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Visiting KAUST (13th July 2017)

- This article was first published in the AQABA Research Cruise Blog -

The Beacon, landmark of KAUST (Photo: S. Dörner)

After leaving Suez, we passed some calm days in the Northern Red Sea. Around noon on 10th July, we spotted the skyscrapers of Jeddah, a city of 4 million, as they slowly appeared from behind the horizon. One of them is the construction site of the largest tower in the world(-to-be).

Jeddah from the distance

In the afternoon, our vessel moored in the port of Jeddah (or, to be exact, The Islamic Port of Jeddah, which is its official name as this place is where pilgrims get off to Makkah). On the same evening, we, the scientific crew, boarded a bus that took us to the Immigration Terminal from which we formally entered the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia. It then took us ca. one and a half hour to get to the campus of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal (KAUST). The trip gave us a glimpse of the country: first, the city, with its oddly assorted, sometimes only halfway finished buildings, and luxury shops. Then, the road through the desert: Besides some shrubs (we were still close to the coast!), there was just red dusty sand. Of course you would never see a woman in the driver`s seat of a car. The rare women to be seen in public wore black abayas. We were told that Saudi law requires women to wear this sort of robe in public. Therefore, the few females amongst us got dressed for the occasion of leaving the ship.

Upon entering the premises of KAUST, we were allowed to take the abayas off, which we gladly did because at 40 °C air temperature it got quite hot especially under the headscarf. In KAUST, moreover, women are permitted to drive cars. An American resident of the campus told me that delivery drivers from the outside sometimes almost get a heart attack when they see a female at the steering-wheel.

Well, what should one write about KAUST? Finding words for this place is not easy. It is obvious that lack of money is not a problem there. On the opposite, KAUST is supposed to be the richest university in the world. It is a large campus university with ca. 7000 inhabitants. The campus reminded me of a gated luxury resort with its gulf course, yacht harbor and villas. Just to give one example for its wealth: The Blue Mosque, which is the center of the KAUST premises, is built of (blue) Italian marble for which a whole island in Italy was bought and excavated. If you are wondering now what the study fees are for a place like that: As far as I understood, studying there is free, and includes rent-free housing. However, KAUST only has less than 2000 students. The people living in all those villas on campus are scientists and administration workers.

Scientists of course never just visit a place just for fun, there always has to be some scientific gain! A common AQABA workshop was held by cruise participants and our host, Prof. Georgiy Stenchikov. We also got to visit some of the laboratories of the university. There, similar to the rest of the campus, it became obvious that nobody there has to worry about funds at all.

After two nights in the luxurious KAUST Inn, we were transported back to our good old ship. Crossing the gangway and being welcomed by wonderful Captain Pavel and his amazing crew felt like coming home.

During the lab tour

In the Ibn Sina building of KAUST

The Blue Mosque (Photo: S. Dörner)

University buildings. (Photo: S. Dörner)

Dining hall terrace

On campus. (Photo: S. Dörner)

On campus. (Photo: S. Dörner)


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