American University of Beirut

Najat Saliba laureate for Africa and Arab States “For Women in Science” award

​​​​​​​​​Safa Jafari Safa​, Office Communications​​​,​

In recognition for her discoveries and contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge, Dr. Najat Aoun Saliba has been selected as the 2019 Laureate for Africa and the Arab States, as part of the L'OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards.

A highly prestigious international award, the program honors outstanding women researchers who are selected by an international jury. Since its creation in 1998, five distinguished women scientists, each representing one of the continents, have been recognized annually.

As the head of the Atmospheric and Analytical Lab (AAL) at AUB, Saliba initiated new research lines in atmospheric chemistry, chemical analysis of waterpipe and electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) content and smoke, and medicinal analytical chemistry. She established national, regional, and international collaborations and attracted local and international funds. She has become an international reference for air pollution and tobacco and non-tobacco testing in the Middle East by contributing to the WHO air quality expert meetings, naming her lab one of the WHO Collaborating Centers for testing tobacco and ENDS, winning the American Psychological Association (APA) Prize for Interdisciplinary Team Research in 2018, and winning the 2016 Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) Award in the environmental category.

Saliba investigates inhalable and atmospheric aerosols. She researches the toxicant behaviors emitted from emerging nicotine delivery products such as electronic cigarettes, in order to recommend and advise regulatory bodies on future policies. She works to uncover the changes in atmospheric transformations due to climate change in the Middle East region, assess rising air pollution, and work with the community to innovate adaptive actions.

Saliba was the first to determine that the main sources of carcinogens, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in waterpipe (hookah) come from charcoal, meaning that side stream smoke is as harmful as mainstream smoke.  She was also the first to report high levels of formaldehyde (another carcinogen material) in waterpipes especially when using the most popular tobacco materials: the moa'ssel.  Combining her knowledge in surface science and atmospheric transformations, she reported first that glass surfaces can act as a renoxification catalyst for the atmosphere.  In one of the recent generations of electronic cigarette (sub-ohm), she was the first to report that electronic cigarettes can generate carbon monoxide, contrary to the common belief that carbon monoxide can only be formed in combustible cigarettes. 

As the director of the AUB Nature Conservation Center, which was selected in 2018 as one of the top influencing organizations in the regeneration movement by ethical consumer and LUSH, Saliba led several participatory and transdisciplinary projects that take a holistic approach to local environmental problems, helping municipalities and communities take concrete steps towards nature conservation and the alleviation of one or multi-level damages resulting from the mismanagement of environmental resources or from the stressful environmental situations due to climate change.

To date, Saliba has 78 publications, 3200 citations, and an h-index of 28 according to Google Scholar. For the past 18 years, her work and collaborations with colleagues from AUB and other regional and international institutions culminated in grants that reached $10 million.

Dr. Saliba is popular with the media—with her numerous national and international recognitions—as well as her colleagues who testify to her humility, positive demeanor, and guaranteed smile. It is her students, however, whose congratulatory comments flood social media and Saliba's inbox referring to her as “inspirational," “an icon," and “a role model to men and women." When her student Joseph Michael Daher told her that he is witnessing the cracking of the Middle Eastern glass ceiling as she boldly excels in this field, taking young women in the region closer to true equality, Saliba's response was “Yes, I took the challenge in my own hands to shatter the glass ceiling. I injured myself at times but had to continue for us here in Lebanon."

"To recognize the efforts of someone who is struggling to make a renowned lab in Lebanon that stands firm with the data it generates against all the violations towards the environment, means a lot to me and all the people who worked in my lab and believed in the same cause," said Saliba. "This prize could not have come at a better time because I decided since 2015 to put to use all the data we have and all my research efforts at the service of the citizens and the country to raise the levels of understanding from the base up and promote the democratization of science for the benefits of the common. " 

Dr. Saliba will be presented the award on March 14, 2019, in Paris during the “For Women in Science Week."

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