Faculty Focus: Professor Mohammad Younis

Dr. Mohammad Younis, new Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Division, has a long – and ongoing – history of interaction with Saudi Arabia.

Born in the Kingdom to parents of Palestinian descent, Prof. Younis spent the first decade of his life in Saudi Arabia. In the late 1980s, he moved to Jordan, where he completed grade school and high school and earned his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. In 1999, he returned to Saudi Arabia for a six month-long stint at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran.

"I was planning to work with Saudi Aramco in a research project while pursuing my master's degree at KFUPM," he said, "but decided instead to focus on my academic career and graduate studies." He then transferred to Virginia Tech in the US, where he completed his master's degree and received a PhD in Engineering Mechanics.

Upon receiving his doctorate, Prof. Younis began working at the State University of New York in Binghamton in 2004, where he served as an assistant and then as an associate professor, staying there until coming to KAUST in early 2013.

Micro and Nanotechnology Research

Throughout his research career, Prof. Younis has focused his work on micro and nanotechnology. "My research involves the interface between nonlinear dynamics on one hand and micro and nano electromechanincal systems (MEMS and NEMS) on the other hand. I am intrigued with how motion and other interesting and relevant phenomena occur at the micro and nanoscale," he said.

Sensors with Many Applications

Much of Prof. Younis's research at KAUST "has a lot to do with sensing and actuation," he explained. Prof. Younis works on a generic platform for sensing and actuation that can be applied in many different situations. This sensor platform has potential uses in detecting and warning of the presence of poisonous gases, such as methane, or low-concentration gases coming from TNT and other explosives. Another "exotic" application, he stated, is the use of the sensor to detect environmental biohazards such as the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax.

"I am also developing a really smart detection and actuation system for earthquake sensing, as the Middle East is an active region for earthquakes," explained Prof. Younis. His sensor system would automatically shut down natural gas or oil pipelines upon the detection of an earthquake signal, helping to eliminate the dangers of oil or gas leaks during such events.

Prof. Younis's other research area for sensors is a platform for actuators that will assist older people if they fall and injure themselves. "Such a device would be useful for calling help automatically upon a fall, which can be critical in situations where one loses consciousness, can't get access to a phone, or can't call for help," he said.

'Amazing Opportunities' at KAUST

"The reason I joined the University is because of KAUST's unique nanotechnology facilities that very few other institutions in the world have," Prof. Younis said. "My research requires such facilities, and it's very difficult and expensive to get access to comparable ones elsewhere. Here I have the chance to take risks and try different and bold ideas. KAUST presents amazing opportunities – that's what attracted me."

In the future, Prof. Younis hopes to supervise PhD students, and he has already begun collaborating with faculty members from the Electrical Engineering Program in the Computer, Electrical, and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering Division. "I definitely want to work closely with other faculty," he said.

Such teamwork, Prof. Younis believes, will contribute to the long-term success of KAUST. "I absolutely believe that KAUST will have a positive impact on the Middle East," he stated. "Through the innovation of the faculty here, and with our internal and international research collaborations, the University will definitely contribute to the region."

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