It’s not common at international chemistry conferences for high school students to be the audience. At a panel discussion on youth involvement in chemistry held on Sunday, Oct. 10, about half of the audience consisted of high school students. ACS President-Elect Nancy B. Jackson was among the panelists. The students came from the Jubilee School, King Abdullah II School For Excellence, the Islamic Educational College, the Amir Bin Al Jarah School, and the International Pioneers Academy. The students raised questions and offered comments, even thanks, for the discussion. I was surprised that they eagerly engaged the panelists. Clearly, many of them were inspired by what they heard.
Sara Al Thnaibat and Dara Al-Fakhouri both told C&EN that Jackson’s life story left a deep impression on them. In her introductory remarks, Jackson described growing up in a family that believes in giving back and helping to improve the world. She recalled how she had intended to major in political science but how after taking a course in chemistry she realized that she “really, really liked” chemistry and began to think about giving back with the help of chemistry. And she recalled how a chemistry professor told her: If you study chemistry, you could do all that you wanted to do with political science and more.
“The challenges you will face will be technical and will require understanding of science and engineering,” Jackson told the high school students. “Energy, environment, water, diseases—to solve them requires some technical background. Chemistry touches all of these – medicines, pharmaceuticals, how to get clean water, energy. Chemistry presents incredible opportunities to give back. It was also a lot of fun; doing research was like doing a puzzle.”
Jackson convinced me that anyone can do something with chemistry to change the world, Al Thnaibat told C&EN. Her life story “made me think deeper about chemistry,” Al-Fakhouri said. Both said the discussion gave them a better appreciation of chemistry.
Others who spoke at the panel were Kazuyuki Tatsumi and Musa Nazer. Their life stories struck Hashem Amireh, who asked the panel why he should stay in Jordan when he could have more personal benefit by working in another country, such as the U.S.
Considered the father of chemistry in Jordan, Nazer is highly esteemed, almost revered, by Jordanian chemists. In response to Amireh’s question, he described the situation when he returned to Jordan in 1965, after having done a Ph.D. at Harvard University: “The university had “no faculty of science, no building, no equipment, few people with high degrees working here and there. The first day I arrived, people told me that I was mad man: What brought you here? Why did you come back? I said that I found a need [in Jordan], and if I don’t respond to that need, I will never be satisfied. After 45 years and 1 month from the day I came back, I don’t regret that moment.”
Tatsumi is vice-president of IUPAC and director of the Research Center for Materials Science Department of Chemistry at Nagoya University. “Nobody can stop you” from living and working where you wish, he said in response to Amireh’s question. “Go to U.S., for sure. But it is when you get older that you start thinking more about your own country. And when you realize at 60 that you want to do something for your country, it’s difficult to contribute.”
“I’m pretty impressed that these professors went back to their own countries,” Amireh told C&EN. “To be frank, I wouldn’t do that. I would take my Ph.D. and work abroad. But after hearing what they said, I changed my mind.”
Ahmed Al-Daffar admitted that he hates chemistry. He came to the panel discussion, he said, because he always fell asleep in chemistry class and his teacher thought he might be more interested in the subject if he heard professionals talking about it. “I really want to be an architect,” he said and admitted that he didn’t find the relevance of chemistry in architecture. Jackson first assured him that architecture is a fine area to study and not everyone has to be a chemist. Then she pointed out that chemists are designing new materials now for use in buildings that are more energy efficient.
- High schoolers attend Eurasia conference: from left, Sara Al Thnaibat, Dara Al-Fakhouri, Hashem Amireh, Hamzeh Salameh, Nancy Jackson, Sohiab Al Kareem, Zahi-Maan Alraher, Ahmed Al-Daffar, Hamzeh El-Masri