a Distinguished Arab Scholar by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development in Kuwait. He was awarded an AED 200,000 grant by the Kuwaiti development fund to travel to Germany in the pursuit of controlling the outcomes of chemical reactions using state-of-the art laser sources. In his research, he employed extremely short and powerful laser pulses to interrogate and manipulate the fate of the constituent elements inside molecules and nano-materials that are relevant to energy, environment and ultrafast electronics. In addition to the article in Nature Communications, Dr. Alnaser has had another three articles published in the high-impact Journals of the Institute of Physics in the UK this year.

“This cutting-edge research hinges on the availability of the necessary laser sources that need adequate funding to obtain and operate. Despite the vast applications of these laser sources, they unfortunately don’t exist in the Arab world,” said Dr. Alnaser. “The presence of such laser facilities in the UAE will undoubtedly bring new advancements in sciences and engineering, and it will lead to new applications in medicine and industry, in addition to its service to the environment research,” he added.

Dr. Alnaser said that with the rising interest of AUS and the UAE government in promoting scientific research to new frontiers, he hopes that those lasers will soon be within reach locally at AUS or in the UAE. Dr. Alnaser’s recent research has been also highlighted by many prestigious international news outlets including USA News, Science Daily, Phys. Org, Innovation Reports, among others.

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