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Vol. 30 No. 3
May-June 2008

Conference Call | Reports from recent conferences and symposia 
See also

Malta III—Research and Education in the Middle East

by John M. Malin

Known as “Malta III,” the third conference in the series, Frontiers of Chemical Sciences: Research and Education in the Middle East, was held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 8–13 December 2007. This remarkable series of meetings continues to bring scientists from Middle Eastern countries and other nations together to discuss common problems and encourage collaborative research in the fields of energy, materials science, natural products, green chemistry, education, and environment.

Middle Eastern participation in Malta III (see also IUPAC project 2006-035-1-020) was the largest yet of the three conferences, named for the island of Malta where the first two meetings were held. Of the 90 participants, 67 were from Middle Eastern countries: Bahrain (1) Egypt (9), Iran (8), Iraq (3), Israel—both Arabs and Jews (12), Jordan (9), Kuwait (2), Lebanon (4), Palestinian Authority (10), Saudi Arabia (1), Turkey (4), United Arab Emirates (4). Other nations represented included Canada, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, UK, and USA.

As in Malta I and II, a multinational organizing committee chaired by Zafra M. Lerman from Columbia College Chicago produced the event. Cosponsoring organizations were the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); IUPAC; Columbia College Chicago; American Chemical Society (ACS), Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), and Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh).

Plenary Sessions and Workshops
A special feature of the conference was a series of six plenary lectures by Nobel Laureates Aaron Ciechanover (Israel), Richard Ernst (Switzerland), Roald Hoffmann (USA), Tim Hunt (UK), Walter Kohn (USA), and F. Sherwood Rowland (USA).

The first plenary session was chaired by Hasan Salah Dweik of Al Quds University (Palestinian Authority). In his address, entitled “The Nature of Energy,” Peter Atkins (Oxford University, UK) presented an enlightening overview of how the qualitative concepts of energy, entropy, temperature, space, and time have lead to development of the quantitative tools of thermodynamics.

Ameen Farouk M. Fahmy, Ain Shams University (Egypt), chaired the second plenary session in which Richard Ernst (Nobel Laureate, E.T.H., Switzerland) discussed development of an important spectroscopic technique, “The Importance of the Fourier Transformation in Spectroscopy: From Monsieur Fourier’s Calculus to Medical Imaging.” In the third plenary session, chaired by Mehdi Jalali-Heravi, Sharif University of Technology (Iran), Tim Hunt (Nobel Laureate, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, UK), discussed “The Cell Cycle and Cancer,” reviewing the genetic components of carcinogenesis and the current limits of chemotherapy.

The chair of the fourth plenary session was Hanan Malkawi of Yarmouk University (Jordan) who introduced Nobel laureate F. Sherwood Rowland (Nobel Laureate, University of California at Irvine, USA), who spoke on “Greenhouse Gases and Global Climate Change.” Plenary session five was called to order by Venice Gouda, Former Minister of Research (Egypt). He introduced Roald Hoffmann (Nobel Laureate, Cornell University, USA) who spoke on “Chemistry Bonds: Three intensive workshops for young scientists in the Middle East,” detailing three workshops he has organized in the Middle East for younger scientists.

Plenary session six was opened by session chair Sultan Abu-Orabi, Tafila Technical University (Jordan). He introduced plenary speaker Walter Kohn (Nobel Laureate, University of California Santa Barbara, USA), who spoke on “The Power of the Sun” and screened his recently produced video on the uses and importance of solar cells. Alfred Abed Rabbo, Bethlehem University (Palestinian Authority) began plenary session seven by introducing Aaron Ciechanover, (Nobel Laureate, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel), who presented “On the Middle East and Converting the Ubiquitin System Into a Drug Platform.”

The organizers ensured that Malta III would provide significant opportunities for interpersonal interactions. A poster session featuring some 42 presentations was carried on throughout the conference. Discussions centered on the posters during morning and afternoon coffee breaks as well as before and after dinner. One evening, Roald Hoffmann led an informal session of Middle Eastern dancing.

Middle Eastern and other scientists presented their results in workshops that were held throughout the conference and which served to develop conference recommendations. The Workshop on Environment: Air and Water Quality was co-chaired by Charles Kolb (USA), Hanan Malkawi (Jordan), and Abdallah Al-Zoubi (Jordan). Catherine Costello (USA), Samira Islam (Saudi Arabia), and Stanley Langer (UK) chaired the Workshop on Medicinal and Natural Products. The Workshop on Nanotechnology and Materials Science was chaired by Mukhles Sowwan (Palestinian Authority) and Zehra Sayers (Turkey). The workshop on Science Education and Green Chemistry was co-chaired by Boshra Awad (Egypt), Farouk Fahmy (Egypt), and Ann Nalley (USA), while the workshop on Alternative Energy Sources was co-chaired by Hani Khouri (Jordan) and Hassan Zohoor (Iran).

Conference Recommendations
Workshop participants urged that the conference recommendations should be carried forward to the appropriate agencies and authorities. An especially urgent need for action was identified during the Environmental Workshop when Yousef Abu-Mayla, director of the Water Research Center at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip, described widespread degradation of water quality in Gaza. Malta III attendees unanimously adopted a communiqué to urge action on this issue (see Mar-Apr 2008 CI, page 18) to be addressed to regional and world leaders. The document has been delivered to Tony Blair, envoy to the Middle East working on behalf of the USA, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union.

Other important recommendations from the workshops are summarized as follows:

  • A project to build a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to generate hydroelectric power and also to replace water lost by evaporation from the Dead Sea should be carried forward. Middle Eastern scientists will be looking for help from the world community in analyzing, evaluating, and potentially planning and executing this bold project. In general, large collaborative projects should commit a significant fraction of the project’s budget to support active graduate and postdoctoral student participation in the project.
  • Regional alliances of scientists and engineers with environmental skills should be established to evaluate regional environmental issues and to advise policy makers and other stakeholders on management strategy and technological development systems.
  • Innovative, efficient desalinization technologies should be developed, including more efficient separation filters and/or membranes; solar-powered water purification/desalinization systems, and improved analyses of potential environmental impacts and opportunities for more efficient utilization of desalinization byproducts.
  • Better methods should be developed for collecting, cleaning, treating, and appropriately reusing domestic, agricultural, and industrial waste and grey water.
  • Regional drinking and wastewater treatment and testing methods should be standardized.
  • Water use strategies must be greatly improved for Palestinian areas. For example, an isotopic ratio analysis of lead in Gaza waters should be carried out to determine sources of lead pollution.
  • Energy problems for Middle Eastern nations should be addressed by vigorous pursuit of solar energy options tied in with global efforts to develop alternative energy sources. Energy development should be continued in Jordan to extract oil by retorting bituminous rocks.
  • Workshops and other educational programs are needed to foster development of alternative energy R&D, sustainability and Green Chemistry, disposal of chemical waste, discussion of scientific method and ethics of science in the Middle East, strategic plans to attract students to scientific careers, and to educate scientists from multiple disciplines in the areas of pharmacology, toxicology, pharmacy and clinical chemistry.
  • Centers of excellence should be developed for chemical analysis and structure determination of natural products. Programs should be instituted to enable short-term exchange visits by faculty, students and postdoctorals.
  • A Middle East Virtual Campus should be established to facilitate exchanges of ideas among Middle East scientists. Web-based resources are needed, including a directory of laboratory equipment and expertise plus weblinks connecting to freely available databases and software.
  • Newly-developed theories in chemical education should be integrated into Middle East curricula. Green chemistry, energy, nanotechnology, medicinal chemistry should be combined with the Systematic Approach in Teaching and Learning Chemistry for assessing secondary and tertiary students’ skills. Newly developed curricula should be made available to secondary schools.
  • Commercial pharmaceutical companies should be encouraged to perform R&D onsite in the relevant countries.
  • Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to join the SESAME project. Individual scientists need to be made aware of how they can participate.

Concluding Observations
As Zafra Lerman, chair of the Organizing Committee, noted, “Science can be a powerful force for bringing together cultures, and the Malta conference series is a powerful example.” The organizers met their principal goals by raising the necessary funds, then bringing an increased number of Middle East chemical scientists together safely. Discussions took place among Israeli, Arab, Persian, and Western participants, which, as with Malta I and II, can be expected to lead to fruitful bi-national interactions. Malta III was successful for the following reasons:

  • Chemists from the Middle East contributed strongly to the sessions. Workshops were an important activity designed to stimulate future research cooperation. A substantial number of women scientists from the Middle East participated.
  • According to participants surveyed at the close of Malta III, the topics addressed were relevant to twenty-first century chemistry in the region. Middle East scientists chaired all sessions.
  • Participants stated that the opportunity for interaction with other Middle East scientists was the most important aspect of the conference. They were pleased to meet colleagues from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, and they called for greater participation by scientists from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and Yemen.
  • The poster session stimulated informal discussion by inviting all conferees to present research.
  • Participants were enthusiastic. They voted overwhelmingly that a “Malta IV” conference should be held in 2009 and said that they would recommend it to their colleagues.

In addition to the sponsoring organizations, financial support was provided by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Humboldt Foundation, ChemRAWN XIV—ACS Green Chemistry Institute, the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.K. Government, the University of Mainz, the Chemistry Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and some 39 individual donors. The conference organizing committee led by Zafra M. Lerman, thanks the distinguished lecturers and six Nobel Laureates for their participation. The help of many others is acknowledged with gratitude.

John M. Malin <[email protected]> was the chair of the CHEMRAWN committee in 2007; he has been involved with the committee since 1998.

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