Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

KAUST on a roll

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) opened its doors for the first time in September 2009. The new university has been a hot topic in discussions worldwide, taunted as the largest and most visionary gamble of the Arab world’s strive to leap into the international science community wagon.

The KAUST model is not the only one in the Arab world’s attempt at science. Qatar has its own plans, attracting international universities to its Education City. The United Arab Emirates has taken a similar path in its bid to bring Western scientists to their shores.

Whichever is the best model remains to be seen, but no doubt KAUST is doing something right. Less than one year after its inauguration, they already have 4 Nature papers under their belt. The papers are varied, from physics to hormones to plants. By most accounts, this is an impressive feat! Most of the much older and established universities in the region still don’t have a single paper published in Nature.

KAUST has not just managed to attract some top international science expertise, but its research grants have led to some excellent collaborations between KAUST and other international research institutes from the US, France, China and Singapore, among others.

For many of the other universities in the Arab world, the problem is they have experience in what they need to do to even stand a chance of getting published in high impact journals such as Nature. But KAUST managed to attracted the right minds internationally, who are able to forge collaborations and produce the kind of work that would be considered for Nature.

As a first year start, this is an impressive record for KAUST. I will personally be keeping my eye on it to see what their second year will be like. One thing’s for sure, I’m excited!

The four papers published can be found below:


  1. Report this comment

    salturki said:

    But none of the authors is Saudi or at least of an Arabic origin. Does this count for the Arab world? I am not sure.

    If this continue, then I am afraid we will not see a real transition of knowledge to the local people (be it Saudis, Qataris , etc).

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    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Thank you salturki for the comment.

    You make an excellent point indeed. I think it really depends on how these successes are used in the future.

    It might be too early to think that Saudi Arabian scientists would be involved in these papers (though it is important to say that Saudi and other Arab scientists have been published in some very highly cited journals).

    However, KAUST now needs to build up on this. They have obviously managed to attract some top calibre scientists and researchers. The next stage is to use these researchers to generate a science culture inside KAUST that will spread out to others who attend the university, pretty much like what happens when a new post-grad student enters Harvard for example.

    But I agree with you. If they fail to build on that and spread it to the local expertise then KAUST will not really be contributing towards the much taunted science renaissance in the region.

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    Ali Sheneamer said:

    I guess too early to talk about localizing knowledge because this takes decades. I think Saudi researchers will benefit over the long run..thumps up to KAUST

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    Riyad Mucadam said:

    SA Regardless of the origin, one way to look at these achievements is: whoever is working at KAUST is working for, by, with mideastern institutions and peoples and the output is of this region. This view resonates with the system and the earlier peaks in the middle east and islamic world. The transition will likely occur sooner if there is receptiveness, merit based competition and reward etc. rather than the “other” modes-nepotism etc.

    Does it really matter what is the origin of the scientist? it is the purpose, collaboration and outputs that matter? Isn’t that what KAUST and other Qatari etc. institutions will have to compete with in the “west”?

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    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Thanks for your post Riyad

    I don’t think the origin of the research is that important, but it will be important for KAUST to invest on these successes back home.

    Some people would argue that KAUST basically “bought” those papers, since they recruited the top scientists who were probably already working on that research months before KAUST opened its doors.

    There will be much to look forward to over the next year, that’s for sure!