Who is Faiza Al-Kharafi?
Pr. Faiza Al-Kharafi - Kuwait
2011 Laureate for Africa and the Arab States
For her work on corrosion, a problem of fundamental importance to water
treatment and the oil industry.
Faiza Al-Kharafi has been committed to science since a young age. She went on to become a leading
scientific figure in Kuwait, experiencing first-hand women’s contribution to the development of science
and their strong commitment. As president of Kuwait University from 1993 to 2002, she was in charge
of 1,500 staff members, more than 5000 employees and more than 20,000 students annually. Today,
she emphasises the important role women play in scientific research.“In the Faculty of Science at
Kuwait University, more than 40 percent of the staff members and students are female. Their
contribution to the development of science in general is very important.”
A WOMAN WHO ACCEPTSCHALLENGES
Throughout her career, Faiza Al-Kharafi has noted how “many people underestimated the abilities
of women in science,” she explains. “Another big challenge was finding the right balance between my
work and raising my children. By hard work, dedication and commitment, and also thanks to time
management and family help,” she says, she was able to succeed at this difficult juggling act.
Professor Al-Kharafi is extremely pleased to receive this award that promotes the cause of women
scientists. “I very much hope that this prize will encourage young people – especially girls – to
specialise in scientific fields and be more involved and committed to the development of society.”
What is she research about?
Finding innovative ways to fight corrosion
Professor Faiza Al-Kharafi has spent her career investigating the mechanisms underlying the
corrosion of metals and finding practical solutions to inhibit it. The fight against corrosion is essential
for the development of the energy sector in Kuwait, but her work has had an impact far beyond,
leading to real progress for basic science, water treatment and the oil industry.
Professor Al-Kharafi has studied copper and platinum, in particular, because these metals and their
alloys are widely used in many industrial processes. She founded the first Corrosion and
Electrochemistry Research Laboratory at Kuwait University in 1967, establishing a center of activity for
research into corrosion, training dozens of young scientists in this field, and facilitating collaborations
with other researchers around the world.
A new class of catalysts that could revolutionize oil refining
In addition to corrosion, Faiza Al-Kharafi has studied a related and important phenomenon: catalysis.
When a metal reacts with its surroundings and the reaction permanently changes the metal, that
process is called corrosion (rust being the most common manifestation of corrosion), and this is
generally undesirable. But sometimes a metal can actually speed up a reaction between two other
molecules and remain unchanged itself. This is called catalysis, and it is extremely important in many
industrial applications, such as water treatment and oil refinement. For example, platinum catalysts are
widely used in oil refinement to increase the octane rating of gasoline, and catalysts are also used to
remove certain pollutants from drinking water.
Side reactions, however, often reduce the efficiency of metal catalysts. For example, unwanted side
reactions occur when platinum catalysts used in oil refinement cause the production of benzene, which
is carcinogenic. For this reason, oil refinement is subject to strict environmental controls, and oil
refineries must find ways to remove most of the benzene before they can send oil to market. This
generates huge additional expense, as well as the environmental problems associated with removing
and storing the benzene.
Professor Al-Kharafi and her team discovered a new class of catalysts, based on the element
molybdenum, which are not affected by this problem. They characterized the mechanisms of action for
these new catalysts, and showed how they could increase the octane number of gasoline without
producing benzene. This work could potentially revolutionize the process of oil refinement, while
simultaneously making it less expensive and safer for refinery workers, the environment and the