I am traveling to Saudi Arabia tomorrow as a member of a small academic and industry computing delegation. I’ve never been to the Middle East, so this promises to be both fun and interesting.
At the request of the Saudis, the delegation is participating in an IT summit to discuss the computing technologies needed to support research at the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which will open in the fall of 2009. Our charge is to respond to the following questions:
- What are the requirements for information and communication technologies in support of world-class research and education at KAUST?
- What are the trends in computational e-science, and how can KAUST be best positioned to participate in next generation data-centric supercomputing?
- How might KAUST structure its external research programs in scientific computing and related areas?
- Who are the potential partners, collaborators and vendors for KAUST in addressing next generation capabilities?
- What are the trends and capabilities in high fidelity teleconferencing and collaboration systems that can enable KAUST researchers to participate in long-distance collaborative research and education with research institutions around the world?
History and Funding
KAUST was created with a $10B endowment. To put that number in perspective, it is the sixth largest university endowment in the world. KAUST is intended to serve as a catalyst for a knowledge economy in Saudi Arabia. The groundbreaking was earlier this week, and scholarships are being extended now, prior to the university opening its doors.
In other contexts, including the PITAC computational science report, I have written about the need for universities to reduce disciplinary silos and foster interdisciplinary collaboration. In this spirit, KAUST is a graduate-research university whose organizing unit is the interdisciplinary research institutes rather than departments or colleges. I am hopeful that an de novo approach can avoid some of the organizational baggage that burdens order institutions.
To engage the best international talent, KAUST is also soliciting proposals for funded research collaborations with up to 60 international universities. These Global Research Partnerships (GRPs) are planned as a 10-year program with total funding of approximately $1 billion.
KAUST has targeted four initial research areas of importance to Saudi Arabia. Quoting from the request for proposals, these areas are as follows:
- Institute for Resources, Energy and Environment
Energy research (e.g., carbon sequestration, hydrogen and fuel cells, process design, combustion, solar energy) and water/sustainable development (e.g., desalination, water use management, “green” planning and construction for desert climates)
- Institute for Biosciences and Engineering
Biotechnology for food, nutrition, public health, biodiversity and industrial processes (e.g., sustainable aquaculture and agriculture, Red Sea marine environmental science and engineering, regional epidemiological studies and population genomics)
- Institute for Materials Science and Engineering
Polymers and membranes, nanomaterials (e.g., carbon and bioprocessed nanomaterials, photovoltaic applications), catalytic chemistry, and materials for high stress environments
- Institute for Applied Mathematics and Computational Science
Scientific and engineering computing (e.g., computational chemistry, computational biology, reservoir and regional environmental modeling), statistics and applied computational mathematics, and computational linguistics (e.g., machine translation, multilingual search).