Dr. Farouk El-Baz, Director
Center for Remote Sensing
725 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215-1401
Telephone: (617) 353-9709
Direct line: (617) 353-5081
Fax: (617) 353-3200
Dr. Farouk El-Baz is Director of the Center for Remote Sensing and Research Professor at the Departments of Archaeology and Electrical & Computer Engineering, and Associated Faculty at the Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University, Boston, MA, U.S.A. He also serves as faculty advisor to two Boston University student organizations: the “1001 Wells for Darfur,” and the “Egyptian Club.”
He was born on 2 January 1938 in the Nile Delta town of Zagazig. Twenty years later, he received a B.S. in chemistry and geology from Ain Shams University. In 1961, he received a M.S. degree in geology from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, Rolla, MO; his performance won him membership in the honorary scientific societies of Sigma Xi and Sigma Gamma Epsilon. In 1964 he received a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Missouri-Columbia after conducting research in 1962-1963 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge MA.
In recognition of his professional standing, he received the following honorary degrees: Doctor of Science from the New England College, Henniker, NH (1989); Professional Degree from the University of Missouri-Rolla (2002); Doctor of Philosophy from Mansoura University, Mansoura, Egypt (2003); Doctor of Laws from the American University in Cairo (AUC), Egypt (2004); Doctor of Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla – now the Missouri University of Science and Technology, MUST (2004); Doctor of Humane Letters from the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon (2009).
Dr. El-Baz was elected to membership of the following academies of science and technology: Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS); African Academy of Sciences (AAS); Arab Academy of Sciences (AAS); Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS); Missouri Academy of Sciences; Palestine Academy for Science and Technology; Royal Moroccan Academy Hassan II of Science and Technology, Rabat; and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
His professional career began by teaching geology at Asyut University, Egypt (1958-1960) and Heidelberg University, Germany (1964-1965). In 1966, he joined the Pan American – U.A.R. Oil Company, where he participated in the discovery of El-Morgan, the first offshore oil field in the Gulf of Suez.
From 1967 to 1972, Dr. El-Baz participated in the Apollo Program as Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning at Bellcomm Inc., a division of AT&T that conducted systems analysis for NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. During these six years, he was Secretary of the Landing Site Selection Committee for the Apollo missions, Principal Investigator of Visual Observations and Photography, and Chairman of the Astronaut Training Group of the Apollo Photo Team. His outstanding teaching abilities were confirmed by the Apollo astronauts; while circling the Moon for the first time during Apollo mission 15, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden said, “After the King’s [Farouk's nickname] training, I feel like I’ve been here before.”
During the Apollo years, Dr. El-Baz joined NASA officials in briefing members of the press on the results of the lunar missions. His appeal resulted from an ability to simplify complex issues in clear, succinct and easily understood words. His remarks on the scientific accomplishments were regularly quoted by the media during the Apollo missions. At that time, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 1970.
In Episode 10 (“Galileo Was Right”) of the TV series “From the Earth to the Moon,” produced by Tom Hanks for HBO, his role in the training of the Apollo astronauts was featured in a segment entitled: “The Brain of Farouk El-Baz.” In his honor, the popular television program “Star Trek: The Next Generation” featured a shuttle craft named “El-Baz”.
After the Apollo Program ended in 1972, he joined the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC to establish and direct the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies (CEPS) at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). At the same time, he was elected member of the Lunar Nomenclature Task Group of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). In this capacity, he continues to participate in naming features of the Moon as revealed by lunar photographic missions.
In 1973, NASA selected him as Principal Investigator of the Earth Observations and Photography Experiment on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the first joint American-Soviet space mission of July 1975. Emphasis was placed on photographing arid environments, particularly the Great Sahara of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to other features of the Earth and its oceans.
Emphasizing the study of the origin and evolution of arid landscapes, he collected field data during visits to every major desert on Earth. One of his significant journeys took place, soon after the United States and China had normalized relations in 1979, when he coordinated the first visit by American scientists to the deserts of northwestern China. The six-week journey was chronicled in National Geographic and the Explorers Journal. His research on the origin and evolution of the desert resulted in his election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and President of the Arab Society for Desert Research.
Prior to embarking on extensive field trips to harsh deserts, Dr. El-Baz analyzed space photographs utilizing innovative techniques to select sites for detailed ground investigation. He first used this approach in the Western Desert of Egypt and soon applied the method to study deserts in Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Sultanate of Oman, the deserts of China, and the Rajasthan of India.
Dr. El-Baz served his native land as Science Advisor to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat from 1978 to 1981. Because of population growth and the attendant food and fiber requirements, President Sadat believed that Egyptians should not continue to be confined within the Nile Valley and must reclaim more land from the desert.
Dr. El-Baz was assigned the task of selecting desert tracts to develop, without detriment to their environment. He traveled to Egypt’s far corners and described each region’s natural resources and how they could be appropriately used. The many projects that began during those four years continue to help the people of Egypt today. In 1995, the Governor of the Province of Dakahliya, in the eastern part of the Nile Delta, gave him the “Distinguished Son of Dakahliya Award” and inaugurated the “Farouk El-Baz Primary School” in his ancestral village of Toukh El-Aqlam in the eastern Nile Delta.
His desert research, spanning four decades, helped to dispel the public misconception that deserts were man-made and explained how arid lands originated and evolved in response to global climatic variations over thousands of years. His research methods are now commonly replicated in desert studies throughout the world.
From 1982 to 1986, Dr. El-Baz was Vice President of Science and Technology at Itek Optical Systems, Lexington, MA. He oversaw the application of data from the Space Shuttle’s Large Format Camera. The photography of this advanced system assisted greatly in his program of desert study from space.
He was elected Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 1985, and became a member of its Council in 1997. He represents the Academy at the Non-Governmental Unit of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN), New York.
In 1986 he joined Boston University as Research Professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing to promote the use of space technology in the fields of archaeology, geography and geology. Under his leadership, the Center has grown to become a leading force in the applications of remote sensing technology to environments around the world. In 1997, NASA selected it as a “Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing.”
The Gulf War of 1991 presented an opportunity for Dr. El-Baz to disseminate knowledge of the desert terrain with emphasis on the effects of environmental disturbances. As chairman of the committee on Environmental Hazards and Global Change of the TWAS, he led a team of scientists on a fact-finding mission to six Gulf States. His findings were reported in the media throughout the world including on the Evening News of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and interviews on CBS News and CNN. Print media interviews with Dr. El-Baz appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and news magazines such as Time and Newsweek.
Research at the Center has particularly pushed forward the frontiers of applying remote sensing in archaeology. For example, Dr. El-Baz developed a methodology for nondestructive investigation of a sealed chamber containing a disassembled boat at the base of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. He reported the results of this unique investigation in National Geographic and American Scientist, as well as many print, radio and television interviews. He also contributed an article on worldwide applications of remote sensing to archaeology in the “1991 Yearbook of Science and the Future” of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and another to the August 1997 issue of Scientific American.
Throughout his career, Dr. El-Baz has succeeded in conveying the excitement of scientific research and the importance of using advanced technology. One of his efforts resolved the 1995 controversy about the crowd size in Washington DC’s “Million Man March”. He estimated the number of participants in the march (more than 870,000 individuals) using the same computer techniques applied to counting sand dunes in the desert.
Dr. El-Baz is well known as a pioneer in the application of space-borne data to ground-water exploration. He utilizes satellite images to identify fracture zones, and radar data to reveal sand-buried courses of former rivers. He successfully applied these methods in the arid lands of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. His findings alleviated shortages of ground water in areas of dire need. This won him the M.T. Halbouty Human Needs Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). He was appointed Senior Advisor to the World Bank/UN World Commission on Water for the 21st Century. He was also appointed Environment Ambassador by the Euro-Arab Environment Organization, and Honorary President of the Arab Union for the Protection of the Environment.
A milestone application of satellite image analysis to the location of groundwater resources was first proposed in 1982 by Dr. El-Baz in southwest Egypt, part of the driest region on Earth. Sites for exploration wells were selected in a sand-covered plain that was believed to be a former lake in past geologic times. Sweet water was proven in vast amounts to supply over 1,000 wells (more than 100 meters deep) to water wheat, chickpeas and other crops in this “East Oweinat” region. Today, that wheat is utilized in flour mills to produce daily bread for much of southern Egypt. The proven fossil water resources are capable of supplying water for agriculture on 250,000 acres for more than 100 years.
The unrest in the Darfur region of northwestern Sudan, just south of the border of Egypt, prompted a study of the region to help ease water shortages. Many of the Darfur problems stem from competition over scarce water resources between sedentary farmers and nomadic populations. Applying what was learned from the case of southwest Egypt, Dr. El-Baz initiated a study of the Darfur region. In North Darfur, the boundaries of a now dry ancient lake were clearly recognized. Some of its water would have been stored in the porous rock layers below. He was able to take the results to local officials, with the support of the United Nations. As well drilling became viable, students of Boston University, under the “1001 Wells for Darfur” initiative, began to collect funds to drill one well (at the cost of $10,000) in the name of Boston University students.
Dr. El-Baz is the author or editor of landmark books on the use of space photography to define geological features, including: The Moon as Viewed by Lunar Orbiter (1970), Apollo Over the Moon (1978), Astronaut Observations from the Apollo-Soyuz Mission (1978), Egypt as Seen by Landsat (1979), ASTP Summary Science Report: Visual Observations and Photography (1979), Desert Landforms of Southwest Egypt: A Basis for Comparison with Mars (1982), Deserts and Arid Lands (1984), Physics of Desertification (1986), Remote Sensing and Resource Exploration (1989), The Gulf War and the Environment (1994), The Arab World and Space Research: Where do We Stand (1998), Ground Water Potential of the Sinai Peninsula (1998), Atlas of the State of Kuwait from Satellite Images (2000), Wadis of Oman: Satellite Image Atlas (2002), Sultanate of Oman: Satellite Image Atlas (2004), Remote Sensing in Archaeology (2007), and Development Corridor: Securing a Better Future for Egypt (2007). He has contributed over 250 scientific papers to professional journals, supervised numerous graduate students, and lectured at academic institutions and research centers worldwide.
Dr. El-Baz chaired several scientific committees including the U.S. National Committee for Geological Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Charles Stark Draper Prize Award Committee of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Steering Committee of the Keck Futures Initiative on Imaging Sciences of the National Academies. He also served on the committees on the Grand Challenges for Engineering of the NAE, the U.S. National Committee of the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE), the International Geological Program (IGCP) of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) of UNESCO, Paris, the Advisory Committee of the Great-Man Made River Prize of UNESCO, the Advisory Council on Science and Technology, Cairo, Egypt, the Royal Scientific Society, Amman, Jordan, and was Senior Advisor to Techno Park, Dubai, U.A.E. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Geological Society of America (GSA), the Library of Alexandria, the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, the Egyptian-American Affairs Council, the Moroccan-American Council, the World Affairs Council of Boston, the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute in Doha, Qatar, the University of the Middle East, and Mentor Arabia, Beirut, Lebanon. He also serves as judge of the “Stars of Science” innovation competition, Doha, Qatar. He continues to serve on the boards of Arab American National Museum, the Future University in Khartoum, Sudan, the Center for Technological Innovation, the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF Global), the Advisory Council of EXPAC, Aramco Oil Company, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Chair of the Advisory Board of ICON Consulting Company, Dubai, U.A.E., Chair of the specialist group for Enhancing Arabic Language Use of the Dubai Arabic Language Initiative, and member for the Advisory Board of the Arab Common Exchange, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. He also serves on the editorial boards of several international professional journals, and is a member of many national and international professional societies and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Astronomical Society (London), and the Explorers Club (New York).
Dr. El-Baz has won numerous honors and awards, including NASA’s Apollo Achievement Award, Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and Special Recognition Award, the University of Missouri Alumni Achievement Award for Extraordinary Scientific Accomplishments, the Certificate of Merit of the World Aerospace Education Organization, the Golden Door Award of the International Institute of Boston, the Award for Public understanding of Science and Technology of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Arab Republic of Egypt Order of Merit – First Class, the Nevada Medal, the Pioneer Award of the Arab Thought Foundation, the Golden Award of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (Cairo, Egypt), the Best Letter Award of the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society of London, the World Water Masters Award of the International Desalination Association (IDA), and the Most Influential Alumnus of the Missouri University of Science and Technology (MUST), the 2013 Caroline and Charles Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Prize of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
In 1999, the Geological Society of America (GSA) established the “Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research,” an annual award aimed at rewarding excellence in arid land studies by experts worldwide. It was followed by the “Farouk El-Baz Student Award” to be presented annually to one male and one female graduate student to encourage desert research throughout the world.
In 2009, his name was given to a teaching and research laboratory as “The Farouk El-Baz Center for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems” at Port Said University, Egypt. Furthermore, the “El-Baz Award for Excellence in Organizational Sustainability” was initiated in 2011 by the Hamdan Bin Muhammed E-University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Dr. El-Baz travels often to the Middle East and North Africa to acquire and spread knowledge about the desert. Following the 25 January revolution in Egypt, he has returned often to encourage the young generation of students, and increase the participation of youth in future affairs of the country. He lectures on the potential for development of Egypt’s deserts in the future to strengthen the economy and open new vistas for development. Furthermore, he initiated a volunteer group of university students to participate in illiteracy eradication in poor sections of cities, and in villages and oases.
He and his wife, Patricia, have four daughters: Monira (Mika), Soraya, Karima, and Fairouz. They also have seven grandchildren: Yasmeen, Alia, Billy, Ian, Sarah, Ava and Jack.