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Mustafa Prize jury: A scientific network evolving in the Muslim world

3 December 2016 10:14

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Head of the Mustafa Prize Nano-science and Nanotechnology Jury Committee, Ali Beitollahi, has elaborated on the details of a Science and Technology Exchange Program in the Muslim world, dubbed STEP, where he referred to the Mustafa Prize as a much-needed scientific network that connects Muslim scientists from around the world.

The Mustafa(pbuh) Prize, an award that honors scientific contributions of Muslims, is taking the next step toward expanding the scope of its activities in the form of a forum, dubbed the Science and Technology Exchange Program, known shortly as STEP. The first round of STEP will be held at the Malaysian university of UPM, on December 19-23.

Professor Ali Beitollahi was among the first who proposed the idea of launching such a forum with the aim of boosting the level of the prize’s activities in the realm of science and technology. He currently serves as the deputy head of Iran’s Nanotechnology initiative council.

In an interview with the Mustafa (pbuh) Science and Technology Foundation (MSTF) Media, he talked about the goals of launching STEP and the reason behind choosing the University of UPM as the first venue for the forum.

Here’s a rough transcription of the interview:

In December, the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize will hold the Nano-science and Nanotechnology Development Forum at the Malaysian university of UPM, under the Science and Technology Exchange Program among Muslim Countries, or what we simply refer to as STEP. In your opinion, what is the importance of this forum?

There are a number of goals for organizing this forum. One of them is to publicize the aims and perspectives of the [Mustafa(pbuh)] Prize to Muslim scientists living in other countries. It is very important that the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize, its aims, and its activities are introduced to all Muslim scientists across the world. So as the first step we decided to hold this forum in Malaysia as an Islamic country where we also invite scientists from other Muslim countries. We expect to see a large group of scientists from different countries in this workshop. Besides, we invite the laureates of the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize Professor Jackie Y. Ying and Professor Omar Yaghi to this forum.

Professor Omar Yaghi will speak about his research and he will discuss the important issue of how Muslim scientists should focus on the areas that could solve real problems of societies. We will have the opportunity to share ideas to see how we can reinforce collaboration between Muslim scientists from different countries and how the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize can contribute to this process. We can do this with the help of comments and suggestions we receive from participants in this forum.

This event will be held in other countries because the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize does not belong to one country. Instead, it belongs to the whole Muslim community. So we want other Muslim countries to be aware of the opportunity that this prize provides.

Is there any specific reason for choosing the UPM as the venue for this forum?

Actually the University of UPM is now a member of the policy-making council of the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize. We welcome any candidacy from institutions across the Islamic world to participate in this activity. This is just a starting point in Malaysia. We would be very pleased to see other universities and countries to become candidate for this event in the near future.

We know that other international prizes such as the Nobel Prize organize events similar to the STEP forum held by the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize. Does the STEP forum follow similar goals?

I would say it is more or less the same. But we are putting more emphasis on the activities of Muslim scientists throughout the world which, unfortunately for some reasons, may have not been recognized. I think science and technology belong to the human being. We cannot categorize it in other ways. But it is very important that we provide some platform for Muslim scientists and recognize their activities.

In terms of the boundaries of science, the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize like the Kavli Prize and the Nobel Prize has emphasis for sure. So most of the aims of the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize are close to other prizes. You can notice that by selecting such top Muslim scientists we are moving shoulder to shoulder to such well-known prizes in the world. In fact we are raising a flag. We are showing a flag that people should pay attention to that.

Do you think that the STEP forum will help find new scientists who have the potential to contribute to science and also nominate for the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize?

I’m sure [it does]. As I mentioned, these are the aims of the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize to consider the areas we refer to as the boundaries of science and technology [and also] the feasible and tangible outcome of the work should be considered. For sure, both on the scientific side and the technological side, the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize is considering doing so.

The Mustafa (pbuh) Prize was launched at a time when the contributions of Muslim scientists to science and technology are usually not noticed. Do you think the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize can compensate for this lack of attention?

I want to emphasize that the major aim of the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize is to recognize the most prominent scientific or technological outcome of researches in the Islamic world and also those well-known Muslim scientists who live in one of the Islamic countries throughout the world. It is very important that we  provide a platform for such prominent scientists to be recognized by the world scientific societies or major international bodies. So, one of the aims is to show the importance of such prominent work which has some feasible outcome which could solve some problems related to societies either in regional or international level. This platform helps this process. The Mustafa(pbuh) Prize in fact tries to emphasize on such activities of Muslim scientists throughout the world.

How can the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize help advance science and technology in the Muslim world?

The Mustafa(pbuh) Prize tries to build a network for scientists within the Islamic world to conduct their research in a focused manner on the subjects that could have valuable outcome for a broad range of societies. As I mentioned, there is a lot of emphasis on the outcome of the work. It is not just based on the outcome of publications. Although publications are very important, but the main issue is that the outcome of researches and technologies should be of the value to help solve some [real] problem in our societies.

Another activity of the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize is the Mustafa Prize Foundation which we will hopefully discuss in Malaysia. This Foundation has many supportive programs to make scientists work with each other at different levels in the four scientific fields pertinent to the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize.

We also want to work on another issue and initiate the idea of focused research with tangible outcome for the society. This is a sad story that unfortunately in most Islamic countries we see a lot of scattered research that normally cannot result in well-defined applications, technologies, or solutions for human being. So the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize is putting a lot of emphasis on focused research that could lead to some definite outcome which could solve problems of societies. Then, in the long run, scientists for sure will stick to this approach in order to be recognized by the Mustafa (pbuh) Prize.

And the last question; Professor Omar Yaghi was a Mustafa Prize laureate in 2015. As the head of the Nano-science and Nanotechnology Jury Committee, please tell us how he was chosen as the winner of this award?

In fact Prof Yaghi is a pioneer scientist who can develop a new era, I would call it, in the field of porous materials or what we refer to as MOFs, a new class of highly porous material with very large surface area which could have various applications as catalyst or highly absorbent material for trapping gases as in a reservoir which can be used in transportation. He has been working very hard in this area and is a very well-known scientist based on his valuable publications. Besides, his newly developed technology has been used for industrial application and now is produced in industrial scale and is welcomed by the industry. It would have valuable effect on human’s life in near future. So, based on the assessment of his reputable research outcome, the committee decided to select him as our first laureate [in the category of Nano-science and Nanotechnology].

As I mentioned, during the assessment of nominees, we do not just focus on the number of valuable publications in journals like science, nature and so on. This is one aspect. The other aspect which is of great importance to us is the tangible outcome of researches. The aim is to promote and utilize the outcome for the good of the society. So people could take advantage of the outcome of researches in a more realistic approach.

Generally this prize is provided in four categories including the field of nanotechnology, IT and communication, medical sciences, and other areas. By having relevant committees, judges find the most prominent scientists in Islamic world. They evaluate works against the criteria defined by the Mustafa(pbuh) Prize. Candidates can be nominated by their institutions. This is how candidates are selected.

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