Conference highlights University’s research and collaborations


KAUST and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) jointly organized the third KAUST-NSF Research Conference on Electronic Materials, Devices and Systems for a Sustainable Future held on the University’s campus on March 14 to 16.

The event was sponsored by the KAUST Office of Sponsored Research (OSR), the NSF, the KAUST Industry Collaboration Program (KICP) and the University’s Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering (CEMSE) Division.

The conference assembled global leading subject matter experts to share their views and research and build a collaborative network with KAUST faculty, the University’s research community and industry partners.

Featuring three days of interactive talks, presentations, networking sessions and a poster presentation session, this year’s event also included a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) session to promote the greater participation of women in the electronics field and a Nex-gen in Science and Engineering (NISE) session with selected conference speakers and students from The KAUST School (TKS).

Diverse speakers enlighten audience

Twenty-one key speakers, including three KAUST alumni succeeding in careers in academia and industry; researchers from top-tier international and Saudi universities, including Northwestern University, Stanford University, UCLA, MIT, King Abdulaziz University (KAU) and King Saud University (KSU); speakers from industry, including from the Boeing Company, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) and IBM; and young “Bright Minds” scholars from world-leading universities gave presentations at the conference.

“We assembled the world’s leading researchers and creative young scholars from academia and industry to exchange ideas and foster a collaborative framework for fundamental and applied research in this area,” said Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, KAUST associate professor of electrical engineering and conference organizer. “As this is the third conference co-organized with NSF, we have now established a proven track record with them—this is what NSF sees, and this partnership will continue.

“This year we had 217 in-person participants and 43 people participating via the internet. The great turnout makes this year’s conference one of the best, and I felt it was full of enthusiasm,” he continued.

“Every year we try to come out with new ideas for the event—we take pride in being tech-savvy at KAUST, so we initiated a lot of web-based participation. We were also excited to have our TKS students work with four of our ‘Bright Minds’ scholars. This was a fantastic session and was an amazing opportunity for the students to get to know more about the field of electronics first-hand.

"Comments like ‘these talks gave me inspiration and motivation to do well in school’ and ‘each of the talks shared something valuable for young generations to learn more about sustainability associated with advanced technology—the speakers were such huge inspirations’ were really standouts from the TKS students who attended the event.”

2016 KAUST NSF Conference

Bringing tomorrow to today

Hussain also spoke on his own research from the KAUST Integrated Nanotechnology Lab, where he and his team work on making physical electronics interactive, or “live” and free-form: flexible, stretchable and reconfigurable in their physical form.

“I believe information for anyone, anywhere at any time is the key for the future,” Hussain said. “We need live, low-cost and democratized electronics—these requirements will shape our engineering-focused research.”

Hussain advised electronics students to “go and do things with [their] ideas. If you have an idea, bring it on!” he said. “This is the future of democratized electronics—what we are researching now will bring tomorrow to today.”

Learning from failures—creating breakthroughs

U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) member and Stanford University Professor Thomas Kailath discussed major electronics breakthroughs with the KAUST audience, noting that these breakthroughs were made by “geniuses who are revolutionary in electrical engineering. Most of the rest of us must be content with much less, but breakthroughs happen as time goes on.”

He advised students not to get discouraged in their research and to “keep plugging away—remember you learn as you go,” he said. “There is power in groups—groups help you learn, and you learn more from each other than you learn from your professors. Go to seminars and conferences—you will learn more. Be alert to opportunities and seize them. Don’t give up too soon and learn from your failures.”

Increasing collaborations in the field

Conference speaker Professor Khalid Alsaif from KSU and the Saudi Taqnia Robotics Company noted he was pleased to see the excellent research going on at KAUST.

“We want to strengthen our relationship and create collaborations with KAUST, and we want to hire good students in this field,” he said. “We expect to see KAUST improve the knowledge-based economy of Saudi Arabia.”

“Partnerships and new collaborations have organically grown out of this conference in the past, and I can see that happening even more from the third event,” said Hussain. “Collaborations arising from the event are very important for us.”

Poster presentation winners

Winners of the conference’s poster presentation session were:

Materials session: Arwa T. Kutbee (Physical Science and Engineering Division)

Electronics session: Chao Shen and Galo Torres Sevilla (tied winners; Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering Division)

Systems session: Ahmad Alammouri (Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering Division)

Alumni speakers Jhonathan Prieto Rojas and Hina Tabassum.

Alumni speaker spotlight: Jhonathan Prieto Rojas

Jhonathan Prieto Rojas completed both his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering at KAUST and currently works as an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

“I participated in all of the previous KAUST-NSF conferences as a student, and it was very fulfilling to be invited to the third conference as a faculty and alumni speaker by Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, my Ph.D. supervisor and mentor,” he said.

Prieto Rojas joined KFUPM with the goal of continuing his research into the subjects he focused on during his master’s and Ph.D. studies at KAUST.

“At the conference, I presented some of the work I started during my Ph.D. and that I am currently working on at KFUPM,” he said. “My presentation entitled ‘Stretching the Boundaries of Inorganic Materials’ covered some of the strategies we have used to develop an ultra-stretchable silicon-based platform to implement high-performing electronics. The novelty and great merit of this work consists of the fact that silicon is an intrinsically rigid and fragile material, but we have managed to transform it into a stretchable platform through innovative structural modifications.”

Prieto Rojas noted “the conference showcased a large range of well-established researchers along with talented professionals from different locations and fields. Such diversity always makes the conference very interesting and enriching. For all of us, novel and out-of-the-box designs and ideas have the potential to transform current technologies into new and exciting ones for a smarter and more sustainable future.”

Alumni speaker spotlight: Hina Tabassum

Hina Tabassum completed her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at KAUST and was supervised by Mohamed-Slim Alouini​, professor of electrical engineering. She currently works as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Manitoba in Canada. “I was invited to participate in the KAUST-NSF conference, and there I had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of researchers and become familiar with their recent research findings; visit my previous research group and supervisor; explore the potential of international collaboration; and promote women in science and engineering through the conference’s WISE session,” she said.Tabassum outlined fundamental visions for and anticipated requirements of 5G cellular networks in her presentation at the conference; discussed key enabling techniques for 5G networks from the perspective of their benefits and limitations; and presented findings from her current research.

“My research experience from KAUST provided me with an in-depth understanding of the area of wireless communications, and I am now moving ahead in the same research area with plenty of opportunities for new directions,” she said. “The conference gave me ideas related to various themes in electrical and electronic engineering, and I especially feel the promotion of women in science and engineering at the conference was a crucial step that should be continued in the future.”

- By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News