Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nigerian student wins best artificial intelligence research award

Muhammad Abdulkarim, a Nigerian from Yobe State, received the best student paper award at the Advanced Topics in Artificial Intelligence conference in Singapore for his research project which uses artificial intelligence tools to prospect for oil in shallow and deep waters. The conference was attended by eminent scientists from all over the world. Besides Abdulkarim, the only other awardee is a professor from Switzerland.

"When I saw how the first presenters were grilled as if by an examination panel," Abdulkarim said, "I was intimidated and scared. But when I finished my presentation and answered all the probing questions of other researchers and everybody stood up and applauded, I couldn't help giving gratitude to Allah for His help. Finally, when my name was called as the recipient of the best paper award, my tear bags burst and tears freely ran down my cheeks."

Abdulkarim, a PhD student of Universiti Teknologi Petronas Malaysia was the only African at the conference which was attended by scientists from New York Institute of Technology, University of Tulsa, University of Bedfordshire, University of Surrey and many others.

"When I got there, it was immediately apparent to me why the conference rejected many papers - some of them written by professors with decades of experience in the field," Abdulkarim said of his first impression. "The participants didn't take claims by presenters lightly; markers were even provided in case there's the need to show your work. And they asked every question imaginable."

Abdulkarim was a junior lecturer with the University of Abuja in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science before leaving for Malaysia for a doctorate programme at the Department of Computer and Information Sciences of Universiti Teknologi Petronas.

"I am a research fellow in the Electro-Magnetic (EM) research group. The EM research group members are mainly into deep and shallow water technology and enhanced oil recovery. My research domain is actually electrical and electronics engineering, but my specific area is data mining which deals with application of artificial neural network techniques for modeling seabed logging environment," Abdulkarim said.

No help from Nigeria

Abdulkarim said that rather than getting help from his university when he told them he was going for a PhD, he was discouraged. "I faced many challenges before coming to Malaysia. As a lecturer with University of Abuja, I had to take a study leave but when I applied, the HOD of my department said I should defer my admission, it took the intervention of the then DVC, Professor Nwabueze to extricate me from the obstacles the HOD placed on my path. After that, I applied for the ETF sponsorship through the university and Professor Nwabueze assured me that my name was on the list of those getting it, however, his tenure as DVC ended. Up until now, my application for ETF has not been approved. They have also refused to pay my salary.

"Malaysians on the other hand pay me almost N200,000 a month just for my research work, besides paying for materials, conferences and workshops. Further, while my country which needs me the most only discourages me, I've received offers of research collaboration from all the continents of the world except Africa. After the conference, professors from renowned laboratories were eager to give me their cards and promising incentives if I joined them.

Some wanted to know if I intended going back to Nigeria. At the last count, there were 10 professors that wanted me to work with them after my PhD. They're precisely from Germany, Japan, Sweden, Iran, Jordan, USA, New Zealand, Taiwan, Czech Republic and Switzerland.

"I really need to say here that even though I am not a Malaysian, Universiti Teknologi Petronas, being the number one in oil and gas research in Malaysia, gave me all the necessary and enabling environment to operate and achieve this success. They sponsored all the workshops that I attended on learning how to use some simulators, they also paid for my training anywhere I wished to go. Therefore, on my own side, I also make sure I don't disappoint them."

What makes his research unique?

"I think my research won the prize because the EM wave I am working with has no color, we can also not see it; and since it produces no sounds, we can't hear it. It has no scent and no taste, so we can't smell or taste it. But I believe that with mathematics, one can work miracles. So I determined to intelligently find the mathematics and statistics surrounding SBL environment and then computerize it since I am a product of three departments."

How does his research make life easier?

"This research is a marine exploration and it can help humanity immensely as it has to do with energy. Everyone knows the importance of hydrocarbon or petrol and gas (to a lay man). These are major sources of energy today. Therefore, any technique that can facilitate the detection of this commodity is very essential to humanity.

This technology can also help Nigeria in many ways. We have a lot of both deep and shallow waters in Nigeria and Nigeria is blessed with a lot of unidentified hydrocarbon reservoirs. This research is all about offshore remote detection of the presence of oil and gas reservoirs.

"Furthermore, researchers have already speculated that shallow reservoirs are about to dry up; therefore it is very necessary for the oil industries to start thinking of how to search for deeper targets. And I am happy to inform you that our research group has already successfully developed some powerful new design transmitters using nano materials that can be used for that purpose. Due to the non-disclosure agreement that I signed, I do not want to say much in this respect but sincerely, we have gone far."

Daily Trust

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