How Omar Yaghi’s scientific work can make a difference to arid Middle East environments

Special How Omar Yaghi’s scientific work can make a difference to arid Middle East environments
Internationally renowned chemist Omar Yaghi. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 November 2021

How Omar Yaghi’s scientific work can make a difference to arid Middle East environments

How Omar Yaghi’s scientific work can make a difference to arid Middle East environments
  • Arab American chemist has been granted Saudi citizenship in recognition of his pioneering work
  • One of Yaghi’s goals is to develop systems to extract water from arid environments in the Middle East

CHICAGO: Omar Yaghi is internationally known for discovering and pioneering the development of metal organic frameworks (MOFs).

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, he elaborated on his primary field of research and its relevance to an arid region like the Middle East.

“MOFs are made from molecules. Everything in nature is made from molecules,” Yaghi said. “What we have been able to do and discover is to stitch these molecules together by strong bonds to make materials, or frameworks.
“These frameworks are open or porous and therefore allow you to modify them in such a way as to extract water from air to make clean water, drinking water or capture carbon dioxide from air to clean the air, among many, many other applications.

“Reticular chemistry is really the chemistry — which we have been developing over the last 25 years — that allows you to stitch these molecules together.”

One of Yaghi’s goals is to develop systems to extract water from arid environments in the Middle East and make water easily available to everyone.

He said that he and his team discovered ways of advanced water harvesting “in a significant way” six years ago, adding that it is “quite impactful.”

Water harvested from the air, especially in arid environments and regions dominated by deserts, is an “untapped resource,” he said.

“There are three stresses facing our planet today: Clean water, clean air and clean energy. That is where MOFs and COFs are being used and are being actively developed,” Yaghi said, referring to covalent organic frameworks — 2D versions of MOFs.

“We are at the forefront of solving these three very important problems. I would say that in terms of societal applications, these materials are now being used to extract water from air and to deliver clean water, especially from desert air. It is very difficult to extract water from air, but indeed we can do that.”

The goal is to achieve individual use of water extraction and the use of harvested water for farming and larger projects, he said.

“We have, in my own research group, made devices made for the table top or kitchen top that are no larger than the typical microwave oven. They sit there independently of the electric grid and can harvest water from the air and produce drinking water,” Yaghi added.

“Depending on how much water you want to have, you can also electrify these devices, so that your delivery of water is higher, giving independence in water use, so that as an individual, you can generate your own water and use it independently of the grid. Not only independence — you can personalize it. You can make it the way you like it, with the flavor that you like.”

Yaghi said that advances in cellular technology have shown how ideas can go from the complex and burdensome to the simple and easily accessible very quickly

“I can see a future where, just like we have moved from the phone to the wireless phone with great impacts on our lives, we can move from the grid of water to a more mobile grid and therefore change where we work and where our livelihoods are,” Yaghi said.

He noted that the extraction of water from air is a process that humans have used for centuries, but that previously, it was limited to very humid air.

“What we can do is design materials that can extract water from arid air, where it is most needed. That is not so easy to do, but with the MOFs, we can actually do that,” Yaghi said.

“And a material that works in the arid desert region will work in humid regions as well, and in fact, will work even better. So, I have been saying that these materials — in the way that we are designing them — can extract water from air anywhere in the world, anytime of the year, regardless of weather and humidity patterns. I think it is an exciting discovery.”

Yaghi said that growing up in the Middle East made him sensitive to the need for water and the challenges of securing water supplies in arid regions.

“The facts are that when I was growing up, yes, we did experience water stress. In fact, water came from the municipality from where we lived once every two weeks,” Yaghi said of growing up in Jordan.

“So a kid like me had to get up at dawn when they let the water out so that I could fill up the reservoir the top of the house. And whatever you can fill is whatever you would use for the next two weeks. If you did not fill the reservoir all the way up to the top, you did not have water at the end of this period. So yes, I experienced water stress firsthand.”

Citing his life story as an example, Yaghi told Arab News that he believes parents should allow their children the freedom to pursue their own interests instead of pressuring them into certain careers — a common experience in Middle East families.


Saudi women participating in Makkah’s General Cars Syndicate for the first time

Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
Updated 04 July 2022

Saudi women participating in Makkah’s General Cars Syndicate for the first time

Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
  • ‘Our leadership has made it possible for women to work, especially in all government sectors’

MAKKAH: Women will be part of the General Cars Syndicate in Makkah for the first time since it was set up nine decades ago.

The syndicate is an executive body that arranges and organizes pilgrim transportation through affiliated companies.

I am grateful that women now have more professional opportunities to participate and serve during Hajj.

Binan Basnan, Customer service specialist - General Syndicate of Cars

Khadijah Fida, a journalist and content creator at the syndicate, said: “A lot of women have been assisting with work for Hajj in the Kingdom for decades. I saw my father’s work in this sector, along with my brother and husband, and today I have also participated in it. Our leadership has made it possible for women to work, especially in all government sectors, and play an active role in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

(From L to R) Binan Basnan, Mervat Habhab & Khadijah Fida. (Supplied)

“Today, I represent the General Cars Syndicate in the media, public relations, creating quality material, and monitoring the successes of the transport information center during Hajj. I am proud and honored to be a woman from Makkah who works in the syndicate that greatly and actively contributes to the success of Hajj and the safe transport of pilgrims.

The syndicate is always working on creating and establishing an institutional framework for this association that has made a dramatic difference in transport in Makkah.

Khadija Fida, Journalist and content creator - General Syndicate of Cars

“We experience Makkah’s Hajj and Umrah seasons, and the syndicate is always working on creating and establishing an institutional framework for this association that has made a dramatic difference in transport in Makkah to bring comfort to pilgrims who (earlier) struggled on dirt roads to reach Makkah.”

Mervat Habhab, a customer service specialist at the syndicate’s information center, said that women’s roles had become more noticeable and significant.

“It is my mission to interact and address the situation of every beneficiary, based on their needs, and transport them to the relevant departments for a quick response and intervention. It is an honorable and wonderful mission to contribute to the service of pilgrims when those services were limited to men. In this prosperous era and these blessed days, I have the opportunity to play an important and active part as a woman from Makkah who loves God and her homeland.”

Habhab added that government support motivated them to improve their work performance every year.

Binan Basnan, another customer service specialist at the syndicate, said: “I am proud and honored to work in a great institution such as the General Cars Syndicate that serves pilgrims on their Hajj journey through receiving their inquiries and complaints. I am grateful that women now have more professional opportunities to participate and serve during Hajj. I hope to be rewarded (by God) and thank our government, which gave us these great opportunities.”


Madinah exhibit enriches the visitor experience

There is audio translation, enabling visitors to access the exhibition’s content through dedicated devices. (SPA)
There is audio translation, enabling visitors to access the exhibition’s content through dedicated devices. (SPA)
Updated 04 July 2022

Madinah exhibit enriches the visitor experience

There is audio translation, enabling visitors to access the exhibition’s content through dedicated devices. (SPA)
  • The exhibition presents content in several languages through wall panels and interactive screens

MADINAH: The Exhibition of the Prophet’s Holy Mosque Architecture is considered a historical legacy, as it contains valuable possessions and rare artifacts that enrich the visitor experience.

It is south of the Prophet’s Mosque, over an area of 2,200 square meters, and reviews the history of the building’s architecture since its first construction by Prophet Muhammad and his companions until the expansions of the first, second, and third Saudi states.

These expansions span more than 1,400 years and are witness to the beauty and elaboration of Islamic architecture, its designs, and ornamentations.

In collaboration with the Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah Research and Studies Center, the General Presidency for the Affairs of Two Holy Mosques is highlighting the architectural dimensions of the Prophet’s Mosque, shedding light on its specialty, status, and architecture, elevating the level of cultural awareness in Islamic civilization, and enriching the visitor experience at an artistic and cultural level through a detailed and comprehensive presentation.

The presidency has also worked on introducing visitors to the features of the Prophet’s Mosque, such as the pulpit, mihrab, domes, canopies, doors, adhan, muezzins, minarets, squares, and the services offered to people.

The exhibition presents content in several languages through wall panels and interactive screens. All exhibition output is in Arabic and English, while the content has been translated into 12 languages.

There is also audio translation, enabling visitors to access the exhibition’s content through dedicated devices. Visiting time is divided into two daily periods from 7 a.m. until midday and from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m.

The exhibition features modern technology, interactive screens talking about architecture, information related to the Prophet’s Mosque, films, and cinema halls.

It also has special halls for valuable objects, including rare and precious items belonging to the Two Holy Mosques and ancient artifacts preserved through the ages.

The experience time in the exhibition is around 40 minutes, with 30 visitors per tour.


11 Robots sanitize Grand Mosque in Makkah

Robots sanitize Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)
Robots sanitize Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)
Updated 04 July 2022

11 Robots sanitize Grand Mosque in Makkah

Robots sanitize Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)
  • Each robot works from five to eight hours without any human intervention

MAKKAH: Eleven robots have been sent inside the Grand Mosque of Makkah to sanitize the holy site as part of the pandemic control measures of the Services, Field Affairs and Environmental Protection Agency at the General President for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.

The robots will automatically sanitize all areas of the mosque and analyze sanitization requirements to protect pilgrims and worshippers from bacterial threats.

With programming of the layout of the mosque loaded into their systems, the robots will clean the mosque according to attendance.

The robots use simultaneous localization and mapping technology, which features a high-performance atomization unit and a battery charging feature.

Each robot works from five to eight hours without any human intervention. The device can carry up to 23.8 liters of sanitizer, consuming 2 liters per hour, to eliminate bacteria in an area of ​​600 sq m on each round. The robots can move for 3 km without any support from humans.

The robots feature a front detection system to avoid running into obstacles for up to 10 meters. The device carries a camera that contains a high-quality radar for mapping.

The smart robot device has obtained international certificates, including the European CE Quality Accreditation Certificate.


New lake park in Historic Jeddah highlights cultural destination

The project is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals of cultivating environmental projects. (Supplied)
The project is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals of cultivating environmental projects. (Supplied)
Updated 04 July 2022

New lake park in Historic Jeddah highlights cultural destination

The project is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals of cultivating environmental projects. (Supplied)
  • Jeddah’s historical district was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014, presenting a vivid recreation of life in the past

JEDDAH: The Jeddah historic district program has launched a new lake park — “Lake Al-Arbaeen” — launched in the historical district of Jeddah as an exclusive cultural destination.

The project is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals of cultivating environmental projects and improving the quality of life within the city’s historical area.

Several artistic sculptures from throughout the world are placed within the park. Visitors can stroll through historical architecture, natural scenes, cultural events, sports tracks, local restaurants and souqs that highlight the city’s heritage.

Jeddah’s historical district was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014, presenting a vivid recreation of life in the past.

Founded in the 7th century C.E., Al-Balad once served as a center of trade and commerce for Jeddah. But most of the ancient walls that surrounded the town, and the souq within it, became weathered and were eventually torn down as centuries passed.

As wealth from oil began to flow into the Saudi economy and the country began a march toward modernity, many people moved out of the cramped spaces of Al-Balad, leaving its more palatial homes and buildings to slow dilapidation.

There are more than 450 buildings within the historical walls of the city, 56 of which are in urgent need of repair.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pledged SR50 million ($13.33 million) to support the restoration of these buildings as they represent a major part of the Kingdom’s ancient heritage and are a significant tourist site.


Guests of God Service Program seeks to enhance pilgrims’ Hajj experience

Saudi Arabia has launched an app called Smart Pilgrim for convenient ways of making Umrah ritual bookings. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia has launched an app called Smart Pilgrim for convenient ways of making Umrah ritual bookings. (SPA)
Updated 03 July 2022

Guests of God Service Program seeks to enhance pilgrims’ Hajj experience

Saudi Arabia has launched an app called Smart Pilgrim for convenient ways of making Umrah ritual bookings. (SPA)
  • The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has integrated smart systems to promote the safe travel of pilgrims during their stay in the holy cities to ensure they perform their religious rituals easily and safely

RIYADH: The Guests of God Service Program, which was inaugurated by King Salman in 2019, is one of Saudi Arabia’s key reform plans as part of its Vision 2030.

It seeks to host large numbers of pilgrims, facilitate their access to the Two Holy Mosques, ensure they have access to high-quality services through the most advanced technology, and enhance their cultural and spiritual experience.

It also seeks to ensure that pilgrims safely return to their countries of origin after completing all their rituals.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has integrated smart systems to promote the safe travel of pilgrims during their stay in the holy cities to ensure they perform their religious rituals easily and safely.

The first phase of smart systems went live in 2019 to assist pilgrims in their movement and safety.

Since then, the ministry has collaborated on digital transformation with technology firms and strategic partners to promote the application of smart solutions and facilitate the smooth implementation of all services.

It has also adopted an e-bracelet program for the safety of all pilgrims, which stores vital data and gives them support.

Ministry under-secretary Mohammed Al-Bijawi said: “We have performance indicators that show our complete readiness to provide an outstanding experience for pilgrims.”

The Kingdom has also launched an app called Smart Pilgrim for convenient ways of making Umrah ritual bookings, even by overseas pilgrims.

“We were keen to use technology in the Hajj and to use the smart card to contribute to the movement of pilgrims and the speed of access to their sites, and it will be applied in this year's Hajj,” said Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah.