Meet New Faculty Member Dr. Aboud Afifi

Nov 07 2018

Can you tell us about your early career in geology?

I like science and chose to study geology because it combines science with nature and the outdoors.  I worked initially as a summer intern with the US Geological Survey (USGS), which had a mission in Saudi Arabia to map the Arabian Shield and find mineral deposits.  I was fortune to work with outstanding field geologists who encouraged me to pursue higher education.  I completed my Masters at the Colorado School of Mines where I studied ancient volcanic rocks for my thesis.  I was then hired by the USGS mission and assigned to map the Mahd Adh Dhahab area, or "Cradle of Gold".  It's an ancient gold mine near which the USGS made a new discovery that became a great modern mine, and whose formation became the focus of my PhD dissertation.

How did you end up at Aramco?

I almost stayed in academia after my PhD.  Then I realized that although minerals were important, the entire value of that gold mine is equivalent to a few days of oil production. Joining Aramco was one of the best decisions I ever made, but first, I had to reinvent myself from a "hard rock" geologist to a "soft rock" geologist. Because of the training at Aramco, there was no limit to what you could do professionally.  I was involved is oil and gas discoveries which is very gratifying because it creates wealth and a better future for generations.  At one point I was part of a task force that created joint ventures for gas exploration with major oil companies.  Finding natural gas has a big impact on Saudi Arabia because it's better than oil as an energy source for electric power and desalination. 

What attracted you to KAUST and ANPERC?

I subscribe to the vision of the Late King Abdullah in creating KAUST.  The creation of ANPERC in a very short time presented an opportunity for me to be part of that vision. I was also attracted by the quality of the people at KAUST. It's a very fertile environment because it has that critical mass of talented people, instruments, and funding needed to conduct cutting-edge science. In industry, the focus is on running a successful operation, on revenue streams and being quick on your feet. You can't pause to figure things out from scratch. At KAUST, I like the freedom to work on unsolved problems.  I also enjoy passing my knowledge to others.

Where does your interest in geology come from?

Rocks tell the story about how planets evolve. I became interested in geology at age 12 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and I realized that the main scientific objective is to understand lunar geology. Geology is simply the application of physics, chemistry, and biology to understanding the Earth.  Equally important is finding energy resources and mineral commodities needed by the modern world, from lithium to rare earth elements.  I am particularly passionate about understanding how the Red Sea formed and evolved during the past 30 million years.

What are your goals as a faculty member?

My remaining goals in life are to train and inspire the younger generation of earth scientists and create a sustainable research group at KAUST focused on the geology of the Arabian Plate and the Red Sea. Once I achieve these objectives, I will retire and take my wife on a luxury cruises around the world.