Saudi Arabia may not be the first country that comes to mind when one thinks about the world of scholarship and academia. However, this past summer I was amazed to find a fully fledged research institution that existed so close to my home in Jeddah. Allegedly with the largest endowment fund in the world after Harvard and Yale, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) boasts some of the most sophisticated research facilities in the world, renowned faculty, and students from around the globe.
At KAUST I worked primarily on a venture under the Solar & Photovoltaics Engineering Research Center, called NOMADD (or No Water Mechanical Automated Dusting Device). Solar Energy is a very promising renewable energy solution, especially in the Gulf where there is sunshine throughout the year. Dust accumulation, however, has proven to be a major technical challenge facing the desert solar industry. The fully autonomous NOMADD solves this problem using a unique patent-pending brush mechanism that removes 99 percent of accumulated dust without the use of a single drop of water.
As the device was in the final phases of testing during my internship, I was involved with economic, technical, and logistical aspects of getting the product to market. Working with all these different aspects proved to be an invaluable lesson on starting up a new business. It was also exciting to apply the knowledge from my NYU Abu Dhabi classes in the field.
My work involved interacting with potential clients and investors to ensure that the device could be tailored to their varying needs and requirements. I was also involved with developing methods for accelerated lifecycle testing to guarantee that the device will reliably work for extended periods of time under simulated desert conditions. Simplifying the design of the device to contain the fewest number of moving parts was also an important task; doing so will minimize the margin of failure, while also ensuring that any layman with a toolbox would be able to assemble the device. This required me to think beyond what already existed and to think innovatively to design new parts on my own.
Besides my technical work, I was also involved with community life at the University. KAUST comprises a unique community of talented individuals, hailing from countries all over the world — unified through science, research, and entrepreneurship. Being part of the KAUST community for the summer introduced me to a way of life I never knew existed in Saudi Arabia. I saw active, strict recycling policies and a commitment to environmental sustainability that I've never before witnessed in the Kingdom. I found that women were allowed to drive and played an important role in the community. I saw a whole new dimension of people with the promising desire to advance and improve the life and society of Saudi Arabia.
By far, the most rewarding and inspiring aspect of my experience at KAUST was my interactions and the connections I made with the outstanding faculty and staff. I met students and faculty from various disciplines, and was given insight into the efforts being made to solve real-world problems. Overall, my experience left me proud and inspired by these efforts. It opened my eyes to the world of possibility and change that can be made through scholarship and research.