Yemeni professor develops invisibility theory
2011 was full of success stories for Yemeni figures who received honors abroad. Tawakul Karman, the first Muslim woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize received particularly strong coverage.
One who wasn’t featured in Yemen’s media was Dr. Akram Al-Omainey. The Yemeni professor was recently honored in Britain for his theory on the invisibility of objects. At the British Science Festival, Al-Omainey received the Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award, an award given annually to young engineers and scientists who exhibit outstanding communication skills when before a non-specialist audience.
31-year-old Dr. Akram Al-Omainey's award-winning research was on the “engineering cloak of invisibility,” a theory which suggests that human beings can be made invisible.
Last September in London, he delivered his reception speech to a large audience that included famous scientists and proponents of education. From then until the present time, Al-Omainey has continued to deliver his talk throughout the United Kingdom.
"My main research focus was on the influence of radio signals on the human body and vice-versa, which to the external spectator seems to be a straightforward and direct problem and solution equation. It is, however, a complex issue due to the realization that we humans are not only physiologically and psychologically complex: we are also one complicated electric machine, with each organ and blood vein carrying different properties,” he said.
Al-Omainey explained that he worked with a great professor and scientist as he completed his PhD and initial research, and that he was always encouraged by him to think outside the box.
“The idea of using non-natural meta-materials with different characteristics to focus images and light into one place – hence making the perfect lens – came from Professor Sir John Pendry from Imperial College in London. He went on to prove that objects can theoretically be made invisible by bending light.
"The idea was quite intriguing since it was based on making stuff disappear – or correctly making them invisible."
He explained that theoretically the idea was proven possible, but had yet to be in reality.
“In theory, there is no difference between theory and measurements – but in measurements, there is! So the major challenge was to prove that human being can bend light around an object so that it appears invisible; we can see things because they reflect light and if we can manage to bend light around an object, no-one could ever see it.
"Many groups around the world are now working towards making this a reality...but taking into consideration all the obstacles and challenges, it could take us around 20-25 years to actually make an object – a small book, for example – invisible in all situations and in any place," he said.
"This isn't only to make stuff disappear so that we can live out Harry Potter fantasies; it has many beneficial applications. These include making building and other obstacles appear invisible for radio and mobile signals, so that we may have the best possible telephone call quality. Making things invisible do so not only for our eyes, but for any kind of signal, such as having better satellite links without influence from buildings or trees."
Al-Omainey completed his secondary education in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1998 as one of the top students in the kingdom. He completed his higher education in London with the support of his family.
He received his Master’s degree in Communications Engineering from Queen Mary University in London in 2003. He was then awarded an Overseas Research Scholarship, which is awarded by the UK government to outstanding international students.
He obtained his PhD in Advanced Electrical and Electronic Studies in 2007 from the same university and continued to work as a researcher on topics related to body-centric communications and the role of wireless technologies in our everyday lives.
This work led to his obtaining a lectureship position at Queen Mary University. In addition to continuing his research, he taught university students about the basics behind many of the advanced technologies people use today.
"I became interested in the communications and electronics fields at an early age. This interest was nourished and encouraged by my father and mother, who were always and still are supportive, loving and above all great parents, providing guidance for myself, my elder brother and younger sister," he said.
"From my first day at university, I was interested in radio signals and their behavior. I made sure to acquire knowledge and learn more about this topic, which led to a few projects of mine related to this field. This influenced my research topic choice, which was electromagnetics and theories behind wireless technologies.
“One of the major global challenges in science and engineering is marketing the fields' advantages. From the start of my lectureship, I became involved with outreach activities, promoting science and engineering to children, young adults and the general public, no matter what their background was.
My main goal and objective now is to deliver science awareness and an enthusiasm to better our societies in the ever-changing Middle East," said Al-Omainy.
Although his successful journey started in Saudi Arabia, where he was brought up, and continued in the UK, Dr. Al-Omainy says that he still considers Yemen to be the center of his life.
"Yemen has always been the center of my life, as my parents made sure that we remembered who we are and where we came from. We knew everything about Yemeni culture and heritage. We visited our country frequently, and we managed to enhance the bond with our homeland, Arabia Felix,” he concluded.