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.”