In 2006, Dr. Anaam Al-ShaikhAli joined the Research and Development Center (R&DC) at Saudi Aramco, among only two other female scientists. In 2021, their numbers have increased to 43 female lab scientists and 23 female engineers.
From the beginning, Dr. Al-ShaikhAli expected her foray into the male-dominated field of chemistry to be an adventure. She settled in quickly, and was happy to discover that she and her female counterparts were not only welcomed, but highly respected by their male colleagues.
Today, she works as a senior lab scientist in Aramco’s Advanced Analysis Unit of the Technical Services Division, focusing on materials characterizations. On a daily basis, her unit works in parallel with researchers and field engineers to develop innovative solutions to solve complex challenges related to oil and gas applications. Using advanced and complementary characterization techniques, including microscopies, spectroscopies and thermal analysis, she and her team characterize in-house developed materials, conduct material failure and root-cause analysis, and participate in corrosion investigation studies.
“The various technical projects we conduct give an in-depth characterization of materials, ranging from metal, polymers, sludge, and membranes to catalysts, using advanced analytical techniques, such as electron microscopy. Electron microscopy probes and maps the surface and sub-surface structure of any soil material to enable the gathering of information about its structure in nanoscale. Interpretation of the acquired microstructural imaging and compositional analyses plays an important role in our increased understanding of why different materials show different properties and behaviors.”
Dr. Al-ShaikhAli is also a pioneer in another way. “I was the first female in my family to study abroad and pursue my advanced degree. My family was a bit hesitant, but they supported me,” she says.
She remembers how she loved looking into labs when she was a girl and wanting to conduct experiments. She got her chance in high school, where experiments that allowed her to work with physical objects and observe their change and behavior riveted her attention. “I was working with things I could feel. I could see the crystals, watch the beautiful colors and smell the reactions. This made me love chemistry even more than I’d imagined I would.”
With her mind made up, and boosted by her excellent scores, Dr. Al-ShaikhAli went on to earn a BS in Chemistry; a Master’s degree from the University of Manchester; and her PhD degree in Chemical Science in the field of catalysis, from the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST).
However, Dr. Al-ShaikhAli is most proud of how her accomplishments are motivating others. “Now, I’ve become a role model for girls in the younger generation—and they aim high and are following in my footsteps.”