December 15, 2003
Volume 81, Number 50
CENEAR 81 50 p. 10
ISSN 0009-2347


Chemistry symposium aims to forge scientific links in a troubled region


Over five days last week, scientists from 10 nations in the Middle East met to tackle problems of research and education in the chemical sciences in the politically and economically troubled region. They got together at a hotel in the Mediterranean island republic of Malta.

MEDITERRANEAN Over 30 scientists from Middle Eastern nations convened in Malta for scientific discussions.
"The meeting aimed to foster relationships between chemical scientists from opposing sides of the political and cultural conflict in the region and to bridge chasms of distrust and intolerance," remarked Zafra M. Lerman, professor of chemistry at Columbia College, Chicago. Lerman, who won ACS's 2003 Charles Lathrop Parsons Award for her human rights activities, chaired the meeting's organizing committee.

"We also wanted to attract the attention of national governments by inviting the best qualified chemical scientists from Middle Eastern countries to discuss how chemistry can address the problems of the region," Lerman said.

Challenges include water purification, waste disposal, protection of the atmosphere, and the adoption of best practices for a sustainable chemical industry, according to the symposium organizers. There is also a need for educational resources in the region, they noted. The organizing committee added that the region has "priceless antiquities and historic sites whose preservation, which is amenable to chemical techniques, substantiates the recorded history of humankind."

Among the invitees to the meeting were top-level scientists from Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

The symposium was organized by the International Activities Committee of the American Chemical Society and cosponsored by the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry and the Royal Society of Chemistry in the U.K. The organizing committee consisted of ACS members who have been active in fostering scientific freedom and human rights.

Because of sensitivities in the region, the committee decided not to publicize the conference in advance, says John M. Malin, assistant director of ACS International Activities. "The program was structured in such a way as to allow plenty of time for informal discussions," he tells C&EN.

The symposium included plenary lectures by six Nobel Laureates: Roald Hoffmann (chemistry, 1981), Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (physics, 1997), Jean-Marie Lehn (chemistry, 1987), Yuan T. Lee and Dudley R. Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), and Rudolph A. Marcus (chemistry, 1992). Working groups focused on topics such as cultural heritage and the preservation of antiquities; environment, including water and renewable energy; research and new practices in science education; and medicinal and natural products.

"We hope that the meeting will lead to the development of collaborative projects in the chemical sciences," Lerman tells C&EN.

At the final session of the symposium, recommendations for future actions were considered. A more detailed report of the meeting will be published in C&EN early next year.


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