WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: An avid film lover (Gladiator, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Speed, and Forrest Gump are among his favorites)

FAVORITE SPOT ON THE UT CAMPUS: Bass Concert Hall and the Texas Exes Cowboy Pavilion

HOW HE BECAME INTERESTED IN NANOTECHNOLOGY: “I wanted to be an astronaut. When I went to USC, one day I saw the cleanroom where chips were being built. Everyone inside the cleanroom was wearing a bunny suit. It kind of resembled the astronaut suit.”

THE FUTURE OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING: “I think our main challenge and opportunity is to take engineering to the masses. How can we make it simpler, make it more accessible, make it more cost effective?”

A good engineer, especially a researcher, is a lot like a good detective. Both are driven by curiosity, both must organize and put in order complex information, and both must be able to see a logical process in the smallest details. Growing up in Bangladesh, the youngest son of a physician father and a mother with a master’s degree in literature, Muhammad Mustafa Hussain was a curious problem-solver and a hard worker interested in math. His hero was a detective, naturally: Sherlock Holmes.

As an associate professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, and principal investigator of its Integrated Nanotechnology Lab, Hussain is solving mysteries he hopes will lead to better electronic devices.

“I have always wanted to build new things,” he says, “and the academy provides the best possible environment to be creative. We can try anything wildly imaginative.”

His career began in Austin, pursuing advanced degrees at UT. While studying electrical engineering, he was invited to join a research project at the nonprofit chip-manufacturing research consortium SEMATECH. The project was expected to take nine months. Hussain started just after Labor Day and finished by the end of November. Discoveries from his PhD research eventually made their way into Intel, Samsung, and Panasonic microprocessors. “That experience inspired me so much that I did everything I could to think inventively, to work harder,” he says.

After a remarkable career at SEMATECH, he now gets to dig into even bigger mysteries, ones he hopes will unlock the next generation of mobile devices. Today’s electronics work well, he notes, but “they are not physically flexible, stretchable and reconfigurable in shape and size. If we can add this ‘fifth dimension,’ then we can use them for purposes which are not possible today.”—Andrew Roush