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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 29, 2018

Education, Human Rights, and Peace – Contributions to the Progress of Humanity

Zafra Margolin Lerman


I started my chemistry adventure while in high school, where I was the only female in a science and mathematics-oriented class. During our Junior year of high school, we were sent to the desert, close to the Red Sea in Israel to build roads. In the summers, we were in a Kibbutz on the border to help with the work needed. After work, we had time to discuss our future. Upon graduating from high school, I was drafted into the army, and in the evenings, started my college education and majored in chemistry. After finishing my term in the army, I continued my undergraduate studies in chemistry while raising my son. As I was conducting research on isotope effects, I realized that I wanted to make chemistry accessible to all. My tenet in life is that equal access to Science Education is a human right. I developed a method of teaching chemistry using art, music, dance, drama, and cultural backgrounds which attracted students at all educational levels to chemistry. I felt that as chemists, we have obligations to make the planet a better place for humankind. At this point, I became very active in working towards Scientific Freedom and Human Rights; helping chemists in the Soviet Union, China, Chile, Guatemala, and many other countries. The American Chemical Society established the Subcommittee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights in 1986 and I chaired this committee for 26 years. At great risk to my personal safety, we succeeded in preventing executions, releasing prisoners of conscience from jail and bringing dissidents to freedom. This work led me to use chemistry as a bridge to peace in the Middle East by organizing Conferences which bring together chemists from 15 Middle East Countries with five Nobel Laureates. The Conferences allow the participants to collaborate on solutions to problems facing the Middle East and the World. The issues are; Air and Water Quality, Alternative Energy Sources, and Science Education at all Levels. Eight conferences were held and the ninth is scheduled for 2019. More than 600 Middle East scientists already participated in these conferences. Considering that most of the participants are professors or directors of science institutions who have access to thousands of students, the number of people in the network is in the thousands. Between the conferences, the cross-border collaborations are ongoing despite the grave situation in the Middle East. In these conferences, the participants succeed in overcoming the chasms of distrust and intolerance. They do not just form collaborations, but form friendships. Hopefully, we will manage to form a critical mass of scientists who will be able to start the chain reaction for peace in the Middle East. Commitment, perseverance, and many times, bravery, helped me to overcome the obstacles I encountered.

Article note

A special collection of invited papers by recipients of the IUPAC Distinguished Women in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Awards.


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Published Online: 2018-11-29
Published in Print: 2019-02-25

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