Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Science Oasis

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Science is so woven into the fabric of western cultures, we rarely get to see the transformative effect it can have. Case in point: the grand opening of KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia on September 23rd.

KAUST is the first educational campus in Saudi Arabia to allow women and men to mix freely, a tangible sign of the recent bloom of progressive ideas in this country. Women can drive their cars on site, and do not have to wear veils in the classroom. The institution does not permit religious police to operate there.

The school is funded by a multi-billion dollar endowment fund from - where else - big Saudi oil, and boasts the middle East's fastest supercomputer, a fully immersive virtual reality system called CORNEA, and a gorgeous beachfront campus on the Red Sea.

Most current students and faculty are international, but the idea is to incorporate more locals over time and hopefully counter the stifling grip conservative clerics and princes have on scientific progress. The namesake of the University, King Abdullah, and his supporters have been pushing for such reforms since he took office in 2005. Only now are they seeing the result of combined efforts across Saudi society: a real science oasis. Or at least, what looks like one - only time will tell whether science can thrive in the face of hard line orthodoxy.

~Rheanna Sand

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