Faculty Focus: Prof. Omar Abdelsaboor

Exploring a New Era of Physical Chemistry

Despite years of international work and study experience in countries including Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the US, Egyptian native Dr. Omar Abdelsaboor, Assistant Professor of Chemical Science in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Division and a member of the Solar and Photovoltaics Engineering Research Center, says that he has "never seen the kind of infrastructure and lab facilities present at KAUST."

The University's superior facilities may have drawn Prof. Abdelsaboor to work here, but, as someone from the Middle East, he had a second motivation in coming to KAUST six months ago. "I feel the University is on the right track," he says. "I would like to make a significant contribution to its success, because in the future I think KAUST will serve not only the young people of Saudi Arabia, but those in the rest of the Arab world."

Prof. Abdelsaboor's PhD in Physical Chemistry at Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany) focused on understanding chemical reactions through the use of ultrafast time-resolved laser spectroscopy. Through this spectroscopic technique, one can pick out transient species and map the progression from reactant via possible intermediates towards the final product during the course of a chemical reaction, identifying all possible transition states along the reaction pathways.

This technique has been extended to four-dimensional (4D) electron imaging to allow researchers to image chemical reactions or dynamical events in real space and time. "We talk about time here as 10-15 seconds," explains Prof. Abdelsaboor. "That's femtochemistry, a new area of physical chemistry."

At KAUST, Prof. Abdelsaboor is focusing his work on the development of new laser spectroscopic and 4D electron imaging techniques to unveil fundamental chemical, physical, and biological processes. He is also working on the development of highly-efficient solar cells using ultra-fast laser spectroscopy, cutting-edge nanotechnology, and 4D electron imaging. "By integrating a laser with an electron microscope, we can watch with our own eyes dynamical events, such as charge movements, electron injection, and surface dynamics in real space and time, which until recently was a far-off dream," he says. His goal at KAUST is to apply these techniques to solar energy systems, and in doing so, to contribute significantly to this "hot" area of research in Saudi Arabia.

Prof. Abdelsaboor is currently supervising one PhD student, and another will join him in his research activities in September 2013. He is also working on several papers for publication in the near future, including one that describes work from research collaboration with Prof. Osman Bakr, Assistant Professor of Material Science and Engineering, who is also part of the Solar Photovoltaic Engineering Research Center. "Communication within the faculty at KAUST is very good," he says. "We collaborate and exchange knowledge and ideas freely."

The University's faculty and staff from diverse countries make a distinctive "multi-culture" at KAUST, explains Prof. Abdelsaboor. He has found that "this strong interaction between different cultures and backgrounds is very good, because academic research benefits not only from an exchange of scientific knowledge, but also from the exchange of other ideas and information." The University is a "very unique institution," he says, "and we'll see in the future just how far this journey can take us."

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