Spotlight On Mousa Abuhelaiqa

Spotlight On Mousa Abuhelaiqa

This month’s Spotlight On features Qatar Research Leadership Program Graduate (QRLP) and QNRF-fund recipient Mousa Abuhelaiqa, Ph.D.  Dr. Abuhelaiqa is a Qatari Materials Engineer with an expertise in energy science and data analytics. He graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL) and University College London (UCL) where he researched emerging solar materials.  Through the QRLP program, which is dedicated to producing homegrown scientists who are capable of steering the continuous development and sustainability of Qatar’s research agenda and adding to the nation’s pool of science and research talent, Dr. Abuhelaiqa focused on researching on perovskite solar cells, new types of solar cells with limited long-term stability. His critical research adds to the current body of knowledge on the emerging solar material and tackles the stability challenge by applying novel thin films within the solar cell architecture.

1. What inspired your interest in the scientific field of Energy and Environment? What motivated you to pursue a career in scientific research?

I was born and raised in Qatar, and so from a very young age, I realized how important natural gas is as an energy source and its link to societal development and prosperity. But I’m also from a generation that was taught early on to look forward, to be innovative, and to never settle with things the way they are. So, while I was interested in the oil & gas sector and how it had the ability to transform our society, I quickly became intrigued by the developments in the field of solar energy – an alternative energy source with the potential to replace finite natural resources and boasted limitless renewability and was better for our environment.

It was at an engineering seminar at Texas A&M University in Qatar as part of my undergraduate education where my passion was really ignited.  I presented a comparative analysis between traditional and developing types of photovoltaic systems with the aim of developing cheap, efficient, and novel photovoltaic concepts,  a challenge which is largely linked to materials science. At that moment, I set my ambition to fulfill my curiosity in material sciences to create safe and clean photovoltaic systems/devices that capture solar radiation and directly convert solar energy into electrical currents, thereby creating an alternative energy source.

2.   How have you seen this field develop in Qatar over the course of your career?

Years ago, we knew little about the solar cells that I now specialize in: perovskites solar cells, which come from a family of materials that have shown potential for high performance and low production costs in solar cells/solar energy technology. Today, perovskite solar cells had surpassed many mature solar technologies with an efficiency of 25.5% and are indeed relatively cheap to produce.

However, they significantly lag-behind in terms of stability: a problem which could be detrimental to their prospect of commercialization. My research explored three different and robust concepts based on composition and interface engineering to improve their stability, and to bridge the gap between research and market entry. This field has been, otherwise, a thriving domain of research with laboratories actively developing perovskite solar cells at both Qatar Environment & Energy Research Institute (QEERI; Hamad Bin Khalifa University) and Qatar University (QU).

3.   What QNRF-funded programs have you participated in? Can you discuss their contribution to your education and career?

Through the course of my research career, I was fortunate to receive the Qatar Research and Leadership Program (QRLP) scholarship from QNRF which had fully covered the expenses of my studies in pioneering institutions, such as my master’s and doctoral degrees from University College London (UCL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) respectively. The scholarship was a catalyst behind my research impact, including publications in the Energy and Environmental Science (top 1% of all scientific journals) and over 150 citations in under three years.

4.   What impact do you hope the work that you do has in Qatar? Around the world?

Looking into the future, I am positive that solar energy has great potential to be deployed in Qatar’s energy-mix, and I am hopeful that my research would make solar energy more accessible in one form or another. Furthermore, I hope that my story will inspire more young researchers and scientists to pursue research in challenging and interesting fields to promote further innovations and progress in Qatar and the region. 

5.   What’s next for you? Final thoughts? Any any advice for future researchers?

Pursuing higher education has been not only a scientific journey but it’s also a significant facilitator for my personal growth. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable these years have been to me. In the upcoming months, I look forward to putting my academic experiences to the test by joining QNRF as an administrative associate to assist in overseeing funding schemes and enhancing the research portfolio in Qatar. 

To future researchers, I advise you to choose a topic that aligns with your values. The process of doing research can be difficult, especially when progress is not linear. In those moments, you will find solace in the ability to look inwards and remember what led you down this path: why you’re doing this. My own desire to motivate people to use solar energy as a sustainable alternative to help save the earth has been my driving force – it keeps me pushing forward when things get stuck. So, find your driving force and call on it to push you forward during times of adversity.

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