Heritage Month: Arab Americans as Scientists
BY: Patrick Nahhas/Contributing Writer
Just like with medicine, Arab Americans have been involved in the field of science since the first arrivals from the Arab World at the turn of the century. During the Middle Ages, Arabs were known as the scientific innovators who spread knowledge across North Africa and Europe. Today, there are countless, extremely notable Arab American scientists who have followed the steps of their ancestors and made major contributions to the field.
A highly decorated Arab American in the hard sciences is Egyptian American Mostafa El-Sayed who is a Chemical Physicist. After getting his PhD, El-Sayed went on to become the leading nanoscience researcher in the U.S. El-Sayed has won countless honors and awards, and was appointed by President Obama in 2014 to the President’s National Medal of Science Committee. The chemical physicist’s work has been so influential that he has a spectroscopy rule named after him, the El-Sayed rule.
Another celebrated Arab American in science is Elias Corey, a graduate of one of the nation’s most prestigious schools, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since obtaining his PhD, Corey has been one of the leading organic chemist’s in the country. In 1990, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his developments of the theory and methodology of organic synthesis. His significant advancements in organic chemistry have given him the reputation as one of the greatest living chemists.
Michel Halbouty, a Lebanese American born in Texas in 1909, was a geologist and geophysicist who is credited with discovering more than fifty oil and gas fields, along with writing hundreds of articles on petroleum geology. Halbouty’s works helped the oil producing Arab World achieve the success that it has. When he died, the New York Times referred to Halbouty as “legendary” because his legacy still lives today.
Lastly, there is Farouk El-Baz who is famous for working with NASA on the Apollo missions to get an American on the mood. For his work, El-Baz earned the NASA Apollo Achievement Award, among many other honors that contribute to his reputation. Of course, there are many more Arab Americans in the hard sciences that deserve immense credit for the difficult and skilled work that they do. With more Arab Americans aiming to be physicists, chemists, and geologists every year, particularly women, this field is sure to have more Arab names in it soon.