Suzana Nunes

“I now have the freedom to make decisions in my own research and the financial support and lab facilities to make my ideas a reality."


Why did Suzana Nunes, a world-class chemist, join KAUST?

After spending over 12 years at the esteemed Helmholtz Association in Germany, Brazilian/German professor Suzana Nunes sought a place where she might enjoy more research freedom. In 2009 she found precisely this place in Saudi Arabia. Today, she is pursuing the bold projects she envisioned all those years ago as a Professor of Chemical and Environmental Science and Engineering and the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs at KAUST. 


“I now have the freedom to make decisions in my own research and the financial support and lab facilities to make my ideas a reality,” she explains. 


Having received a bachelor’s degree and PhD in Chemistry from the University of Campinas, she worked as an assistant and associate professor in Brazil for 10 years before moving to Germany to take a position as a researcher. There she became the Department Head of Membranes for Sustainable Energy at Helmholtz Association, leading research in one of the best centers for membrane research in the world at that time.

Nunes had known that she wanted to be a chemist ever since she was a child of seven years old. On her birthday that year, she received a chemistry kit and immediately fell in love with the field. Raised in an area surrounded by chemical industries, education in her area was heavily influenced by science and chemistry. To pursue her passion further, she decided to continue her education in a scientific high school


Years later that same passion drove her to seek even higher aims beyond her position at the center in Germany. When one colleague suggested she explore KAUST, her initial reaction was hesitant. But then she decided to seize the opportunity and make the daring move to Saudi Arabia. 


Nunes specializes in polymers, their functionalization, and organic-inorganic nanocomposites for membrane application. Specifically, her concentration is on the separation of products in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The core of her research revolves around using membrane development to guide separation processes with less energy consumption. . According to Nunes, many of the membranes available now are suitable for water environments, but if a membrane is needed for different conditions, such as an organic solvent, then a more stable one must be used. She and her team also focus on the process of making sustainable membranes that are more ecologically friendly. 


Happily, sustainability extends beyond research per se to include the development and training of young scholars and researchers. In addition to training, she mentors these young scientists, taking great pride and joy in her students and trainees as they become professionals and future leaders. 


The quiet community at KAUST and its close proximity to work is an ongoing benefit for Nunes. So is its proximity to sights she might never have seen had she not been living in Saudi Arabia. Since moving to the Kingdom, she has visited multiple cities in the Kingdom, including Al Ula, Jeddah, Tabuk, Jazan, Riyadh, and Dammam. She also enjoys driving in her SUV, with which she has taken many road trips to places such as Al Baha. 


Nunes is a person who does not give up easily. She focuses on her goals and knows that she must believe in something to achieve it. Her message to her students is simple: “Both motivation and passion are important. You will love what you do and succeed if you are passionate about it.”