Karem Sakallah Continues Commitment to Qatar Computing Research Institute

Prof. Karem Sakallah Enlarge
Prof. Karem Sakallah

Prof. Karem Sakallah has taken a leave of absence from CSE for calendar year 2014 to help shape the development of the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) in Doha, Qatar.

It’s a role he’s well suited for, as he has contributed toward realizing the vision for the institute since 2005. It was then that he was contacted by Qatar Foundation to participate as an Arab Expatriate Scientist (AES) in IQ 2006, The Founding Conference for Expatriate Arab Scientists, which was held in April 2006.

After the conference, Prof. Sakallah was invited to participate on a Follow-up Committee involving AES and Qatar Foundation members, which was asked to hammer out plans for establishing three research institutes in the areas of Computing, Energy and Environment, and Health and Medicine. That committee’s work extended through 2007.

“This was clearly an ambitious undertaking,” said Prof. Sakallah. “But unlike other similar initiatives in the region which tended to whither over time due to a lack of commitment and resources, the Qatar Foundation initiative had the solid backing of the Qatar Government and a long-term vision to ensure its success.”

Beginning in August 2007, Prof. Sakallah took a sabbatical to work at Carnegie Mellon University’s Qatar campus. While there, he was invited to join a six-member committee of AES to help draft proposals for the three research institutes. He drafted, with Purdue Professor of Computer Science Ahmed Elmagarmid, a document for establishing a Computing Research Center. Plans for the center were presented at QFIRST 2007, The First Conference for Arab Expatriate Scientists, which was held in December 2007.

“We realized that in order to be successful, the institute would need to have a focus that would be of relevance to the region as well as to the wider world,” said Prof. Sakallah. “For example, there is a need to digitize and make accessible many ancient Arabic texts before they are lost, and there are also key issues of relevance in many emerging sectors of computer science.”

A Joint Coordinating Committee was subsequently formed in 2008, which met twice a year and ultimately suggested that research pursued through the computing institute be focused into specific areas, including Arabic language technologies, social computing, data analytics, distributed systems, cyber security, and computational science and engineering.

QCRI was officially established as a national research institute in 2010, with a focus on the suggested areas and a commitment to be a leading center for research and development excellence and innovation. Prof. Elmagarmid was appointed the role of Executive Director. QCRI has since grown rapidly and is now home to over 70 scientists of 28 nationalities.

Since 2010, the Joint Coordinating Committee has been tasked with overseeing the operation of the research institutes and ensuring continued collaboration and participation by Arab Expatriate Scientists in the research agenda. Since 2011, Prof. Sakallah has also been a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference, which addresses Qatar’s research grand challenges.

Prof. Sakallah’s role at QCRI over the next year will be to manage the growth of the Cyber Security Research Area, which the institute wants to expand aggressively. He will also take part in the formation of administrative infrastructure at QCRI, which is needed given its expected future growth.

Other faculty from Michigan’s CSE Division have visited recently become engaged with QCRI through ARC. HV Jagadish, the Bernard A. Galler Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, gave an invited lecture on big data at ARC 2012. Farnam Jahanian, the Edward S. Davidson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, gave the keynote speech on cyber security at ARC 2013. Prof. Jahanian is currently on leave from the University to head the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorates at the National Science Foundation.

Prof. Karem Sakallah received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1981. He was a Principal Software Engineer in the Semiconductor Engineering Group of Digital Equipment Corporation from 1982 to 1988, and joined the faculty at Michigan in 1988. He served as Associate Chair of CSE from 2010–2013. He is a co-founder of Reveal Design Automation, a startup based on his research at Michigan.

Prof. Sakallah has authored or coauthored more than 200 papers and has given numerous seminars, invited lectures, and tutorials at conferences, symposia, research centers, and technology companies. He has served on the program committees of the International Conference on Computer-Aided Design, the Design Automation Conference, the International Conference of Computer Design, the International Conference on the Theory and Applications of Satisfiability Testing, and other workshops. He is a Fellow of ACM and IEEE and a member of Sigma Xi.