Muslim scientists, movers, and shakers

Muslim scientists, movers, and shakers

May 27, 2016
Essam Heggy
Essam Heggy

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Amal Al-Sibai


Many of us nostalgically look back at the great Muslim scientists of the past, such as Ibn Seena and Khawrizmi and many others, but we fail to celebrate the great Muslim scientists and thinkers of today.

How many of us have heard of these names and told our students and our sons and daughters about these amazing Muslim men and women?

Essam Heggy, an Egyptian-French-American space scientist, has sent and studied explorations of the surface of the moon, Mars, and perhaps beyond in the future.

Heggy obtained his Ph.D. in astronomy and planetary science in 2002 with distinguished honors from Sorbonne University Group-UPMC in France. His research involves probing structural, hydrological, and volcanic elements on the moon, Mars, and other near Earth objects. Heggy is a member of the NASA team overseeing the project that launched a Mini-RF (miniature radio frequency instrument) to the moon that maps the lunar poles, and searches for water and ice.

Heggy was born in 1975 in the city of Tripoli in Libya to the Egyptian artist Mohamed Heggy. His father Mohamed Heggy is one of the most prominent modern Arab painters.

When asked what sparked his interest in space exploration, Heggy said, “Being born in a small oasis in the desert, I always wanted to learn how to explore water and understand why stars are so shiny in the clear desert night sky. The combination of those two childhood dreams led me to participate in the hunt for water and volatiles on the moon, Mars, and other objects of the solar system.”  

Dr. Hayat Sindi, Saudi medical scientist, has a lot of firsts in her biography. She was one of the first women to be appointed to the Saudi Shoura Council, the first Saudi woman to be accepted at Cambridge University in the field of biotechnology, and the first woman from any of the Arab Gulf States to complete a doctoral degree in the field.  

Sindi graduated with a degree in pharmacology from King’s College London in 1995. Sindi went on to get a Ph.D. in biotechnology from Newnham College, Cambridge in 2001. She is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

Sindi participates in numerous events to foster an interest in science amongst females, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim 
World in general.

The National Geographic highlighted Sindi’s achievement in leading a team of scientists at Harvard University to develop a simple, inexpensive diagnostic tool that can be used to detect illnesses. It is a specially designed piece of paper, containing certain chemicals. 

To perform a test, a drop of saliva, urine, or blood is placed on the paper. The fluid travels through the channels in the paper and a chemical reaction occurs that causes the spot to change color. Results show up in less than a minute and can be easily read using a color scale provided with the device. 

Sindi’s device can be used to test liver function in people in rural villages in Africa. In this part of the world, many medications are used to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis but these same medications can cause liver damage if not closely monitored. In isolated rural corners of the world, regular health monitoring is extremely difficult and almost non-existent. Millions of people die from the effects of medications because they have no access to health monitoring. 

Sindi proposed a solution: to bring the lab to the people.

“Paper is very inexpensive, universally available, lightweight, and easy to carry,” she explains. “Health care workers will be able to visit as many as 200 homes each day, perform tests, and take action immediately. Only minimal training is required and no external power, electricity, equipment, clean water, or sterile environment is needed. After use, devices can be burned with a match, preventing contamination. It’s a tool that allows even the poorest people in the most medically challenged places to get the tests they need.”

“Science can be such a powerful way to help humanity. I’m using it to bring easy, affordable health diagnoses to the world’s poorest people,” said Sindi.

Yaman Abou Jieb, a young Syrian engineer, has designed an environmentally friendly washing machine. The average washing machine uses about 40 gallons of water for a full load. The washing machine that Abou Jieb designed reduces the amount of water wasted by 30%, and it runs on solar power.   

As a boy, Abou Jieb liked to discover how things around him worked, tinkering with electrical machines and taking courses in robotics and physics at age 10. He studied electrical engineering with a focus on renewable energy at Damascus University in Syria.

Despite strife and war in his country, he plans to continue his education and utilize solar energy to change the world.

His solar washing machine was born out of necessity. In Syria, as well as in many places in the world, power cuts and lack of water disrupt daily life.  Washing machines need an abundance of electricity and water to function properly.  

With his innovation, Abou Jieb devised a way to address these problems and increase efficiency for both home and industrial use.  By utilizing solar power and recycling the water used, the solar washing machine will make the task of washing clothes easier for people around the world while helping to preserve the environment.

Nermin Fawzi Sa’d, a Jordanian mechanical engineer moved with her husband to Saudi Arabia, where it seemed at first that Sa’d’s career would run into a dead end. Her husband, also a mechanical engineer, had a heavy workload and often worked at home too, and Sa’d helped him. She was so skilled that her husband looked for freelance opportunities for her.

In an article in Upwork Blog, Sa’d said, “As time passed, I built up a very good base of customers who were satisfied by my good work, my time commitment, and the fact I could charge less since I worked from my home office.” 

Years later when they moved back to Jordan, Sa’d was working on a project and she needed to meet a deadline, so she decided to reach out for extra help.

She printed a newspaper ad: “Female engineers required to work from home.”
Sa’d was shocked by the volume of responses; she received 700 resumes in one week.

For Jordanian woman, childcare took precedence over leaving the home for work.

“Engineering traditionally required long hours of work outside the home, which is a huge problem. Sixty-one percent of female engineers are no longer in the field,” Sa’d said.

Sa’d discovered that a lot of the engineering work could be done using online tools. She decided to open her own on-line engineering firm, Handasiyat (female engineers). Sa’d developed a customized remote platform geared toward engineers. She set up a virtual conference room so the female engineers she hired could interact with clients while still being based out of their homes.

Handasiyat has proven the possibility and the success of an on-line engineering firm, employing women. It allows women to be at home for their families and at the same time pursue a career in engineering.

There are countless Muslim teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors, social workers, and artists making the world a better places; let us reverberate their names and stories.  


May 27, 2016
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