CMU Portugal Inside Story: Latifah Almaghrabi

Latifah Almaghrabi is a CMU Portugal student in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Saudi Arabia, having started her Ph.D. in 2020 at Carnegie Mellon ECE Department from the College of Engineering and the University of Aveiro in Portugal. She graduated from Georgia Tech in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and received a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from KAUST in 2020. Her research focuses on studying and modeling ECM-based neural scaffolds for spinal cord injuries. For her thesis, she is investigating sustainable powering solutions for implanted medical devices. Latifah is co-advised by Prof. Philip LeDuc from CMU and Dr. Paula Marques and Prof. Pedro Fonseca from the University of Aveiro. She loves being out in nature.

In my free time, you will find me walking around the city, hiking trails in nature, going on adventures and road trips with my friends. Sometimes I would carry my digital camera and capture stillness in an otherwise dynamic moment.
I am always exploring new flavors of coffee and learning about it. Exploring martial arts is a wonderful way to establish discipline, build strength and stay active. I have learned Krav Maga and Taekwondo before and recently Kickboxing.


What do you like most about Portugal and Aveiro?

The nature in Portugal is captivating, the mountains in the south, the rock formations along the coast of Algarve, and the cold and mighty ocean waves here in Aveiro. Aside from the beauty of Aveiro, what I value most is the kindness of its people. They are always ready and happy to help.

Can you let us know about your academic background?

I hail from the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia, where I finished my primary to secondary education (K-12). Afterward, the KAUST Gifted Student Program offered me full sponsorship and support to pursue higher education in the United States. A few years later, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2018. As part of my commitment, I enrolled in the Master of Electrical Engineering program at KAUST in Saudi Arabia. I concluded my thesis on piezoelectric GaN-based energy harvesting nanowires in 2020. Having had some exposure to scientific research, I began to understand how it connects different worlds and wanted to enrich my experience further and expand my network around the world. The CMU Portugal Program was a unique and fitting opportunity for that as it would allow me to have research experience in different continents.

I was browsing through the CMU website when I read about the CMU Portugal Program for the first time.
I was excited as, at that time, I was applying to different Ph.D. programs in the States and across Europe.
he CMU Portugal Program combines both options beautifully.


Later on, my CMU faculty advisor Professor Philip LeDuc helped me learn about the program in greater detail and supported me tremendously through the enrollment process.

In Portugal, why did you choose the University of Aveiro?

Professor Philip LeDuc introduced me to one of my faculty advisors at the University of Aveiro (UA), Dr. Paula Marques. I was quite captivated by the project she is leading, NeuroStimSpinal (NSS, H2020-FETOPEN, Nº 829060), and wanted to seize the opportunity, so I applied to UA and joined her team. Here at UA, I am also fortunate to receive guidance and supervision from Professor Pedro Fonseca from the Department of Electronics, Telecommunications, and Informatics, who is also working on the NSS project.

How is this experience of living in Aveiro going?

The electronics engineering program at UA has witnessed considerable changes. Also, the coursework requirement are quite different from the ECE program at CMU. The contrast is good as it minimizes the repetitiveness between my CMU and Aveiro experiences.

Aside from academic work, the city of Aveiro is a beautiful place to be with the right balance of size, busy life, and serenity. The people here are kind, peaceful, and welcoming. Last year, I began taking language classes, and the experience has been delightful.

Briefly, can you tell us about the research work you are carrying out under your Ph.D.?

I am taking an active role in the characterization of graphene electrodes and spinal cord scaffolds based on an adipose decellularized matrix for the NSS project. We have developed these custom materials in the lab. And we are optimizing, studying, and modeling their electrical properties, which is helpful for better integration with the electronics system we have built. I am also researching the development of wireless energy transfer mechanisms to sustainably power medical implants. Specifically, I am interested in using ultrasound energy to recharge batteries in implanted devices. This is crucial, as the battery size is a limiting factor in many of today’s implantable medical devices.

When will you go to CMU and what are your expectations?

I expect to go to CMU at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year. I have already been engaged with my professor and colleagues at CMU virtually, but I am very excited to meet them in person, see their experiments and work, and learn from them.

Do you already have an idea of what you will do after your Ph.D.?

Learning new concepts thrills me, especially understanding the fundamentals of how things work. We don’t know what we don’t know, but I hope to continue to question, explore and rediscover no matter what career path I forge for myself.

An advice for candidates thinking on applying to the Program, namely other young women:

Looking from the top of a mountain gives you a good vantage point. Looking from across the ocean gives you a perspective. The real world is built from a complex network. Building connections can help you tackle many of the problems we face today.
The CMU Portugal Program is a great way to build your network and gain perspective. I am grateful to be where I am and I hope you will too.