Three Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar) faculty won awards in the Arts and Humanities and Health and Biomedical categories at the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference (ARC’ 13) 2013, which was held on 24 and 25 November 2013.

ARC’ 13 received over 1,000 research applications this year, of which 500 were short-listed for presentation at the conference under the four categories – Energy and Environment, IT and Computing, Health and Biomedical, and Arts and Humanities, with three winners in each category.

Dr Khaled Saoud and Rola Al Soubaih, faculty from VCUQatar’s Liberal Arts and Sciences department and their collaborators Nasr bin Salah (Qatar University) and Mohamad Al Fandi (Jordan University of Science and Technology) won the third place in the Health and Biomedical category for their project entitled, ‘Prevention of Hospital Infections Using Visible Light Ag/ZnO Nanoparticle Photocatalyst.’

Dr Mohamed Cherif Amor, chair of the Interior Design department at VCUQatar  and his two collaborators Dr Pati Debajyoti and Dr Michael Oboyle from Texas Tech University won the third place in the Arts and Humanities category for their project entitled, ‘Architecture, Interior Design and Neuro-imaging: An Evidence Based Approach’.

Dr Amor said:

The data that was desperately needed to reinforce not only the scientific dimensions of the design and allied disciplines, but also to add to the growing body of knowledge in evidence-based design…I arrived at VCUQatar at a juncture when the state of Qatar is enjoying a period of unparalleled prosperity, with exceptional and effervescent research progress well-illustrated at different spheres of life, and particularly well-evidenced in the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference. I am so delighted to have the chance to be part of the present scientific innovative movement.’

The purpose of Dr Amor and his team’s funded research is to explore and compare the behavioural and neural responses of adults, when exposed to four classes of images a) positive images, b) negative images, c) neutral images, and d) illuminated luminous ceiling images) using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology. The brain neural mapping as generated by the fMRI constitutes unparalleled solid scientific biological data.

Hospital infection due surface contamination is caused by microorganisms (i.e. bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that grow and transmit infectious diseases when they come into contact with human bodies. Recent studies show that surface contamination accounts for 100,000 deaths in the United States alone. Antibacterial coatings are used to prevent microorganism growth and in the sterilization processes. Typically, semiconductor photocatalysts such as Titanium Dioxide TiO2 are used as antibacterial coatings to prevent hospital infections. These materials have the ability to interact with light through oxidation process to release radicals that destroy bacteria and viruses.

However, these materials have limitations due to their wide energy band gap and they only allow absorption in the UV region of the solar spectrum. Nano materials offer cost-effective solutions for many environmental problems such as waste water treatment, pollution, and anti-bacterial treatment. Dr Saoud’s team’s research focuses on the synthesis of Ag/ZnO (1% silver on 99% Zinc oxide) Nanoparticle heterogeneous Photocatalyst for anti-microbial treatment in hospitals. Antibacterial properties of the Ag/ZnO nanoparticles were investigated by inhibition testing against Escherichia coli (E. coli).

The Ag/ZnO system was tested in the presence of visible light and in the dark. Their results indicate that Ag/ZnO nanoparticles exhibit antibacterial activity even in the dark. These materials can be coated on beds, sheets, walls, and medical devices. Dr Saoud said:

We have found a new weapon based on nanotechnology to fight bacteria and prevent hospital infections. We used silver combined with a cost-effective material which interacts with normal light to kill the bacteria and viruses that caused hospital infections thereby offering 100% protection over 24 hours a day for periods as long as two years. This solution is cost-effective and reduces the use of hazardous chemicals and can also be used to clean water and reduce pollution.’

Contrary to the classical subjective design orientations, emerging neuroscience research shows that environmental-related activities such as way finding, perception, cognitive mapping and their behavioral consequences — anxiety, stress, happiness, arousal—are both reflected in our brains—neural structures and electro-chemical processes (Zeisel, 2006; Eberhard, 2007; Swanson, 2011; Mallgrave, 2011). These findings proffer solid physiological data (hard science) that pave the way for further research that will decipher the correlation between the design/architecture and the brain/neural activity.