The importance of literacy for peace and empowerment (and the impact of women)

An infographic from UNESCO (Institute for Statistics) spells out the importance of literacy for peace, development, poverty eradication, empowerment, health, and gender equality.  Approximately 776 million people in the world are still nor able to read or write. The situation is especially dire in the Muslim world, according to one report: 40% of Muslim world’s population unable to read or write: Study Thirty countries participating in the study reported that gender parity for adult literacy is estimated to be achieved in 2015. However, much more remains to be done. Dr. Bruce Wydick’s (University of San Francisco) infographic shows the ripple effect of educating girls in poverty.


The Heroine Next Door (and more about me)

Hi everyone!

I am so excited that my first book is finally in print.
My earliest memories of growing up involve sitting next to my father, as he drove a green truck filled with chattering children, to a Muslim primary school located in the whites-only neighborhood of Paarl. This prosperous South African tourist attraction and home of the Afrikaans Language monument can trace its roots of its name (Afrikaans for “pearl’) back to the description given by a Dutch colonist, Abraham Gabemma, when he saw a granite rock on one of its mountains gleaming after a rain storm. Three years later, in 1660, different Dutch settlers would give a street the same name after the oysters found in a New York river. Little did I know, as I watched my father teach overflowing classes of children the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and I learned about nature from my mother (an avid gardener), that I would one day find myself in New York City.
Had I been the meticulous diarist of my later years, the stories of analyzing geraniums for signs of viral infections and probing the plump, yellow flesh of loquats in a tree (while hiding from my mother for some long-forgotten transgression), would be chronicled in glowing detail and cross-referenced with comments from my brothers. Instead, in my incarnation as a writer and given the vagaries of lost memories, I chose to write a work of fiction that is inspired by people and events that I have had the privilege to witness over the years. Because I am South African by birth, “The Heroine Next Door,” has a strong regional flavor, focusing on the pre-and post-apartheid era, before transitioning to the USA and Europe, and the impact of path-breaking infectious and non-communicable disease research on the lives of people in Africa. However, the core identity and relationship issues that the main character, Leila, struggles with are ones that resonate with me and hopefully with the readers. With that in mind, I plan on continuing to write about relationships, sometimes in the idiom of the religion in which I was raised, Islam, and to creatively meditate about my other great loves, including history, news (I am a news junkie), education for all, and science.

Iraqi-born optical pioneer

Snapshots of ephemeral events that fingerprint different biological phenomena are within reach thanks to the generation of ultrashort bursts of light produced by attosecond (10-18 seconds) lasers. At a cutting-edge laser laboratory in Saudi Arabia, the properties of light will be pushed to this extreme in the analysis of protein and nucleic acids in blood samples from cancer patients and in other studies.1 Since the United Nations has designated 2015 as the Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, it is worthwhile remembering the pioneers that enabled the development of light-based technologies ranging from the bulb to the attosecond laser. In a Nature commemorative issue, Prof. Khalili (University of Surrey in Guildford, UK) revisits the major contributions to optical principles made by Iraqi-born mathematician and astronomer, Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham   (Ibn al-Haytham; born c. 965, Basra, Iraq—died c. 1040, Cairo, Egypt). Imprisoned by a Fatimid caliph, ibn al-Haytham used the time to think and write, particularly about optics. Following his release, he combined this writing with experimental observations in his seminal seven-volume Book of Optics (Kitāb al-manāẓir).2 The book contains the correct model of vision, a complete formulation of the laws of reflection, and a detailed investigation of refraction. In addition, he published other studies on optics, including Ḍawʾ al-qamar (“On the Light of the Moon”), al-Hāla wa-qaws quzaḥ (“On the Halo and the Rainbow”), Ṣūrat al-kusūf (“On the Shape of the Eclipse”; which includes a discussion of the camera obscura), and al-Ḍawʾ (“A Discourse on Light”). Interestingly, it is speculated that the 17th century Dutch master, Vermeer, may have used a camera obscura – the precursor to the camera and photography – in achieving exquisite detail in his paintings. Other polymaths and artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Piero della Francesca have applied his discoveries to create the illusion of three-dimensional depth on canvas and in friezes.2 Together with his accomplishments in mathematics and astronomy,  Ibn al-Haytham has influenced seventeenth-century European scientists such as Johannes Kepler and enhanced our present understanding of classical optics.


1 Abbott, A. Nature 518, 281-2, 2015

2 Al-Khalili, J. Nature 518, 164-5, 2015