space

Help me go to space!

Click here to send me to space!

I’ve been following the Axe Apollo Space Academy Competition jealously for a few weeks. In my head I was saying, “I want to go to space! I’ve had this dream for a very long time!”

I actually emailed the European Space Agency a few years ago to ask them how I could apply to be an astronaut with them. And before that I asked Egyptian/American scientist Dr Farouk El-Baz if he knew how I might get myself into space. Both were dead ends. But I wasn’t afraid to try. You never know when a door you knock on will actually open for you.

So instead of feeling envious of other people who have applied to join this competition, I decided I would knock on this door as well. Why not? I have a dream. I need to do something about it. If the door opens then I am one of the luckiest people in the world. And if it doesn’t, well then I can’t say I didn’t try.

Why do I want to go into space? I want the chance to look at our world from a different perspective, especially now, especially with everything we are going through in Egypt. We live through very difficult times in my country right now. I’ve chosen to step away, just a little bit, and observe what is happening rather than engage directly in it. I want to get a fresh perspective. I want to quietly decide what my role can or should be. I cannot think of anything that could be more inspiring for me than to look at our Earth, at my country, from outer space.

I also feel like I have something to prove. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t dream of going up into space. Just because I’m a mother of four who is over 40 does not mean I cannot dream of going into outer space. Just because I am an Egyptian, Arab, Muslim does not mean I cannot dream of going into outer space.

We all dream. And some of us achieve our dreams. For me to achieve this one I will need your help. Please go to my profile on the competition website and click on vote. Every single vote counts! Thank you dearly for helping me achieve my dreams.

 

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Science and the Importance of Space: Not Outer Space, Mind you, Just Space

The fact that I’ve lived now for over 20 years in a city as crowded as Cairo, Egypt makes me very conscious of the concept and importance of space. To get from one part of Cairo to another one moves literally sometimes at a crawling pace as streets have become over-burdened with more cars than the city can handle. Egyptians have a very small space bubble. We hug and kiss almost everyone we greet, we hold hands as we talk to each other, we throw ourselves into crowded markets and bazaars with the same excited feeling we have when we jump into a swimming pool. Our apartment buildings are packed one right beside the other and our apartments one atop of the other. Open any window and you can easily hold a conversation with the person living on the same floor across the street.

It is this constant awareness of space that gave me pause for reflection while visiting the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

The Perimeter Institute (PI) specializes in cross-disciplinary research in cosmology, particle physics, quantum foundations, quantum gravity, quantum information theory and string theory. One day I’ll figure out what all that means. But for now, as I went on a guided tour through the Institute I was fascinated by the way space was designed to maximize researchers’ opportunities to think, be creative, and to interact with one another.

Draw a line under the word “cross-disciplinary”. After years of scientists22102009296 living in the micro-cosmos of their ultra-specialized fields, they are now realizing more and more how important it is for science to reach across disciplines. Our realm of knowledge cannot grow and develop and mature unless scientists from different disciplines work with each other, share what they know and build on that shared knowledge.

PI is bringing theoretical physicists to Canada from all over the world to share the knowledge of their different disciplines in order to solve some of the most complicated questions about our micro- and macro-universes. Their ambitious plan is to eventually house the largest concentration of theoretical physicists anywhere in the world.

And PI clearly realizes the importance of providing the necessary space for22102009297 creativity and collaborations to happen. The magnificence of architectural design starts in the office. One of each researcher’s four office walls is a window that peers out onto the world beyond. Perimeter itself is surrounded by relatively open space so that researchers see earth and grass and trees and water and the buildings of the town beyond. A second of the office’s four walls is a blackboard or a whiteboard. There was not one office that did not have one of these, full of what my eye sees as endless scribbles but what I’m sure are most probably complex equations.

Walk out of the office and on every floor of this three-storey building you22102009293 find cozy lounge areas with leather couches, a refreshment booth, and yes, a huge blackboard full of scientists’ doodles. On the third floor scientists can walk out onto a veranda that seemingly projects itself from this black-mirrored building and seamlessly hangs over the green below. The veranda is lined by wooden benches and smack in the middle is a blackboard that scientists can use on both sides. Part of the building also surrounds a ground-floor garden that one can see from any of the multitude of glass walls in the building’s hallways. And what does one find right beside the bushes, their leaves a brownish green as autumn draws to a close? A huge blackboard, probably 2 x 3 meters large.

These areas are designed to encourage scientists to leave their offices and lounge with colleagues from their own and other disciplines. In one lounge area, scientists can drink coffee, play pool, and either chat about their 10-year-old’s crush on the girl at school or idly discuss their latest thoughts on loop quantum gravity, cosmic acceleration, and black rings and then suddenly jump to the blackboard as their conversation progresses to some stroke of genius thinking.

I see this and heart-wrenchingly remember a recent visit I made to Cairo University’s Faculty of Science. There’s not much to see really other than dark, moldy labs full of dusty, cracked equipment to a large degree from the 1960s. Even when the equipment is more recent, it’s still placed in the dark, moldy labs. Think grave and you sort of get the idea of the environment Egyptian scientists have to work in.

Scientists need knowledge, equipment, labs, and grants in order to be productive. But today I’ve learned something else. Scientists also need light and space to think creatively and they need each other to take the science to new frontiers.