Meet Zainab Al-Saihati, green chemist and avid traveler!
Hi, I'm Zainab Al-Saihati!
What do you work on?
I just finished my PhD from Caltech, where I focused on green chemistry. One aspect of green chemistry involves developing alternative processes for industry that are relatively more green and benign to the environment. During my PhD, I worked on a process called alkane conversion, in which alkanes are transformed into other types of molecules, such as alcohols. Because alkanes are inert (unreactive), most types of conversion require intensive energy. For example, the current industry methods for alkane conversion typically require temperatures up to 1000°C. However, the method I developed in graduate school uses far less energy and requires temperatures no higher than 200°C.
I will soon return to a position at Saudi Aramco in the R&D department. My work will involve improving the quality and efficiency of downstream fuels to help mitigate carbon emissions.
How did you become interested in science, and what did you study?
Since I was young, I was always curious about the phenomena around us. I enjoyed chemistry when I was in high school, and my interest grew because of how diverse chemistry is and that it could literally be applied in many fields.
Choosing science as a field is not very common especially for women in Saudi Arabia. But the opportunity for me opened up when Saudi Aramco started sponsoring young women in their elite scholarship program. Upon graduation from high school, I was admitted to their program and I went to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue my undergraduate studies. Despite being thousands of miles away from home by myself at a young age, I was determined and committed to my studies. I experienced research at an academic setting and I enjoyed it very much, hence I decided to pursue a PhD in chemistry. My experiences at UT Austin and at Caltech has shaped me to become the independent, motivated woman I am today.
What do you do for fun in your spare time?
I am from Saudi Arabia, and I love traveling very much and experiencing different cultures! Hence, I traveled twice for my education. Although I was very busy during my PhD journey at Caltech, I made sure that I took small trips every couple of months to drive my motivation, especially at stressful times. I also enjoy the outdoors and doing short hikes. One of my favorite trips was going to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks after I was done with school!
What’s your one piece of advice for people interested in chemistry?
Chemistry is an intricate field, but if you put up your mind to anything you can do it! Keep thinking about your life goals and the possibilities that chemistry can open for you to motivate you during hardships. In addition, finding a great mentor can really help you excel in your education and career, so always keep in touch and build your network!