Technion–Israel Institute of Technology Professor of Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology, Hossam Haick on being an Arab Nanoscientist in Israel.
We have a tradition in the Arab sector that immediately after high school you go to university [unlike most Jews in Israel, who do their military or other national service first], without any experience in life, without any experience with science, or with what is going on in universities. Sometimes this is problematic, so I decided that I would not do it that way. I found work as a waiter. I worked in a fish restaurant for thirteen hours per day . . . and that’s when I started to see that home and school are very nice places! When you work, you interact with people, you start to see the conflicts—not from the news, but rather in reality. Those were the most useful years of my life.
Two years later, I started at Ben-Gurion University for chemical-engineering studies, and later took my Ph.D. at the Technion. And then I decided to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. My wife and I spent two years in the United States, and then we faced a dilemma: Should we move back to Israel? We had several offers from leading universities in the United States to join the faculty. In terms of salaries, they could offer more than the universities in Israel, also social benefits, great students—everything was much better.
But after a lot of thinking, we realized that if a scientist does not translate his work to society, then he will not deliver the main message expected from a scientist. And we thought that our contribution to society could be much better in Israel, because we know the community here, we know the conflicts between Arabs and Jews, we know the difficulties of the students. . . . So we decided to come back to Israel, to the Technion. The Technion is of course a leading technological institute, and that was the main thing. But the added value is its location in Haifa, where there is a mix of Arab, Jewish, Druze, Russians, everybody. We thought that maybe, under the umbrella of science, we could help to make a kind of network among all these people.
On Mentoring the Next Generation of Arab-Israelis
Today, about 25 to 30 percent of my time is devoted to going into high schools and communities. When I do this, I am often asked: “How do you feel as an Arab in Israel?” These questions are not necessarily connected to my scientific work but rather to the social part of who I am. And I like to hear them, because I want to answer them.
The major thing I want to convey is this: in the Arab society, there is a belief that, as an Arab, you never can succeed in this country. You shouldn’t go for a Ph.D. or graduate studies, because you will not find any place to work. I try to educate the new generations, saying: Try to excel in what you do, in your studies. If you have truly excellent achievements, you won’t need to look for places to work; they will look for you.
I travel all over Israel, starting with the Bedouins in the South, up to the North. And I don’t focus my efforts only on Arab schools; every week, I give talks at Jewish schools, too. The Jews need a new role model, too.
With the primary school kids and with Arab Ph.D. students—I don’t teach them only about research in science and technology. I let them know they have to contribute to society at the same time. We need to increase the number of role models in our society, otherwise we will not advance anywhere, and the gap between the Arabs and the Jews will get even bigger. I am grateful for every effort that is done to raise the level of the Arab sector, because this helps the whole country. I am trying to change perceptions on both sides. We cannot make changes on one side only.
Learn more about Hossam's innovative work to sniff out disease.