This February we will be welcoming to BOS Aziza al Mughairy, the first GCC national to be employed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to speak about How Modern Science Unravels the Secrets of the Ancient Worlds.
Ahead of her lecture she spoke with our current BOS intern Maryam Jumani about her early interest in science, Gulf Arab representation in scientific fields and her own research, among other topics.
1) When did your interest in science begin? What sparked your decision to become a scientist?
Very early on. My father always found a way to incorporate science into my life. He would always try to explain very complex ideas to me. He discussed anything from objects in the night sky to the trajectory of a tennis ball. (As a child, I did not find understanding projectile motion entertaining, especially when trying to hit the ball with the racket.)
2) Can you give us some insight into the research that you'll be sharing with us at your lecture on 21st February?
It will be a rather exciting lecture. I will cover the brief history of subatomic/ particle physics, how neutrons and muons were first discovered and produced, and why they are useful. I will then explore expanding our understanding of the makeup of artefacts and what these studies have helped us decode in human history. Notably, and perhaps personally my favourite - are the animal statues of Ancient Egypt. For centuries, it was uncertain what those statue-like objects contained within and whether there were any animal remnants inside. The saying, "X-ray vision", is possible with physics! X-rays were used to see the internal structure of those statues- and neutrons as well! Another fascinating piece of research was studying Roman coinage. Neutron studies have revealed mesmerising facts about the ancient Roman economy during the year of the four emperors- a time filled with civil unrest and political upheaval. Neutrons were used to study the debasement of the coins of that period. Coins from the Northumbrian Kingdom will also be discussed, among other items.
3) You studied at Cardiff University and are currently based at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire - what prompted your decision to pursue your scientific career within the UK as opposed to the Gulf or elsewhere?
I decided to pursue an academic career when I completed my schooling. Pursuing my higher education in the UK seemed natural, as most of my immediate family had done so. Essentially, the plan was to keep learning. I had never anticipated doing a year in industry- I had planned to stay in academia. I visited RAL in my first year and told myself that it would be incredible to work here. Little did I know that I would apply for a role and be a successful candidate around the same time the following year.
4) You're the first GCC National to be employed by UK Research and Innovation - a milestone - what do you think could be done to increase Gulf Arab representation in scientific fields?
It is about early education. Is science made challenging to understand for children? Are their instructors genuinely passionate about teaching? Are the students lacking the freedom to do some basic experiments?
I have only recently come to understand the significance of early education in the later stages of an individual's interests and abilities. Hence, the focal point should be who the instructors are and how they teach- rather than looking at the youth and anticipating their interest in science. It is imperative to find passionate instructors- if one instructor is enough to teach hundreds of students. Some of those students would go into science, innovation and R&D.
It is also important to keep promoting and supporting those talented youth. Funding more prospectus masters and doctorate students is also a fundamental aspect. When there appear to be young, gifted individuals, it is essential to recognise their achievements as this would encourage the rest. There is a preliminary belief that those who study the sciences have minimal career paths- lies! Science is related to all aspects of life- from the planes you fly on to drug delivery and studies on shampoos you use daily.
Another example is that subatomic physics is a convenient tool when studying petroleum. Conclusively, to answer the question, the youth must receive the best possible quality of education as early as possible, and most must be awarded for learning and growing- this will inherently increase interest.
5) From your perspective as an Omani scientist whose work is based in Britain - what is the current situation regarding UK-Oman and UK-GCC scientific cooperation? What do you think could be done to promote and enhance UK-Oman collaboration and partnership in science?
Oman Vision 2040 stresses the importance of scientific advancement and innovation. Before doing so entirely independently as a nation, we must foster research collaborations. This would first hoist our knowledge and create a robust international network of researchers, especially British ones. At the present moment, there are Omanis (amongst other Gulf Arabs) contributing to research across the UK as academics and PhD researchers, which is a good foundation for the 2040 vision.
Given the longevity of the British-Omani friendship, I feel confident that we will continue learning from Britain. Scientific collaborations between the two great nations as partners are on the horizon.
We should also encourage more (STEM) students to pursue further qualifications that equip them to join and research for world-leading institutions. Any work experience in such hubs would prove critical when establishing such facilities in the Sultanate.
6) Science, research, and innovation are all key to Oman Vision 2040 and have been given an important role - from that perspective, what do you think is the role of young Omani scientists like yourself in helping to actualise the objectives of the broader national vision? Can you tell us more about the progress that's been made so far?
One of the paramount aspects of Vision 2040 is lifelong learning. Therefore, young Omani scientists must keep learning and expanding their knowledge. However, Oman's scientific progression is dependent on the whole Omani scientific community. My generation has a lot we can learn from the previous ones. We must unite as an Omani scientific community and discuss our capabilities and potential. The vision will be achieved from a cumulative effort of all Omani citizens. Hence, each Omani, especially the younger ones, must realise that it is their duty in front of the nation to contribute to Vision 2040.
7. Finally, what achievement are you most proud of (so far!)?
I do not feel proud per se, as I have not achieved anything significant yet. My pride stems from the advancement of my nation, and I am only humbled by the recognition I have received in the past.
Aziza’s talk: How Modern Science Unravels the Secrets of the Ancient Worlds, will take place at The British Omani Society, London, and via Zoom, 6-7pm on 21 February 2024 (with networking from 5.30pm). Members attend free, please book online.
For all other event enquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.