Working behind the scenes

LEM-new hires article Oct 2021 (resize)

New Senior LEM Specialists Muhammad Asim and Abdulkhalik Khalifa bring experience and enthusiasm for research support to the KAUST Core Labs team. Photo by Khulud Muath.

By Lab Equipment Maintenance Core Lab team and Veronica Tremblay


The King Abdullah University of Technology (KAUST) Core Labs welcome two new Senior Specialists, Muhammad Asim and Abdulkhalik Khalifa, to the Lab Equipment Maintenance Core Lab (LEM) team! Asim and Khalifa bring experience and enthusiasm for research support to the KAUST Core Labs.


LEM’s mission is to support KAUST research and graduate education by maintaining a world-class inventory of critical instrumentation and equipment. The LEM team ensures research-related equipment is serviced and maintained, reducing cost and down time to accelerate research and allowing students, researchers and faculty to focus on science and innovation. Team members must be highly skilled on a variety of research equipment, have excellent communication skills for working across divisions within the University and the experience to advise on non-technical aspects of the equipment lifecycle, from procurement to replacement.


Muhammad Asim – A long-time member of the KAUST family


Muhammad Asim

Senior LEM Specialist Muhammad Asim performs preventative maintenance on a Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC), which is used to characterize a variety of temperature-dependent changes. Photo by Khulud Muath.


While Muhammad Asim joined KAUST officially in January 2021, he has had a long relationship with the University. Asim first arrived to support KAUST as a vendor representative in May 2009, even before the University’s inauguration in September 2009. It was an exciting and busy time.


Asim says, “KAUST was booming up. Everything was in process. Professors were coming, and instruments were flooding into every lab in those days. So, I was responsible for half of Saudi Arabia, but 60 to 70 percent of my time was spent just in KAUST.”


Asim earned his master’s degree in electronics and telecommunication at Karachi University and is assigned currently to the Physical Technologies Unit within LEM. He worked for multi-vendor support companies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia prior to joining KAUST, gaining experience on a variety of scientific instruments. His main expertise is in thermo-physical (TGA, DSC, DMA and rheometer) and microwave digestion systems, though he also has experience working on chromatography (IC, GC and GC-MS) and spectroscopy (UV/VIS, fluorescence, AAS and ICP-OES) instruments. Over his 18 years in the field, he has cultivated a large business network of sales and service experts at vendor companies and research instrument suppliers both in Kingdom and throughout the region.


Asim’s passion is helping support researchers. When offered a company sales position, he turned it down because he would no longer be working directly with the specialists using the equipment for scientific discovery. He says, “I like to support people, either individually or as a team. So that is what has driven me all the way from 2003 when I started in this field.”


Asim shows initiative. While working as a vendor representative for KAUST from 2009 to 2020, he grew familiar with KAUST and helped install much of the equipment he works on now as part of LEM. He installed, maintained and repaired all types of research equipment as the lead engineer for the complete range of SCION GC and GC-MS instruments, the TA Instruments thermal analysis and rheology product line, HITACHI UV/VIS, HORIBA ICP, fluorescence products, RIGAKU ED XRF, LINSEIS and Spectrum Instruments. That broad experience allows him to volunteer to assist in all four LEM divisions.


When he realized the LEM team was giving the same trainings repeatedly, he developed video trainings and standard operating procedures with detailed steps and graphics to share with new students and researchers.  


After a decade of working in KAUST as a service provider, Asim says LEM is the perfect fit: “I know the machines, I know the professors, I know KAUST, I know LEM. We have people who are the founding members of LEM and KAUST still with us. I have a lot of respect for them. I have known them from the beginning, but now I am proud to be a part of the same team.”


Abdulkhalik Khalifa – Always up for a challenge


Abdulkhalik Khalifa

Senior LEM Engineer Abdulkhalik Khalifa checks the position of a probe in a Thermo Orbitrap Fusion ID-X, the latest model in the Orbitrap Fusion family, after installation. Photo by Khulud Muath.


Abdulkhalik Khalifa also began working in Saudi Arabia for equipment vendors before moving to KAUST in January 2021. Khalifa says, “I’m always searching for the best and challenging myself. KAUST Core Labs is the best workplace in Saudi Arabia, so I decided to start a new career challenge.”


Khalifa studied applied chemistry at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and earned his master’s degree in quality management systems from the Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime in Alexandria. He has had experience in pharmaceutical and food analysis labs and is working currently in the Analytical Technologies Unit within LEM.


Analytical lab instruments have been his specialty since 2005. In 2018–2019, Khalifa was honored to help develop the first doping lab ever in Saudi Arabia, based in King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). He worked to install three Orbitrap mass spectrometry instruments from Thermo Fisher Scientific, develop testing methods and train staff on the new procedures. Then, the new doping lab team analyzed over 3,000 camel blood samples during the biggest five camel races in Saudi Arabia.


At KAUST, Khalifa is responsible for maintaining, repairing, performing user training on the chromatography, mass spectroscopy, elemental spectroscopy and molecular spectroscopy instruments in all KAUST Core Labs. He is experienced as a trained field-service engineer on Thermo Q Exactive Orbitrap, TSQ Altis LCMSMS, GCMS, LA-ICPMS, UHPLC-ICPMS, IC-ICPMS, ICPOES, UHPLC, Raman microscope, FT-Raman, FT-microscope, FT-IR, FT-NIR, GC-IR and Thermo Scientific discrete analyzers, and he also has experience working on Agilent GCMS, GC, GPC, UHPLC and ICPMS.


Part of his job is to reduce the need for outside vendors because they can be costly and slow to arrive in KAUST, which increases machine downtime and delays research. Recently, a very complicated instrument was supposed to be installed in the Bioscience Core Lab (BCL) by a Bruker engineer, but Khalifa performed the installation himself. Nicole Cheung, BCL Director, commended him for his “impressive passion, dedication and determination to deliver a working unit to us in the best and fastest way.”


LEM – Now part of the KAUST Core Labs


LEM has served the KAUST research community through equipment maintenance and technical support services since 2009, and in 2020 LEM became part of the KAUST Core Labs. Asim says, “We feel very secure as part of a bigger organization. We have a bigger support team, and we are directly engaged in the research. This is very good for all of us at LEM, including me, that we are now part of Core Labs.”