How this university is building the GCC knowledge economy
When King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was founded in 2009, there were a lot of skeptics who questioned the wisdom of building a world-class university catering to subjects and research topics that did not exist in the kingdom before. Added to this was the fact that it was located in a rural area. Many people who subscribed to these thoughts did not believe in its mission and goal of providing a platform where intellectual resources from around the globe would gather to research and provide solutions to present and future scientific challenges. King Abdullah called it the House of Wisdom in reference to the Arab and Muslim scientists who more than 1,000 years ago combined literature, science and research for the development of science.
The founder of the university King Abdullah should be commended for acquiring the best brains transcending all borders and creeds to form a community of scientists and scholars. They conduct cutting-edge research and develop talented, international students and young researchers. The Core Lab and Major Facilities offer state-of-the-art research equipment to support faculty, students and international collaborators in their innovative research.
During a recent visit to the university, I was impressed by the commitment and dedication of Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau who left his post at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), one of the world’s most prestigious universities, and took up the challenge of leading KAUST and spearheading its many programs. Dr. Chameau outlined the major research centers and laboratories that offer an opportunity to utilize resources for the exploration of scientific data. Later during a tour around the university, I was overwhelmed by the state-of-the-art facilities that are interconnected with a 10Gb link and can be utilized for academic events and research meetings. Impressive and efficient audio/video research presentations and seminars are available throughout the facility.
There are several major research centers in KAUST. The Coastal and Marine Resources Core Lab Facility provides state-of-the-art facilities for culturing coral reef organisms scientific analyses, as well as facilities for the analysis of water chemistry. The primary focus of the Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) is developing a scientific basis for sustaining and conserving coral reef environments along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia.
The Center for Water Desalination and Reuse (CWDR) contributes research toward sustainable exploitation of impaired-quality drinking water sources with a minimization of energy use, chemical use, waste residuals and environmental impact. It focuses on addressing Saudi Arabia’s insufficient fresh water supplies and its heavy dependence on desalination. The Solar and Photovoltaics Engineering Research Center strives to have a direct impact not only on the science and engineering discoveries in the area of renewable energy, but also on preparing the future workforce in this field.
The KAUST Advanced Membranes and Porous Materials Center (AMPM) is focused on developing innovative graduate-level research programs in various multidisciplinary areas including nanotechnology, materials science, and chemical, biological and environmental engineering. The Geometric Modeling and Scientific Visualization Center (GMSV) is focused on developing novel applications with a high potential for the advancement of science and technology. The Computational Bioscience Research Center (CBRC) develops innovative knowledge discovery and data integration platforms for the biomedical field through graduate-level research in systems and integrative biology. In so doing, it will build human capacity for a knowledge-based economy through the training of future leaders in Computational Biology, by challenging them with novel solutions to difficult problems. The center leads the search within the Kingdom for bioactive molecules for use in agriculture, aquaculture, and medicine, as well as the biotechnology and bioprocess industries. The Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC)? seeks a knowledge-based understanding of combustion phenomena, develops innovative technologies for clean and efficient combustion and provides solutions for present and future energy and environmental challenges.
The university based on modern approaches to education has realized that a partnership with scientific institutions and the corporate world will help raise the level of scholastic and scientific education. The university has also succeeded in forming alliances and links with domestic and international research centers.
The idea of KAUST being an island of progress surrounded by a backward and laid-back environment would be very unhelpful to the country as a whole. In this context, the new president of the university Dr. Chameau recounted how the administration surveyed the area around the university and offered solutions to the inhabitants to upgrade their living standards. Many social and health programs were initiated. Modern schools were set up where not only students but parents were provided with quality education. Employment opportunities for women in the surrounding villages were also provided and many young girls who were once idle at home are now working in KAUST and leading a productive and dignified life. The economy of the area around the university has also been given an uplift.
Dr. Chameau also highlighted another impressive accomplishment at KAUST which is the International Baccalaureate School (TKS). The school makes quality resources and facilities available to its students and provides an international education for children from Pre-K through Grade 12. The multicultural atmosphere of students from China, Britain, the US, France and other parts of the world offers a unique education and an opportunity to build bridges of understanding among students of different nationalities.
Today five years later, the faculty and students of KAUST are certainly more determined than ever to realize King Abdullah’s vision and make it a beacon of knowledge and research that can contribute not only to the welfare of the country and the region but to the whole world. The university continues to focus on promoting research to find innovative solutions for more efficient, more economical, cleaner and sustainable energy sources and materials, and solutions to improve agricultural and industrial yield.
By Samar Fatamy
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