ARAB STATES: Saudis lead Gulf to nanotechnology

Saudi Arabia is consolidating its leading role in Arab efforts to enhance nanotechnology research and education and has announced plans for the Middle East's first international centre for research and innovation in nanotechnology applications.

On 10 October, it opened the King Abdullah Institute at Riyadh Techno Valley, located at the King Saud University, and announced the establishment of several more nanotechnology institutes at universities around the country.

The most significant of these is the Center of Excellence in Nano-manufacturing Applications (CENA), which will be designed to enhance graduate education, promote advanced research and create an environment for innovation for researchers in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Others include two institutes at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and the King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals in the capital Ridyadh; as well as the establishment of the Nanotechnology Centre of Excellence at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, KACST, also in Riyadh.

The country has launched its first nanotech company for the manufacture of nanomembranes that are used in the petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, desalination and agricultural industries.

On 11 October, at the opening of an international technology incubation conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia also announced plans to establish 20 technology incubators - science-based research enterprises that develop marketable new products - by 2015 and 30 incubators by 2025.

Ahmed Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, Vice Dean of Deanship of Scientific Research for Research centres at King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said:

"These recent nanotechnology research, education and industry initiatives will help in producing scientific workforces, as well as in keeping pace with worldwide developments in nanotechnology, rather than relying on foreign research especially in areas of national interest such as water, renewable energy and medicine."

Bahrain is planning to establish a centre to develop nanotechnologies in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf states, as well as distribute ready-to-use nanoproducts based on regional demand.

Safwan Arekat, of the physics department at the University of Bahrain, said the centre would stimulate innovation and provide the pioneering technology needed to implement the Gulf strategy for establishing knowledge-based industries.

The centre was established by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organisation (TAG-Org), and staffing is being organised by the Russian National Association of Nanoindustry in Moscow and TAG-org, according to press reports.

Al-Ghamdi said the regional centre would boost education and the economy in Bahrain and the Gulf states and help develop new opportunities for generating income besides oil.

In addition, Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, Abu Dhabi, has announced plans to set up a nanotechnology research centre.

The development of nanotechnology research in the Arab world began two years ago in Saudi Arabia.

North African countries including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have also been the site of much recent government, academic, and industrial nanotechnology activity, much of it dedicated to meeting the economic competitiveness, socio-economic, and development needs of the region.

Notable examples include the launch of Africa's first nanotechnology consultancy company in Egypt in 2005, the setting up of the Tunisian Association of Nanotechnology in 2009 and the first North African nanotechnology research centre in Cairo, also in 2009.