Malta VII - Frontiers of Science: Research and Education in the Middle East

 Morton Z. Hoffman <hoffman@bu.edu>
Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Boston University
Treasurer, Malta Conferences Foundation

The terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris a few days earlier, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the continuing humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq served as the backdrop for the seventh biennial Malta Conference (Malta VII) on scientific research and education in the Middle East, which was held at the Sofitel Hotel in Rabat, Morocco, on November 15-20, 2015.

The six previous Malta Conferences took place in Valletta, Malta (2003, 2005, 2013), Istanbul, Turkey (2007), Amman, Jordan (2009), and Paris, France (2011 at UNESCO headquarters as part of the celebration of the International Year of Chemistry).  The Malta Conferences Foundation (MCF), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization incorporated in Washington, DC, organizes the Conferences and raises money for their support.

The recent horrifying events within the Middle East and around the world led to an increased determination by the more than 90 participants at Malta VII to unite with one another to build collaborations as a bridge to peace.  With scientists and science educators from universities and national institutes, including students and early-career scientists, from 15 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates), as well as speakers and meeting organizers from U.S. and Europe, the Conference featured plenary lectures by four Nobel Laureates, workshops on topics of importance to the participants from the region, oral and poster presentations, and opportunities for everyone to make personal and professional connections.

Amazingly, given the declared and undeclared states of war and political animosities among the MENA countries, only one person, a representative from Libya, was denied a visa to enter Morocco.  Even the Syrians and Iraqis, who received their visas on the day before the Conference was to begin, were able to come and tell us first-hand about the hardships they encounter on a daily basis in their lives and professional work as well as the obstacles they faced to make the trip to Morocco.

The plenary lectures were given by the following chemistry Nobel Laureates:

  • Ada Yonath (Weizmann Institute, Israel, 2009), Borderless Science.
  • Dan Shechtman (Technion, Israel, 2011), Technological Entrepreneurship: Key to World Peace and Prosperity.
  • Roald Hoffmann (Cornell University, 1981), Two New Games for Carbon.
  • Martin Karplus (Harvard University, 2013), Motion: Hallmark of Life From Marsupials to Molecules.

The following keynote speakers also made presentations:

  • Yvonne Pope (Chemical Abstracts Services), SciFinder – The Choice for Chemistry Research.
  • Olli Vuola (Aalto University, Finland), Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
  • Nicholas Anthis (U.S. Agency for International Development), The Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program.
  • Leiv Sydnes (University of Bergen, Norway), Chemical Safety and Security.
  • Jonathan Forman (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), Educational Resources From OPCW.
  • Fadila Boughanemi (European Commission on Research and Innovation), E.U. Builds Bridges Through Science Diplomacy.
  • Mohamed Ismail (Ain Shams University, Egypt), Software Demonstration of Molecular Modeling and Computer Aided Drug Design.
  • Donna Nelson (President-Elect, ACS), The Science Behind “Breaking Bad.”

The following offered greetings at the opening ceremony:

  • Zafra Lerman (President, MCF)
  • Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdellah (Minister of National Education, Morocco)
  • Dwight Bush, Sr. (U.S. Ambassador to Morocco)
  • Karen Betts (U.K. Ambassador to Morocco)
  • Anne Vasara (Finland Ambassador to Morocco)
  • Are-Jostein Norheim (Norway Ambassador to Morocco)
  • Lahcen Haddad (Minister of Tourism, Morocco)
  • Fadila Boughanemi (E.U.)
  • Donna Nelson (ACS)

Multi-session workshops on science and technology education, air and water quality, organic/medicinal chemistry, renewable energy, and nanotechnology were held at which participants presented the results of their research.  A total of 54 oral presentations were made during the workshop sessions; 21 posters were on display throughout the entire meeting.  At the end of the conference, the workshop organizers provided summaries of the talks and discussions in their sessions.  Proposals were presented for future action, including the continuation of existing collaborations and the development of new ones, the dissemination of the information from the workshops to a broader audience, and the search for funding to provide research and international exchange opportunities for students and faculty.

Rachel Mamlok-Naaman (Weizmann Institute, Israel) and this reporter organized the workshop on education, which featured seven oral presentations:

  • Iyad Dkeidek (Al-Quds University, Palestinian Authority), Learning and Motivation: Professional Development Program for Palestinian In-Service Elementary Science Teachers.
  • Murat Gunel (Türk Eğitim Derneği University, Turkey), Reaching Out to Science Teachers: Rudiments of the Statewide Professional Development Program - AmgenTeach Project in Turkey.
  • Rachel Mamlok-Naaman (Weizmann Institute, Israel), Learning About Sustainable Development in Socio-Scientific Issues-Based Chemistry Lessons on Bio-Plastics.
  • Abdelhadi Soudi (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Rabat, Morocco), Technology-Enhanced Tools to Support Learning for Students with Hearing Impairments.
  • Morton Hoffman (Boston University), Computer-Based Workshop Materials for General Chemistry.
  • Oum Keltoum Hakam (University of Ibn Tofail-Kenitra, Morocco), Importance of Education in Promoting Nuclear Security Culture.
  • Hassan Zohoor (Sharif University of Technology, Iran), An Altered Approach to Promote Learning Processes and Educational Systems.

As a result of the discussions at the end of the workshop, future actions were proposed for implementation during the next two years in order to promote collaborations and develop additional sources of funding in order to allow participants to meet again at another Malta Conference:

  • Translate curricular materials for secondary school teachers into other local languages.
  • Create a web-based site for students to ask questions of chemists in English, Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, or French.
  • Develop educational modules on chemical, biological, and nuclear safety and security.
  • Establish a chat box for teachers to examine critical and creative thinking, and informal scientific activities.
  • Expand computer-based programs to translate sign language for science for hearing-impaired students.

It was noted that a number of education collaborations had developed in the past as a result of Malta Conferences:

  • Palestinians are pursuing Ph.D. studies at the Weizmann Institute (Israel).
  • Hasan Dweik (Al-Quds University, Palestinian Authority) spent a sabbatical leave with Ron Naaman (Weizmann Institute).
  • Hossam Haick (Technion, Israel) designed on-line courses in nanotechnology in Arabic and English that are being used by thousands of students from the Arab world.

In the closing session of Malta VII, the participants, many of whom had attended previous Malta Conferences, enthusiastically endorsed the motion that Malta VIII be held in 2017.

Among the sponsors of Malta VII were OPCW (Recipient of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize), UNESCO, ACS, the ACS Division of Chemical Education, AAAS, and the Committee of Concerned Scientists.  Significant financial support was received from the Carnegie Foundation of New York, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany).

The members of the MCF Board of Directors who attended Malta VII were Zafra Lerman (President, U.S.), Ann Nalley (Vice President, U.S.), Iona Black (Secretary, U.S.), Morton Hoffman (Treasurer, U.S.), Cathy Costello (U.S.), Chuck Kolb (U.S.), Leiv Sydnes (Norway), and Hassan Bazzi (Qatar).  More information about MCF and the Malta Conferences can be found at <http://maltaconferencesfoundation.org/>.

Donna Nelson offered her perspectives about Malta VII and referenced the views of participants from the Middle East in her ACS Comment, “Building Relationships, Building Trust,” C&EN, Vol. 93 (48), Dec. 7/14, 2015, p. 45.

Malta

(l-r) Morton Hoffman, Hassan Zohoor, Rachel Mamlok-Naaman, Iyad Dkeidek, Oum Keltoum Hakam, Murat Gunel.  (Photo by Daniel Tieder)

 

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