McCormick Magazine

Electronics in Egypt

Yehea Ismail operates labs on both sides of the Atlantic


electronicsYehea Ismail had the microelectronics expertise, and he had the knowledge of Egypt. Then suddenly last year the timing for these two areas to merge was perfect: Egypt was poised to become the technological headquarters of the Middle East but lacked the resources to meet the demands of global companies who called Cairo home.

It was then that Ismail knew he could help make a difference. So he took a sabbatical year and went to Nile University, a three-year-old science, technology, and business school in the heart of Cairo's "smart village" Information and Communication Technologies sector. There he started contacting companies in the region to discuss creating a new electronics design and development center. "There was huge interest in such a center," says Ismail, who is an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. "It's something that happened out of need."

The Nanoelectronics Systems Inte-grated Center was born. It focuses on high-performance, low-power integrated circuit design as well as computer-aided integrated circuit design, physical layer design for wireless communications, and design of sensors and micromechanical systems.

With the help of companies like Intel and IBM — both hungry for the technology and talent that such a center would provide — Ismail secured an equipment fund that helped purchase high-speed measurement equipment and a server for the center. He also secured agreements with the companies to foster internships and fellowships and found funding for 12 graduate students.

And he did all this within seven months.

"It's an accomplishment that is startling even to me," he says. "It shows that there is a need. I didn't need to push. There was a hunger for something like this."

electronicsTo create the center, Ismail used both his experience and his connections. He was with IBM Cairo Scientific Center from 1993 to 1996 and later worked with IBM Microelectronics in New York. His primary research interests include interconnect, noise, innovative circuit simulation, and related circuit-level issues in high-performance VLSI circuits.

Though he's originally from Egypt, Ismail says the reasons for his involvement with the center go far beyond his love of country. "If you want to work in the Middle East/North Africa region, Egypt is centrally located, and it is also the most open culture in the region," he says. "So every international company has its Middle East headquarters here. Companies are also outsourcing to Egypt."

Such a center could benefit McCormick and Northwestern as well, Ismail says. He hopes to create an official partnership between Nile University and Northwestern to take advantage of these strengths. "We could immediately gain strategic importance in the region," he says. A joint PhD program — where students spend half of their time at each school — could bring more graduate school options to Egypt, where students often leave the country for graduate study, while easing the financial burden on Northwestern.

"The infrastructure is there," Ismail says. "Egypt is the place where growth is going to happen."

—Emily Ayshford