News & Reports

An Iraqi Researcher’s Situation Spotlights the Need for Investment in Research

Editor’s note: This article is part of a package of five articles about the obstacles that researchers in Arab countries face. Readers can access all of the articles on this page.

DUHOK—Abdulrahman Bamerni, a geoscientist at the University of Duhok, in Iraq, uses rare rocks from the mountains of the Kurdistan region to help solve the mystery of why the dinosaurs went extinct. But his laboratory lacks the equipment to analyse those samples.

Bamerni has to send his geological samples from Iraq to Italy by courier where friendly colleagues at Urbino University let him use their apparatus to help determine the nature of the rocks.

“It’s about tools,” he says. “I don’t have the things I need to do isotope analysis [which gives a highly accurate determination of age]. I became the luckiest man in Kurdistan and Iraq when I found my preserved cross section of rocks. But I don’t have the tools I need to measure and correlate the sample.” (See a related article, “Geologists Search for Clues to Dinosaurs’ Extinction.”)

Bamerni has plenty of company among Arab scientists. A recent survey of 650 researchers by Al-Fanar Media has demonstrated that Arab countries have a long ways to go in trying to retain their research talent. More than 90 percent of researchers said they were hoping to emigrate to work in another country and 57 percent of them cited a desire for better research facilities as the reason. (See a related article, “Most Arab-Region Researchers Want to Leave, a New Survey Finds.”)

“There has to be investment to reverse the so-called brain drain,” says Kamal Badr, a professor of medicine at the American University of Beirut, who has written about ways to attract researchers back to the Arab region. “People who are working in labs in London, Chicago or New York don’t want to come back to poor quality research centers.” (See a related article, “Brain Drain Can Be Reversed, One Lebanese Physician Says.”)

Bamerni spends days scouring the hillsides of Iraqi Kurdistan looking for cross sections of rocks that he thinks could correspond to the time periods before, during and after the dinosaurs’ demise. It’s long been a scientific mystery why the age of dinosaurs came to an end. The dominant theory is that an asteroid crashed into the earth, causing radical climate change.

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When Bamerni identifies a sample that he thinks could be a match, he has to transport these rare and fragile rocks to Italy to see if he’s correct and to perform his analysis.

“It isn’t possible to do it in Iraq. We don’t have the equipment,” says Bamerni. “I could just stay in Iraq, but I don’t want to be old fashioned in my research design.”

He transported a geological cross section in 2018 and says he was extremely nervous that the quality of the sample would be put at risk by the journey. His fear was that “there could be some sort of contamination along the way,” he explains. “If that had happened, then it would have affected my results, but that didn’t happen. Lucky me!”

“To be honest, there’s no research environment. I have to manage it myself and buy equipment myself.”

Abdulrahman Bamerni
A geoscientist at the University of Duhok

Bamerni was willing to spend his own money and buy expensive microscopes so he could do some of the analysis in Duhok. But there he also found himself at a dead end. The microscope company said it couldn’t ship to Iraq.

Here too many Arab researchers are in a similar situation. Al-Fanar Media’s survey found the vast majority of the region’s academics, 84 percent, are spending their own money to support their research. That figure is even higher, at TK percent, for Iraqi researchers.

“To be honest, there’s no research environment,” he says. “I have to manage it myself and buy equipment myself.”

The biggest challenge Bamerni faces is the need to frequently put his obligations in Duhok on hold to travel back and forth to Italy. “I have to find someone else to take my place while I’m absent from teaching,” he says.

Badr, of the American University of Beirut, says that stories like Bamerni’s indicate a serious problem. “We have an abundance of human resources in the Arab world, but they’re leaving because they don’t have the infrastructure they need to do a good job.”


One Comment

  1. Mr Abdul Rahman bamerni his the best geoscientist
    From the whole of Kurdistan region , because he spent more his life and time on the highest mountain with all dangerous situation come to him,
    Bamerni has a reality store every geologists should be study and from his learn and understand more about the meaning of applied geosciences .
    My Allah helping you , wishing you to reach your dram and become a happy man from the Kurdistan Iraq .

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