When Dr Ghada Dushaq was a child, nothing was safe from her prying mind and fingers. If there was a remote control on the coffee table, she would take it apart to figure out how it worked.
In second grade, her curiosity got on her teacher’s nerves.
“She complained to my mom that I was asking too many questions,” Ghada recalled. “‘Why does a banana have no seeds? If you say that our shadow is like a mirror, why don’t we see the exact color? … ‘I don’t know how to answer her.’”
Fortunately, her parents were educators who encouraged her exploration. Today, she continues her exploration as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Photonics Research Lab at NYU Abu Dhabi. Through her research, she is coming up with new and innovative materials for high-speed optical communications. Now, she is being recognized globally as a winner of the 2021 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Women Scientists in the Developing World. She will accept the award at the virtual 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting.
A child’s experiments shed light on how research is done
Ghada traces her interest in light and optics to her earliest experiments, when she was growing up in Ramallah, on the West Bank of Palestine. When she was 10, her parents got her a set of “magic rocks“ — clumps of metallic salt particles that grow into multicolored crystals when placed in a solution of sodium silicate and water. “I was amazed,” she said. “Like how do they enlarge and then come out in different colors?
“I did many experiments with them. I was separating them and putting them in different dishes to see what is the maximum size that these particles (can grow to) and what colors I could change, like if I mix the green with red. … And you shine light on them and you see a rainbow on the top – reflections of life inside this particle.”
She laughed. “It was something that might be nothing for others, but I think from that point, I started to see how research (is done),” she recalled. “It was just a child thinking of things, but it was (based on) principles of how we actually do research.”
Pursuing her passion in higher education
Inspired by her older sister, a math teacher, she went on to study physics and mathematics. The biggest challenge she encountered, however, was not in the classroom. As an undergraduate student at Birzeit University in Ramallah, her daily travels were directly affected by the Israeli occupation. Although she lived just 15 minutes from the university, she had to give herself at least three hours to travel there because of all the checkpoints. “We had a very unstable situation,” she recalled. “So for example, to go to a lecture which starts at 8 am, I was standing in the street waiting for the bus at 5 am.”
She went on to earn a PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering (microsystems engineering) from Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates in collaboration with MIT Abu Dhabi.
Her thesis, published in Elsevier’s journal Thin Solid Films, would set the stage for the research she continues to pursue: Low Temperature Growth of Germanium on Silicon using Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition.
A field in need of solutions
While graphene is currently the standard material of nanoelectronics and photonics, the ever-increasing demand for high-speed communications has scientists seeking new materials and processes to boost performance. Ghada is working on developing germanium-based 2D materials that can work faster and more efficiently. Recently, she explained her research as a Falling Walls Emerging Talents finalist:
Optical communication systems consist of three major parts: transmitter, optical fiber and receiver. Let’s say you want to send a message. This message will be transmitted from the transmitter through the optical fiber to the receiver, where most of my research is. I focus on very special components called photodetectors in the receiver part.
Photodetectors, as the name suggests, are ultrasensitive to light, and we are taking the optical signal back to the electrical domain, which is the language that our devices can understand. Typically these photodetectors are made of materials such as germanium, indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) and III-V compounds. However these materials cannot accommodate for the high, ever-increasing demand of high speed communication. They are always suffering from a tradeoff between ultrasensitivity and high speed. Therefore my solution focuses on innovative and new emerging materials that can boost the current performance of optical devices.
“I’m breaking the wall of high-speed optical communication”
Dr Ghada Dushaq was a Emerging Talents finalist in the Falling Walls and Berlin Science Week World Science Summit. In this global science communication challenge, early-career researchers have just 3 minutes to explain their breakthrough work in a way the public will understand. Watch her video.
This is a new field, Ghada explained, and it could take more than a decade to develop a marketable solution. “There are many questions we have to answer regarding the chemical stability, reproducibility and the integration process,” she explained. “So it’s a longterm project which actually needs a lot of research to be in the production line.”
“This is going to be something amazing.”
Ghada’s Photonic Research Group, which was established in 2018, has eight members in various disciplines. Because NYU has campuses around the world, Ghada and her team members already collaborate with researchers in different countries. But she believes this award will open even more doors for collaboration and expand her global network.
“As a young researcher, I think this will create a lot of visibility,” she said.
Beyond that, the recognition is its own reward:
Somebody is recognizing and rewarding you for your work, so that’s actually great motivation. You will go into the lab with a different psychology that you are actually recognized – your work really matters. Of course, you have to have perseverance, persistence … and you will have ups and downs. But if somebody is telling you that your job is great, this is going to be something amazing.
About the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award
Since 2012, the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World have recognized the achievements of researchers who have made significant contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge. The program represents a longstanding partnership between the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) (OWSD) and the Elsevier Foundation.
Each year, five winners are selected from the following regions: Latin America and the Caribbean; East and South-East Asia and the Pacific; Central and South Asia; the Arab region; Sub-Saharan Africa. Prizes are awarded annually on a rotating basis among the disciplines of Biological Sciences, Engineering Sciences and Physical Sciences.
Each winner is sponsored to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where they present their research at a special networking ceremony. There, they have the opportunity to attend workshops, meet experts in their field and visit local laboratories and institutions, establishing contacts and collaboration networks with colleagues from around the world.
With the 2021 winners, the program has awarded 45 scientists from 20 countries. Read their stories.
View selections of her research
Ghada has published 4 articles with Elsevier:
- An optimization technique for performance improvement of gap-changeable MEMS accelerometers, Mechatronics (October 2018)
- Low temperature deposition of germanium on silicon using Radio Frequency Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition, Thin Solid Films (August 2017)
- Tuning the optical properties of RF-PECVD grown μc-Si:H thin films using different hydrogen flow rate, Superlattices and Microstructures (July 2017)
- Distribution and coverage of 40nm gold nano-particles on aluminum and hafnium oxide using electrophoretic method and fabricated MOS structures, Materials Research Bulletin (November 2016)
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