Juan Sebastian Totero Gongora


BS.c. Sapienza University of Rome,  2009
MS.c. Sapienza University of Rome,  2012
PhD student at KAUST since 2012
Advisor: Prof. Andrea Fratalocchi

Why did you choose KAUST? 

When I first heard about KAUST, I was working on my master’s thesis in Italy. My supervisor, Dr. Andrea Fratalocchi, told me about the possibility of joining KAUST as a PhD student. He invited me to visit the campus, and I was stunned by the beauty of the place and by the incredible resources provided to students. I immediately realized that KAUST and the PRIMALIGHT group led by my supervisor were the perfect combination for completing a successful and enriching PhD program. I also felt the chance to be part of starting a new university in a country I’d never lived in before was a great challenge and an enviable opportunity.

How is KAUST helping you to fulfill your dream?

KAUST provides me with the perfect environment to carry out my research projects. Housing and other services are almost completely taken care of by the University, allowing me fully focus on my work and research. Moreover, my supervisor has provided me with all the tools necessary to complete my work, which is something I was not used to previously. All of these factors have allowed me to grow quickly as a researcher.

What is your research topic?

Our group (PRIMALIGHT) is one of the leading groups in the world in the field of the interaction and propagation of light in complex and disordered systems. Using strong theoretical approaches while also working on the experimental realization of our theories, we are studying phenomena involving the behavior of light in the presence of non-trivial environments. This very promising field is full of possible applications, and we believe it will become even more important in the future. 

What is your research accomplishment so far?

The group and I are currently working in collaboration with researchers from other top universities in the world on different projects which we believe will lead to high-impact publications. Two papers involving optical forces applications have also been submitted for review. 

What do you think about the KAUST environment and social life?

When I first came to Saudi Arabia, I was full of misconceptions about the Middle East. I realized quickly that Arab culture and its hospitality are precious and I will keep them forever in my heart. The international community I have met at KAUST is also unique, as it has allowed me to get in touch with so many different cultures and people from all over the world. Although the University is somewhat far from Jeddah, the staff organizes many events and activities focused on building and strengthening the community. The recreation and sports facilities available for the students are very good, and the recreation staff is also nice and helpful.​