More than 90 scientists and science educators, including students and early-career scientists, from universities and national institutes in 15 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries met at the seventh biennial Malta Conference on Research and Education in the Middle East (Malta VII) at the Sofitel Hotel in Rabat, Morocco, on 15-20 November 2015.
With the terrorist massacres a few days before in Beirut and Paris, the ongoing killings in Israel and the West Bank, and the further encroachment of ISIS into the area as the immediate backdrop, the continuing horrifying events within the Middle East and around the world provoked an increased determination by the participants to unite with one another to build collaborations as a bridge to peace.
The countries represented were Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. 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, managed to come and tell first-hand about the hardships they encounter on a daily basis in order to maintain their scientific research, as well as the obstacles they faced in order to travel to Morocco.
The Conference featured plenary lectures by four Nobel Laureates, keynote talks, workshops on topics of importance to the participants from the region, oral and poster presentations, and ample time for everyone to make personal and professional connections. A total of 54 oral presentations were given during the workshop sessions; 21 posters were on display throughout the entire meeting.
The plenary lectures were given by the following chemistry Nobel Laureates:
Ada Yonath (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel; NL 2009), Borderless Science;
Dan Shechtman (Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel; NL 2011), Technological Entrepreneurship, Key to World Peace and Prosperity;
Roald Hoffmann (Cornell University, U.S.; NL 1981), Two New Games for Carbon;
Martin Karplus (Harvard University, U.S.; NL 2013), Motion: Hallmark of Life From Marsupials to Molecules.
The following also made keynote presentations:
Yvonne Pope (Chemical Abstracts Services, U.K.), SciFinder—The Choice for Chemistry Research;
Nicholas Anthis (U.S. Agency for International Development), The Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program;
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, American Chemical Society), The Science Behind “Breaking Bad.”
Greetings were offered at the opening ceremony by the following:
Zafra Lerman (President, Malta Conferences Foundation)
Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdellah (Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, 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 (Head, Unit for European Neighborhood, Africa and the Gulf, European Commission)
Donna Nelson (President-Elect, ACS)
Evening receptions were held during the week at the residences of Ambassadors Bush, Vasara, and Norheim. The farewell cocktail dinner was hosted by the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training, the Academy of the Kingdom, and the Hassan II Academy of Science and Technology.
The multi-session workshops, chaired by participants and members of the organizing committee, led to spirited discussions and proposals for future action.
Organic, Organo-metallic, and Medicinal Chemistry: A wide range of topics were covered in the presentations on bioorganic, bioinorganic, and medicinal chemistry in this workshop: the early detection of disease using electrochemical techniques, the synthesis and isolation of natural products, the early diagnosis of cancer cells through the use of electrochemiluminesence, therapeutic drug monitoring, and molecular modeling and software demonstration for drug discovery. The participants suggested the following future collaborations:
Creation of instrument and resources directories.
Development of student and postdoctoral exchanges in laboratories across borders.
Sharing of technical materials.
Establishment of career development workshops, especially for the editing of proposals and manuscripts.
Energy, Materials, and Nanotechnology for Resource Sustainability: Oral presentations were given by graduate students and faculty members from across the Middle East on topics that ranged from photovoltaic materials and devices, polyelectrolyte, sol-gel, and polymer chemistry, to heterogeneous and photo-catalysis, spintronics applications, and crystallography. The workshop also included intensive discussions and a well-attended poster session.
Environment: Air and Water Quality: The presentations focused on topics of water scarcity, quality, and disinfection, including the analysis of strategies to stabilize and restore the Dead Sea, the development of environmental technologies for reverse osmosis, electrolysis, and biogas generation from human and animal waste, as well as the impact of air-borne metallic pollutants on metabolic biochemistry. The discussion of the use of open-path FTIR to detect pesticides remotely in the air attracted a great deal of attention. Potential areas of collaboration among participants include the scaling of the Arava biogas system to larger units and the reuse of gray and black water.
Science and Technology Education: The talks covered the professional development of science teachers, curriculum development at the secondary and tertiary level, the use of technology in the classroom, and the promotion of a culture of nuclear security. Of particular interest was the presentation on providing learning support for science students with hearing impairments. The following proposals for future collaboration were introduced:
Translation of curricular materials for secondary school teachers into other local languages.
Creation of a web-based site for students to ask questions of chemists in English, Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, or French.
Development of educational modules on chemical, biological, and nuclear safety and security.
Establishment of a chat box for teachers to examine critical and creative thinking, and informal scientific activities.
Expansion of computer-based programs to translate sign language for science for hearing-impaired students.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The main themes of the entrepreneurship workshop that was conducted by Olli Vuola (Finland) were “courage,” which is something both entrepreneurs and scientists need, and “fear,” which must be overcome by them, especially in the process of building bridges to peace. He pointed out that fear prevents one from taking action, and the fear of becoming an outcast is strong in the Middle East. “Collaborating with the opposing side may lead to being isolated from your own community; overcoming one’s fears and conquering the fear of failure is also the first step of entrepreneurship.” To get a younger generation’s perspective on matters, Marianne Vikkula and Ghita Wallin, both students at Aalto University (Helsinki), were part of the workshop team.
Chemical Safety and Security: This workshop addressed the factors that would influence the future of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and international chemical weapons conventions, the use of analytical tools in the measurement of chemicals in the environment, education and networking, ethical issues, and the development of new workshops and their funding.
In the closing session of Malta VII, the participants, many of whom had attended previous Conferences, enthusiastically endorsed the motion that Malta VIII be held in 2017. Expressed again was the embodiment of the Malta Conferences: “We have only one nationality here—and that’s science.”
Among the co-sponsors of Malta VII were the Carnegie Foundation of New York (U.S.), Rockefeller Brothers Fund (U.S.), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), Korea Chemical Industry Research Group, OPCW, UNESCO, the Committee of Concerned Scientists (U.S.), the ACS and the AAAS.
The six previous Malta Conferences were held 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 nonprofit charitable organization, organizes the Conferences and raises money for their support. More information about MCF and the Malta Conferences can be found at maltaconferencesfoundation.org.
Morton Z. Hoffman, Zafra Margolin Lerman, and Iona Black are the Treasurer, President, and Secretary of the Malta Conferences Foundation, respectively.
©2016 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston