About three years ago, I was involved in the research and drafting of a document that set out to provide the strategic priorities for a nanotechnology program in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The experience gave me a fairly comprehensive understanding of what Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure capabilities were for supporting a nanotechnology program.
To be honest, I really don’t know to what extent the recommendations of the report were followed. But if the news reports since then are any indication it appears Saudi has decided to outsource some of their nanotechnology development in order to kick start their nanotech research program.
While this may provide an interim step as labs are built, researchers are hired, and future scientists are educated, one can only hope that it is only a stop-gap measure or else the aim of creating a knowledge-based economy has fallen by the wayside.
This all comes to mind because of a press release coming from the Saudi Press Agency and published by Nanowerk in which the headline states that Saudi Aramco (state-owned national oil company of Saudi Arabia) is pioneering nanotechnology research.
Three years ago the estimates were that between Saudi Aramco and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) there were 20 PhDs on their staffs with expertise applicable to nanotechnology and they had launched 20 research projects at that time in the field of nanotechnology. Furthermore, both SABIC and Aramco have some of the most advanced R&D facilities in the Middle East.
Aramco’s lab is still fairly new having been completed in 2005, and while we were never apprised of the exact pieces of equipment the lab possessed, we surmised that at the very least they had key pieces of equipment for conducing nanotech research, including:
- Microscopes: SEM, XRD
- Process Characterization: Surface Profiler
- Wet Process: Electro plating
So, I guess I should answer the question that I posed: Is Saudi Aramco pioneering nanotechnology research?Not to cope out, but I suppose it depends on how you want to measure these things. Saudi Aramco and the other labs in the Kingdom are no doubt performing some pretty high level research into the use of nanomaterials for applications in the oil industry and I have already expressed my admiration for their efforts in water desalination. So, my answer is “Yes” in a way and I hope that it continues to be from within rather than from outside the Kingdom.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.