KAUST vice president receives prestigious award

Donal Bradley
Updated 09 October 2019

KAUST vice president receives prestigious award

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Vice President for Research and Distinguished Professor of Materials Physics and Device Engineering, Donal Bradley was honored recently by the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS) for achievements in advanced materials science. Bradley received the 2019 Jan Czochralski Award in a ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, also delivering a plenary lecture titled “Tuning Conjugated Polymer Electronic and Optical Properties via Physical Structure and Environment” as Czochralski laureate.

The Czochralski Award is given in honor of world-renowned chemist Jan Czochralski, whose research led to the growth of large-volume single-crystal silicon boules — a foundational technology for the modern-day semiconductor industry, yielding the vast majority of the computer processors we use today.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by this award,” Bradley said. “Jan Czochralski is Poland’s most highly cited academic, and the inventor of a process that has had a profound impact, not only on science, but on computing in general and also the way we communicate as human beings. To be honored in his name is a wonderful privilege.”

“This award adds to the list of impressive acknowledgements for Dr. Bradley on the global stage, and we are proud that he accepted this award as a member of the KAUST leadership team,” KAUST President Tony Chan said.

KAUST research to boost global date fruit production

Updated 16 October 2019

KAUST research to boost global date fruit production

Today on World Food Day, a team of plant scientists from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) has begun a major project to improve global date palm production and protection.

This project is the first time that the date palm genome has been studied so comprehensively. Dr. Ikram Blilou, professor of plant science at KAUST, and her research team in Saudi Arabia have collected samples from ancient date palms in the historical farm of Al-Dabeta, by the Quba Mosque in Madinah. 

“Our main goal is to improve date palm fruit production and quality in the Kingdom. With more than 2,000 existing varieties globally from which 400 grow in Saudi Arabia, we are concentrating on the ‘Ajwa’ date variety, because of its important societal and religious value for Saudi Arabia in particular,” said Dr. Blilou. 

Earlier this year, Dr. Blilou published in the scientific journal Plant Cell, findings that provide an insight into how desert plants are able to thrive in hostile habitats. The research teams within KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture are creating molecular and biotechnological tools to improve date palm agriculture by sequencing the genome of the Ajwa date palm.

“The date palm is one of the few fruit trees that, remarkably, can grow in the desert, a habitat with an arid climate where extreme temperature changes and drought conditions limit plant growth,” said Dr. Blilou. 

“Within KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture Research we are studying date palms using advanced genome sequencing techniques and have begun to develop new breeding strategies to help palms grow faster and healthier as well as making them more resistant to pathogens and pests like the red palm weevil.” 

According to the National Palms and Dates Center (NCPD), Saudi Arabia produces an estimated 1.1 million tons of dates per year, 15 percent of the world’s date production. In addition, export of dates from Saudi Arabia grew by 11.7 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

“Despite this economic importance, basic research into the date palm, including understanding mechanisms of growth and adaptation to the desert environment, is still in its early stages mainly because of the lack of molecular tools and the challenging nature of the plant. It requires a long generation time for flowering which can be four to five years and setting fruits that take 10 to 15 years,” said Dr. Rod Wing, professor of plant science and director of the KAUST Center for Desert Agriculture.

The next step for researchers at this center is to work on generating high-quality genomes for a large number of other varieties of date palms, bringing further potential benefits for date palm agriculture around the world.