Sustainable solutions for Saudi Arabia

The KAUST Entrepreneurship Center and The Dow Chemical Company held the STEAM innovation challenge for more than 150 university students from the Jeddah area on the KAUST campus from January 19 to 21. Photo - KAUST Innovation and Economic Development

​More than 150 university students from across the Jeddah area participated in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) innovation challenge from January 19 to 21 on the KAUST campus.

Led by the KAUST Entrepreneurship Center in coordination with leaders and subject matter experts from The Dow Chemical Company, the event saw 30 student teams from KAUST, King Abdulaziz University, the University of Business and Technology (UBT), the University of Jeddah, Effat University, Umm Al-Qura University and Dar Al-Hekma University come together to find solutions addressing major, real-world challenges. The themes of this year’s event were “Living Spaces, A Better World and Energy.”

“I was pleased to see the high level of energy and enthusiasm from the participating students,” said Tristan Walker, vice president of KAUST Innovation & Economic Development.

Diverse student teams

The students selected for the STEAM challenge all had backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, art or mathematics. Each team included four to six members and had students from different universities with different majors to ensure that each team would benefit from a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.

“We are truly impressed with the passion and creativity of the students as well as the solutions they proposed," said Chuck Swartz, president of Dow Saudi Arabia "I want to thank the students for their dedication and participation and the KAUST and Dow teams for their outstanding effort in putting the event together.”

At the conclusion of the event, teams presented to three different panels of judges and a winning team was selected for each theme. The three final teams made a presentation to a new panel of judges, and this panel picked the final winner.

The teams were judged on how well they understood and explained the problem they were trying to solve; how well they articulated the solution to solve some or all of the problem; and how well they explained what was needed in terms of the execution of their idea in the real world.

Energy-efficient solutions

The winning team came up with a comprehensive and innovative proposal to improve energy efficiency in Saudi Arabia by using state-of-the-art Dow technologies coupled with relevant incentives and education for the public. A key feature of their proposal was a digital platform that connects government, property owners, construction companies and insulation manufacturers to promote the insulation of residential homes.

“I was overwhelmed by the number of great ideas brought forward to generate demand for energy-efficient homes in Saudi Arabia," said Margherita Fontana, Dow Building & Construction global marketing director. "We look forward to supporting those ideas to the next level of implementation.”

The first runners-up produced a solution to improve and increase shelf life and maintain the quality of fish and fish packaging. The second runners-up presented a proposal on how to improve energy efficiency in Saudi homes.

“It’s a pleasure to see how eager the students were to develop sustainable solutions for energy efficiency in buildings, water supply and renewable energy to contribute to a better future for Saudi Arabia and the region," said Wiltrud Treffenfeldt, chief technology officer for Dow Europe, Middle East, Africa and India. The STEAM challenge is a unique event that has strengthened the excellent partnership between KAUST and Dow for the benefit of the entire country, and it will have a lasting impact.”

Collaborative university-industry partnerships

Dow has a strong history of partnering with KAUST. In June 2009, Dow became a founding member of the University’s Industry Collaboration Program (KICP). In June 2011, Dow established an R&D Center at the KAUST Innovation Cluster focusing on ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) technology for water treatment and oil and gas technologies and infrastructure materials such as coatings. A new Dow Innovation Center is currently under construction on the University’s campus and is expected to be in operation in 2018.

“When coupled with strong support and engagement from Dow, one of the University’s founding strategic partners, this proved to be an extremely effective way to tap into the imagination and creativity of this diverse group," said Walker. "The STEAM challenge provided a fantastic opportunity for our students to work in interdisciplinary teams alongside students from a number of partnering Saudi universities to develop and present well-defined solutions to major real-world challenges. The event also gave a flavor of what can be achieved from successful and innovative university and industry partnerships.”