Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Undergraduate research opportunities
Burdens on undergraduates range from the demands of study and exams, to financial pressures, to inhabiting an unfamiliar landscape, to days filled with enriching co-curricular activities. Who would therefore sign up to the additional stress of doing hundreds of hours of unpaid research? More than 600 pre-med students, that is who, on the
Medical Research Volunteer Program (MRVP).
The scheme, which uses a bespoke digital platform developed by our
Office of IT to match student interests and required research tasks, has been so successful that preparations are underway to launch a whole-university version, the Undergraduate Research Volunteer Program (URVP) in the coming fall.
In a few short years, MRVP has augmented the culture of pre-medical education at this university, going from effectively zero undergraduate collaborations to today's impressive 80 students matched to work on 38 faculty-led projects. Pre-med students gain precious early exposure to lab work, data collection and analysis, literature review, formulating research questions and methodology, proposal writing, working in a team, and more.
Two dozen undergraduates have co-authored peer-reviewed academic research articles in prestigious medical journals. For the majority, the experience is its own reward, establishing a lasting bond with mentor-supervisors that opens up a world of opportunity for further training and research collaboration.
MRVP is the creation of
Bilal Kaafarani, and
Hani Tamim of the
Clinical Research Institute, who suggested Bilal's early matchmaking efforts to arrange undergraduate research positions with
FM faculty could be the basis of a sustainable volunteering program. Dr. Kaafarani is well-known around campus for his unstinting efforts to empower students and his determination to leave no stone unturned to make the AUB learning experience an education like no other. His track record in his
#TransformativeEducation mission is a paradigm for student-first tutelage and mass participation.
Competition burgeoned into an internationally attended test of student chemistry expertise. The messy but unmissable
ChemCarnival engages young and old alike. The endowed
Makhlouf Haddadin Lectures and Student Awards honor one of AUB's most innovative and service-orientated scholars and mentors, and spawned a popular spin-off series of
Mentoring Talks, where leaders in different fields are pressed to expound not their successes but their mistakes and failures to rapt student audiences.
The latest iteration is another crowd-puller, inviting winners of
Ig Nobel Prizes—given for research that “makes people laugh, and then think"—the
inaugural lecture given earlier in March by Professor David L. Hu, a mathematician at Georgia Tech engineering department, delighted an audience including 100 children with tales of how water flows over, off, and out of animals!
Office of the Provost plans to launch the URVP during AY 2019-20 in collaboration with the Office of IT, serving as an umbrella for the MRVP along with loci of cross-disciplinary and single-disciplinary research across all faculties and schools, significantly enhancing this university's research profile and adding to the distinctiveness of AUB as a destination for the best and brightest students.
Another valuable element, the V for Volunteering, is worth stressing upon. Offering your time for free invariably leads to win-win outcomes, whether to help someone less fortunate or to push forward the frontiers of knowledge. Embedding this value further into our scholarly work extends the concept of AUB as one of the world's most civically engaged universities.
From Ptolemy to Touma—AUB
Since the dawn of recorded history, the Moon has inspired profound articulations of wonder, inquiry, philosophy, and culture. In 1969, the first humans reached the Moon and brought back samples that helped reveal some of its secrets. To mark this half-century, AUB is launching an interdepartmental program of events entitled
al-Qamar bi-Moon (meaning, for non-Arabic speakers, “the Moon obliges").
Lest you think the topic has little to do with this university, you should know that AUB scholars have made fundamental contributions to humanity's intimate and enduring relationship with our unique satellite—from unlocking the Classical and Islamic history of lunar observation and early theories, all the way through to advancing groundbreaking hypotheses for the Moon's formation in modern planetary dynamics.
Jihad Touma first mooted this year-long project to unite the remarkable congregation of Moon-focused academicians at AUB, in conversations with professor of philosophy and civilization studies Nader Bizri, an authority on the work of the optician and astronomer Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), and history of science professor George Saliba, who specializes in knowledge transfer from Antiquity to the European Renaissance with a focus on astronomy.
Others drawn into their orbit include architecture professor Karim Najjar, who has launched an engaging third-year studio entitled Lunatopia, in which students create designs for habitation in the extremes of the Moon's environment; political scientist and journalist Fawwaz Traboulsi, who will lecture on the turbulent socio-political backdrop of the late 1960s, against which the seminal Apollo X and XI missions, which respectively orbited and landed on the Moon, were accomplished; and Dr. Touma delivering a talk at the University for Seniors.
What is particularly appealing about
al-Qamar bi-Moon is how it conjoins disciplines that tend to remain aloof, such as the humanities and the exact sciences. But if you consider science's centuries-old struggle with
evection, or variation in the Moon's orbit, you can see how a Saliba and a Touma have much to discuss. Evection was identified by the Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy, whose hypotheses were set right by the now-celebrated Arab astronomer Ibn al-Shatir of Damascus circa 1350 CE, whose work in turn was incorporated by Copernicus three centuries later, with telltale mistakes that Dr. Saliba has revealed (after AUB professor Edward Kennedy happened on Ibn al-Shatir's seminal manuscript, no less).
The dynamical origin of the evection remained a serious headache, including for Isaac Newton (1643-1727) who made the first failed attempt to explain it. It was apprehended again in the 20th century and forgotten… until 1998 when Professor Jack Wisdom and his PhD student, a certain Jihad Touma, revived the question and made the breakthrough observation that, 4.5 billion years ago, the dynamical process responsible for the evection could help resolve a longstanding paradox in modern studies of lunar formation and evolution.
A much anticipated component will be looping in of the Moon in our popular culture, with a special
Zaki Nassif Program concert at the great musician's hometown of Machghara—which is known for witnessing the most majestic of full moonrises over Jabal al-Sheikh and the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Further lectures and an astronomy symposium are planned for the coming fall. The complete program will be published shortly and I encourage full engagement by the AUB community for what should be an unforgettable lunar adventure.
Here on Earth, I recently made a memorable 10-day journey through California to connect with members of our
alumni community, who number more than 1,300, the largest population of AUBites in any US state. It boasts four vibrant alumni chapters, Greater Los Angeles, Orange County, Northern California, and—the latest addition—San Diego.
But our first stop was Pasadena, to visit our alumnus and honorary degree recipient, astrophysicist
Dr. George Helou, head of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Cal Tech, who acquainted us with the Spitzer Telescope and shared his account of the Trappist-1 discovery—the first known system of seven, earth-size planets around a single star.
In Orange County, we were hosted by the chapter, and met with distinguished alumni at
Fivepoint Communities and
Applied Medical, which takes four engineering interns from AUB every year. After meetings with alumni and supporters in San Diego, we traveled to LA where we were welcomed by our wonderful Trustee Emerita
Ann Kerr, wife of AUB president Malcolm Kerr, at her beautiful home overlooking the Pacific Ocean, as well as attending a large reception organized by the recently-revived Greater LA chapter.
Having been joined by the dean of the
Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture,
Dr. Alan Shihadeh, in San Francisco, we held a series of productive meetings with Silicon Valley pioneers instigated by our trustee
Abdo Kadifa, who is based in Palo Alto. We were hosted by the alumni chapter, toured the sprawling Facebook and Google campuses and visited the systems biology lab at the University of California San Francisco which is headed by our alumna Dr. Hana El-Samad.
No visit to northern California would be complete without connecting with the tech diaspora group LebNet, co-founded and chaired by the incomparable Mr. Kadifa, which hosted a dinnerand fireside chat, followed by a Q&A focused on how to enhance the learning journey of future AUB students. The 1,000-member network is poised to become a valuable partner supporting and mentoring newcomers to the global entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Wherever you encounter them—and I am meeting alumni in North Carolina in the next couple of days—it is always energizing and inspiring to see our alumni excelling in their professions and reaching one hand back to help the next generation of AUB students find their own paths as well. Sincere thanks to chapter committee members and volunteers who made the trip such a success.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD