APS News

Letters from the Middle East

Ed. Note: In late July, we contacted two APS members in Lebanon, Bassem Sabra of Notre Dame University-Louaize and Ghanem Oweis of the American University of Beirut, as well as Eitan Ehrenfreund of the Technion in Haifa, Israel. We asked for news of the impact of the crisis on them personally and on their physics communities. Their responses, written on July 27 and 28 and slightly edited, follow. APS News plans a lengthier feature on this subject in our October issue.

Bassem Sabra: “Your email is very heartening after a long, troubled night of air raids. The humanitarian situation is grim indeed…Needless to say this is taking its toll on the physics community. Many graduating physics students who were getting ready to go abroad for graduate studies are now stuck here. Mail services are down so they are not able to get their papers ready in time and getting out of Lebanon is not that easy given that the roads with Syria are bombed regularly. Summer sessions at universities are on hold.

“I had this whole summer planned out for research and public outreach. The astronomy club at my university, together with the Lebanese Astronomy Group and the Arab Astronomical Union were organizing the first Arab amateur astronomy meeting in late August. We had a full program of lectures and hands-on workshops on practical astronomy. Five speakers from the US, e.g. Alan Hale (co-discoverer of comet Hale-Bopp) and Europe were expected. Participants from all the Arab world were planning to attend (over 100 persons). The convent where we were going to house the participants has been badly damaged. We cancelled the whole event and are planning to host it next summer (the phoenix will rise again).

“I have two students working with me on studying the correlations between host galaxy properties, dark matter halo, and the central supermassive blackhole. This project has screeched to a halt since one of the students is stuck in the South, the other is in the sea city of Byblos, and I am stuck in the Bekaa. The roads are dangerous. My university in Mount Lebanon is closed. My home in Beirut is dangerous to live in. There is no place for us to meet to discuss the project. We are cut off from the resources that we need. I cannot go to my office to continue with the other projects. I am trying to work on yet another project on my laptop computer but, due to the situation, my efficiency is at a record low….One of my colleagues whom I was collaborating with on a proposal to the Lebanese CNRS spent two days looking for milk for his children. Many were planning to travel abroad to carry out experiments at the labs outside Lebanon or were getting ready to have international colleagues come to there labs. Due to the heavy teaching load during the fall and spring, we all look forward for the summer to get some work done. All these research efforts have been torpedoed.”

Ghanem Oweis: “I was in Beirut, Lebanon during the first three days of the crisis, and managed to evacuate through the embassy of Jordan, of which I am a citizen, to the safety of the capital Amman, where I am well and spending time with my family… I moved to the American University of Beirut in February of this year as an assistant professor where I’ve been teaching and working on establishing a laboratory for experimental fluid mechanics. Things have been going well with my new life, up until the crisis erupted. It was very sudden and without any warnings, and within 12 hours the situation changed from well to hell. My concerns and thoughts shifted from getting my lab up and running and finishing up manuscripts, to trying to stay alive…I was working on my PhD at Michigan on September 11th 2001; the nerve wracking confusion and uncertainty was déjà-vu this time but it is something you’d hope never to go through again.”

Eitan Ehrenfreund: “Technion was closed for a week (16-22/7/06); it is now formally ‘back to routine’. Many employees do not show up, but prefer to stay at home with their children, who of course do not have any summer camps or other activities. There are no exams (July was the exam period); all exams are postponed, as of now, to September. There will be no summer semester. Administratively, Technion is

"So far, it has not been hit by a missile or rocket, but one of the missiles fell some 400 m from Technion fence. Of course, we are all worried and pray for the safety of our soldiers in Lebanon and the safety of Israeli citizens under the missile threat."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff