Why I do, What I do?
This specific question has driven my life along with another set of questions: “why and why not?”. In the following section, I will try to explain my position, which one may find as a FAQ of my research vision.
I chose to switch to academia and specifically to KAUST because KAUST offers a unique opportunity to test out absolutely new ideas in every sense in a geographic location where appreciation for science and technological innovation is yet to be fully evolved. KAUST presumably has the world’s best academic research infrastructure. Since, we are graduate only university, our class sizes are small and hence we have more time to spend with our students.
Now, definitely most of the talented students love to see themselves in prominent universities around the world. And hence, we have to be creative to excel through our students. As much as it sounds challenging, my personal experience says, inspiration and passion can overcome many obstacles. Also, increasingly we should pay attention to our education system and ask ourselves why most of the young tech entrepreneurs are college drop outs? It might be the case that with appropriate focus and sheer passion one can stretch the human imagination. I sincerely believe the placement of my students in MIT, Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, UCLA, TSMC, SABIC, Saudi ARAMCO, Dow Chemical, KFUPM, KAU and such shows they are equally if not more competitive than their generational peers. Certainly, my own challenge to myself to build an independently original research program has restricted us to limited collaborations mostly within KAUST and occasionally with international colleagues. Yet, our collaboration is truly multidisciplinary. As some selected examples: (i) we have worked with Marine Research Groups (Red Sea Research Center) to develop standalone compliant aqua sensor which is presumably the lightest weight (6.4 grams) in its genre and (ii) with Environmental Science and Engineering program (Water Desalination and Reuse Center), we have developed CMOS enabled sustainable microbial fuel cells which can purify water and generate microwatts scale power from unusual bio agents.
With these students over the last eight years, I have focused on building a world-class research program in the middle of the desert from the scratch. My first choice of material has been silicon. While I have utmost curiosity and excitement toward all other emerging materials, silicon is inarguably the most trusted semiconductor material. Along with matured CMOS technology, we have built our digital world. And going forward, I do see absolute promise to make this world a better place and silicon can be the trusted vehicle to bring tomorrow to today. While working with silicon and CMOS technology, we infuse up and coming materials like recyclable papers, 1D/2D nanomaterials, GaN, III-V semiconductors, inkjet/roll-to-roll/3D printing, stereolithography and such. We are the only group who have consistently developed absolutely manufacturable process technologies and integration strategies for rapid technology translation of our lab innovations. It is also to be noted, instead of depending on expensive silicon-on-insulator (SOI) and silicon (110 or 111) with larger defect densities, we have used bulk monocrystalline silicon (100) which is used to make 90% of today’s electronics.
However, every action has a reaction. Today in academia silicon is often negated compared to emerging 1D/2D nanomaterials. It is fully understood that from scientific exploration perspective it is critical to study them. At the same time, as a hardcore engineering group, we focus on challenges and absences, we study tenaciously to go to the bottom of the reasons, then we address them in the most comprehensive manner. Thus, our advances are often chronicled in engineering journals/conferences and as patents and tech transfers. As historically evidenced, publications in engineering journals/conferences and patents are not citation generators. Yet, in the recent past, we have enjoyed gradual growth of appreciation by our peers in various forms and by international media. And the most importantly, we are humbled by steady stream of grants from international tech giants and tech transfer opportunities by the industries who never envisioned of using electronics in their products. This never seen before expansion opportunity for electronics keeps my venture and breadth in unusual areas.
I am nearly at the end of my testimony, “Why I do, What I do?” My vision is to empower humanity with information through affordable and accessible (easy to learn, implement, use) electronics. Augmenting the quality of life and our life experience is my objective. I firmly believe by inspiring more and more people from various corners of the society, we can make this world better and more sustainable than it is today. Therefore, I consistently simplify complex engineering and explain them in simple language to reconfigure our life by redesigning electronics and hence, redefining their purposes.