KACST came out as part of a collaboration between the US and Saudi Arabia; a joint committee headed by the late King Fahd and Henry Kissinger from the US side. They decided to create a sub-committee for science and technology, and that sub-committee suggested – in 1975 – the establishment of the National Science and Technology Centre in Saudi Arabia. And then the name was changed, later in the 1980s, to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.
The Future: Science & Technology & Innovation
The Kingdom has established companies such as TAQNIA, which is the Saudi technology, development and investment company, that will take some of these products that are developed in the country to export them internationally. So, I think the future of the Kingdom in science, technology and innovation is very bright. We have a lot of people educated in the country, 90% of those will finish high school and go on to higher education in the kingdom. And more than 50% are women, by the way.
We have now more than 750 patents per year produced locally, and we aim to increase that number to about 4000. We are collaborating with the government of Korea, sponsoring joint research in robotics. We have products that are sold to Korea, by the way. We have examples in areas such as solar cells. We cover the whole spectrum of all types of cells and we are working with the best in the field, such as those who have won the Nobel Prize and those who have won the King Faisal Prize. We also work on producing solar cells from sand and this has never been done before, because normally they produce the silicone that is used for solar cells from quartz.
Cutting Edge Science
The Kingdom has an ambitious programme to map the genome of all the people in the country, and the diseases associated with it, leading to what’s called personalised medicine, or precision medicine. It’s not only looking at the genome itself, but looking at the diseases. And the Kingdom is one of the leading countries, actually, doing this for the whole population. Few countries have programmes like this addressing the whole population.
We are setting up a facility that will build a complete Airbus 380 or Boeing 777, and this facility will be completed in a few years. We are collaborating with Antonov, a Ukrainian company, to produce Antonov 132. This airplane was completed December 2016 and will be flown in Saudi Arabia, we hope, by March 2017. This aircraft will be manufactured, in the future, in the kingdom.
The national plan for science and technology which started in 2007, had a lot of budget for nano technology and we funded a lot of research at the universities, so there is a lot of activity in the kingdom in nano technology. It is a technology that can change the properties of matter at the nano scale. We are applying it now in all kinds of material, and we have final and also electronics. And nano technology is very important, we can making things smaller and actually pack more information into them.
The Kingdom Vision 2030 and National Transformation Programme
The Kingdom Vision 2030 and National Transformation Programme is really going to create a huge transformation. Programmes were identified with targets and KPIs; the budget was allocated and we are implementing our programmes right now. As far as KACST is concerned, we have a clear plan with clear outcomes. All of our programmes have been supported and we are working, hopefully, to implement them and achieve the targets that we committed to achieve.