Young KAUST scientists attend 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Stephanie Saade (Bioscience), Mohammed Zidan (Electrical Engineering) and Joanna Nassar (Electrical Engineering)

Every year, a group of bright and promising young scientists (undergraduates, PhD students and postdocs) are selected from around the world to meet dozens of Nobel Laureates for a week in the Bavarian town of Lindau, Germany. Among this select group of invitees, considered as the next generation of leading scientists, three KAUST students were chosen to take part in this year’s 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – which will take place from June 28 – July 3, 2015. They are: Mohammed Zidan (Electrical Engineering), Joanna Nasser (Electrical Engineering) and Stephanie Saade (Bioscience).

The upcoming meeting will feature a record number of 65 Nobel Laureates eager to engage with 650 young researchers involved in the fields of physiology and medicine, physics, and chemistry. The program will feature several lectures, panel discussions, and master classes. The event is a high-profile forum for the transfer of knowledge between generations of scientists.

The Young Scientists

“I look forward to the transfer of knowledge aspect between other scientists with similar backgrounds to mine and well-known scientists who have won Nobel prizes,” said Stephanie Saade from the Salt Lab at KAUST, under Prof. Mark Tester. Stephanie had also previously taken part in the Festival of Thinkers in Abu Dhabi back in 2009 when a fewer number of Nobel Laureates were also present from a wider cross-section of academic fields. But she looks forward to the larger-scale Lindau Meeting because it will be more focused on science.

“I hope that I’ll gain a lot of experience from such a meeting,” said Mohammed Zidan, a PhD student from the KAUST Sensors Lab, under Prof. Khaled N. Salama. He sees this as an opportunity not only to learn from some of the best scientific minds on earth, the Nobel Laureates, but also to interact with fellow young scientists in his age range aiming to become Nobel Laureates themselves one day. “Seeing the full spectrum from the beginning to the end point is very motivating,” as he shared. Mohammed’s exceptional potential was also recognized through being awarded the IEEE Circuits and Systems (CAS) Society Pre-Doctoral Scholarship . The IEEE awards the fellowships annually to two pre-doctoral students worldwide. It was notably the first time that the award went to a student outside of the United States.

“I think this will be a great opportunity to meet with the greatest minds and get connections that will help me for my future path and career,” said Joanna Nassar from KAUST’s Integrated Nanotechnology Laboratory under Prof. Muhammad Mustafa Hussain. Joanna is eager to share her ideas with the other young scientists at the Lindau Meeting and also see their ideas and perspectives. “Hopefully we can try to unite our scientific thoughts, find collaboration opportunities, and make them interested in our research here at KAUST” as she adds.

Their KAUST Experience and Research Interests

Joanna is Lebanese but she actually grew up in Saudi Arabia. “Just before I went back to Lebanon to pursue my undergraduate studies, I heard about the construction plans for KAUST,” as she recalls. Her goal was to eventually pursue graduate studies in applied technology within the region, near her family and culture, so she was thrilled when she was later accepted to KAUST.

“When I came here for the first time and entered the nanofabrication lab I was amazed,” said Joanna. She had looked forward to transitioning from physics to nanotechnology in order to make direct applications of the science she was learning. She completed her Masters degree at KAUST and is now pursuing her PhD. After studying high mobility channel materials for higher performance devices on flexible platforms, Joanna is now focusing on developing smart artificial skins. Her research interests include flexible electronics applications and poly-silicon nanotube FET for sensor and display applications.

“Essentially, I’m trying to fabricate a large-scale flexible and stretchable platform of sensors and actuators arrays fully integrated on a silicon platform, which will allow to mimic the sensations of an actual skin and react to external stimuli,” as she explains. Working within her thesis supervisor Prof. Hussain’s group has been a great experience for Joanna because of his expertise in wearable technology. She likes the fact that while everyone in the group works on different projects -- from solar photovoltaics, batteries, stretchable heaters, microprocessors, as well as her own sensors for smart skins -- in the end, their research efforts complement each other. “Everything can ultimately be brought together to make bigger products, such as flexible computers. … Eventually, you learn how to do things from A to Z on your own, from design to materials and device fabrication, providing us with a lifetime experience and academic growth”.

Similarly, Mohammed Zidan believes that one of the greatest aspects of being at KAUST is that researchers are able to work within a very wide spectrum. “I started working from the fabrication clean room to fabricating my own devices I need for my circuits,” he said. “Once you start working on different disciplines, interconnections between disciplines will create new avenues.”

Mohammed earned his M.Sc. in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Cairo University in 2010, where he was ranked first. Before joining KAUST to pursue his PhD, he worked as a teaching assistant at the German University in Cairo (GUC). His research interests are: memristor, memory, chaotic systems, ray-tracing, and computer arithmetic. His current PhD research focuses on using newly discovered memristor devices for futuristic memory systems.

“KAUST is an amazing place. If you really want to do quality research, KAUST is the right place. It’s one of the best places on earth to do research,” said Mohammed. He is also very grateful to have to opportunity to learn from such an experienced person as his advisor, Prof. Salama. “Working with someone of the caliber of Prof. Salama at the PhD stage can shape your future. Having the right advisor, at the right time, is very important. Because he comes from such a high standard, he pushes everyone to also maintain the highest standards. That changes everything,” he adds.

For her part, Stephanie Saade joined KAUST as a Masters to PhD student. After completing her B.Sc. in biology at the Lebanese American University, in her native Lebanon, she went on to work in cardio-vascular diseases research -- focusing on the association between SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) and myocardial infarctions. She was employed for a year and a half in a genomics lab and also subsequently worked for a company involved in editing science books for three years before joining KAUST.

“I’m working with professor Prof. Mark Tester on salinity tolerance in barley. So we’re also conducting associations between SNPs and the trait but this time salinity tolerance is the trait of interest,” as she explains.

Essentially moving from one organism to another, from humans to plants, means that her focus has shifted from tackling the medical challenges related to human diseases to addressing global problems such as food security.

“If we are able to make plants sustain a certain level of salinity, making it possible to irrigate with water that is not optimal and still be able to get good yields, that will help countries with their food supply challenges. Food security is the next challenge,” as she elaborates.

In fact, preparing the next generation on scientific leaders to tackle the world’s many challenges reflected in KAUST’s four main pillars of food, water, energy and the environment is precisely what the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is all about. Stephanie also thanks her advisor, Prof. Mark Tester, for always encouraging his students to keep developing both inside and outside of the lab. “Being encouraged to engage in pursuits not necessarily directly related to our research allows us to grow not only academically but also as leaders,” said Stephanie.