Chair of natural sciences attends World Economic Forum on the Middle East
Dr. Samira Korfali shares her views on the state of science and economy in the region.
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Dr. Samira Korfali, chair of LAU’s Natural Sciences Department in Beirut, was selected from a large pool of applicants to participate in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East held at the Dead Sea in Jordan, May 15–17.
This year, scientists, policymakers and economists gathered at the forum to discuss the topic “Implications of the Global Economic Crisis for the Middle East: Homegrown Strategies for Success,” and to develop a long-term agenda for scientific research in the region.
An LAU graduate (B.S. chemistry, 1967), Korfali is an associate professor of chemistry and a respected researcher in environmental geochemistry, specializing in mechanisms of metal deposition in alluvial systems; speciation and modeling of metals in sediment, soil and water; assessment of water resources; and noise pollution in cities.
She is an active member of the Society for Environmental Geochemistry and Health, and the Lebanese Association for the Advancement of Science, and was the recipient of the Said Akl Award for Creative Research in 2001.
In a recent interview, Korfali shared her experiences as both a participant and discussion leader at WEF on the Middle East, and offered her views on scientific research and the economy in the region.
Why do you feel this year’s theme of WEF on the Middle East is significant?
The current economic crisis is a problem on an international scale. Those who assembled at this year’s summit wanted to create a long-range plan to remedy this by investing in the fields of science and technology. It is unfortunate that currently in the Middle East only 30 percent of graduates major in these fields.
To solve such dilemmas, there must be a partnership between policymakers, economists and scientists. Each of these three parties plays a distinct role — one does research to solve problems, the second funds the task and the third enforces the change. WEF on the Middle East provided a platform for collaboration among them.
How did you apply to participate in WEF on the Middle East?
I got an email saying I was invited to participate in WEF on the Middle East because this year, for the first time, the forum wanted to add scientists to the council as players in the economic growth of the region. They sent me an application and asked me to answer three questions: to evaluate science and research activities in the MENA region, to describe the drawbacks and how they can be improved, and to specify if I have ever been involved in projects related to science and technology.
What characteristics do you think a scientist must have as a role model?
Scientists must learn to work together and in a humane way. This is how we, as scientists, researchers and teachers, can be role models. There must be communication among the members of a team of researchers and scientists in order to create something significant. We, as Lebanese, must also branch out to work with the entire region on consistent, effective and useful research. We must be team players.
What are the major challenges scientific research faces in the region?
I feel research in the Middle East is done on an individual basis. This is dangerous in any field. Since there is no international or regional communication among researchers, information is not passed along, limiting the scope of data or research. Research is then repetitive and, since there is a lack of communication, the needs of the region are ignored. I am currently working with the National Research Council to assemble a unit of researchers from different universities to focus on research that would benefit Lebanon.
How has Lebanon been affected by the current economic crisis?
It appears that Lebanon has not been affected — however, we are not thinking long term. We cannot rely solely on real estate or tourism as a stable plan to secure our future. During the summit, we discussed the natural energy resources Lebanon has — like the sun — and how we can utilize them for the economic benefit of the country. We can tap these resources through research and long-range plans.
What are your hopes for the field of science in the Middle East?
At WEF on the Middle East, I stressed the reform of educational methods in the region as a whole. I want students to adopt critical thinking and analytical skills. I emphasized the significance of students as they have a lot of potential and should be molded to assume these characteristics — and also how to guide them in the right direction. We also debated the moral values of scientists and I stressed the value of being a team player, a cooperator.