KAUST: History in the making

Siraj Wahab | Arab News
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2009-09-23 03:00

THUWAL, Jeddah: After years of meticulous planning and sourcing some of the best scientific minds in the world, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will be a dream made real.

On Wednesday at 7:30 p.m, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is scheduled to inaugurate a research university that has caught the imagination of the world scientific community and has raised huge expectations among Saudis.

KAUST promises to usher in a new era of scientific investigation, discovery and education in the Kingdom. In the gleaming towers and immaculate laboratory and library blocks nestled in what just a few years ago was raw desert, some of the finest scientists and researchers will work alongside talented research students from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

At the inauguration, King Abdullah will play host to heads of state, global business leaders, Nobel laureates and some of the world's most celebrated academics who have been invited to the ceremony here at Thuwal, 80 km north of Jeddah.

The king on Tuesday visited the university in order to see for himself the preparations for Wednesday's inauguration. About 3,000 dignitaries including heads of state and scientists will attend the opening. Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Malaysia’s King Tuanku Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, Sudanese President Omar Bashir, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdul Aziz have already arrived for the inauguration.

During the inspection tour of the university, King Abdullah was accompanied by Prince Muqrin, chief of intelligence, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Muhammad, minister of education, Prince Khaled bin Abdullah, a member of the university's Board of Trustees, other princes and top officials.

Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi, who is also chairman of the university's Board of Trustees, briefed the king on the progress of work at the campus. Studies started at the university on Sept. 5 after the completion of building classrooms. King Abdullah later visited an exhibition being staged on the occasion. The king was also briefed on the opening ceremony.

The graduate-level university, King Abdullah’s brainchild, opened its doors on Sept. 5 to the 400 students who have been admitted from 60 countries around the world to engage in postgraduate studies in engineering. Seventy faculty members are in place to teach them. The students and faculty at KAUST were carefully selected to help achieve the university’s goals.

“We have set our sights on reaching the brightest students, brimming with potential, from around the world, ready to learn from their mentors and from one another, ripe to begin making a contribution to the progress of humanity,” said Al-Naimi.

Some of the faculty members spoke to a large group of international journalists who were taken on a tour of the sprawling campus on Tuesday. The center of attraction for many was Shaheen, the fastest supercomputer in the Middle East and one of the 14 most powerful in the world.

“Developed with IBM, it is capable of 222 teraflops, or solving 222 trillion complicated calculations per second,” Richard Orme, head of KAUST’s Center for Deep Computing Research, told the visiting journalists.

According to Orme, Shaheen is the second-fastest computer outside of Europe and the fastest in all of Asia.

“One of the most powerful supercomputers in an academic environment, the system instantly makes KAUST a key player in the field of computational science,” he told reporters. “Shaheen will facilitate across dozens of disciplines in carrying out cutting-edge experiments, joint research collaborations with KAUST’s research partners located all over the world and further the development of a knowledge-based society in Saudi Arabia.”

Al-Naimi said Shaheen “gives the Middle East its first bona fide locally owned and operated supercomputer.”

“Hopefully the influence of that in promoting a culture of computational science and engineering will go far beyond KAUST because a computer is one experimental facility that can be shared easily across a high-speed network,” he added.

These partnerships with the private sector are also part of KAUST’s commitment to economic development and diversification in the Kingdom.

“In Saudi Arabia we need to diversify the base of our economy from dependence on a single commodity,” said Nadhmi A. Al-Nasr, interim executive vice president of administration and finance. “A knowledge-based economy is the future of the Kingdom.”

The inauguration ceremony will be broadcast live as a webcast on the KAUST inauguration website (http://inauguration.kaust.edu.sa/).

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