• Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur: Dr. Hayat Sindi
    Hayat Sindi is a biotechnologist an entrepreneur.

    Photograph courtesy Dr. Hayat Sindi

    By National Geographic Education Staff

    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    Hayat is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She is a biotechnologist working to bring affordable health care to remote, impoverished communities using a unique tool—a tiny piece of paper.

    According to National Geographic, “The low-tech diagnostic tool detects disease by analyzing bodily fluids. The device is produced by etching micro-channels and wells onto a small square of paper, and pre-filling the wells with chemicals. To perform a test, a drop of saliva, urine, or blood is placed on the paper. The fluid travels through the channels and a chemical reaction occurs that causes the spot to change color. Results show up in less than a minute and can be easily read using a color scale provided with the device. (The team even chose colors that someone who is color-blind can see.)”

    EARLY WORK

    Growing up in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Hayat understood that “science is a universal language.”

    Her first scientific influences were early Arab scholars such as Averroes and al-Battani. She also relished National Geographic magazine. “It was an open horizon to the world,” she remembers.

    Hayat’s father always encouraged her to read, which helped give her confidence as she embarked on a career in science. Even at an early age, Hayat stood out from her peers. “Scientists were always thought of as old, bald men,” she says. “And I was a young, Arabic woman!”

    Hayat went to England to study, and was shocked to be rejected by the colleges to which she applied. She did not give up, however, and continued to study, research, and apply for college. “I decided that I would show them! I could read the same books they read, and do the same scientific work.”

    She earned her first degree, in pharmacology, from King’s College in London, England. She went on to earn her PhD in biotechnology from Cambridge University.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “The emails I receive from other scientists and women are incredibly inspiring to me. I remember reading an email from a woman in India who just earned her PhD. It simply said, ‘Thank you for inspiring my life.’”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “Travel is time-consuming. I recently traveled from Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] to Germany, to Boston [Massachusetts], to Seattle [Washington], all in less than a week. It makes me homesick, as well as exhausted.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “The birth of the Earth, and what human beings do with these gifts of natural resources.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Hayat pursued higher education in Europe because she believes the West continues to play an important role in training new scientists, even those from non-Western nations. Western universities allow students “to come out of their shells, and mix with different societies and cultures,” she says.

    The mixing of deep-rooted cultures and more open cultures allows students and scientists to “gain so many skills in the development of new ideas.”

    Hayat says her background as an Arabic woman has given her unique insights into the scientific field. “I can give hope and guidance . . . for a new generation to find the right recipe” to balance science, social systems, education, and their own motivation.

    Biotechnology is an increasingly important part of this recipe, Hayat says. “It’s a way to communicate with different cultures toward finding a better way of life. It includes so many different disciplines: physics, technology, chemistry, immunology, pharmacology . . .”

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . BIOTECHNOLOGIST

    Hayat encourages students to take advantage of their school’s research laboratory.

    She also recommends playing with different ideas, both inside and outside the classroom or lab. “Play! When you play, you experiment,” she explains. Experimentation can lead to new ideas or possibilities.

    Hayat also stresses the importance of setting goals. “You have to have a goal to affect society, and it has to be sincere, and serious.”

    GET INVOLVED

    “Develop tolerance,” Hayat recommends to all families and students interested in science. “Educate yourself on the different habits and traditions of other people.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    affordable Adjective

    reasonably priced, not expensive.

    al-Battani Noun

    (850-929) Arab scholar and astronomer.

    analyze Verb

    to study in detail.

    Arab Noun

    people and culture native to the Arabian Peninsula.

    Arabic Noun

    language that is most common in north Africa and the Middle East.

    Averroes Noun

    (Ibn Rushd) (1126-1198) Arab scholar, scientist, and physician.

    biotechnologist Noun

    person who researches the use of a living organism to solve an engineering problem or perform an industrial task.

    biotechnology Noun

    the use of a living organism for industrial or medical use.

    chemical Noun

    molecular properties of a substance.

    chemical reaction Noun

    process that involves a change in atoms, ions, or molecules of the substances (reagents) involved.

    chemistry Noun

    study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.

    color-blind Adjective

    unable to distinguish between colors, especially red and green.

    communicate Verb

    to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.

    confidence Noun

    belief or trust in something.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    detect Verb

    to notice.

    device Noun

    tool or piece of machinery.

    diagnostic Adjective

    having to do with the identification of an illness or disease.

    disease Noun

    a harmful condition of a body part or organ.

    Earth Noun

    our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Earth
    education Noun

    process of acquiring knowledge and critical-thinking skills.

    embark Verb

    to leave or set off on a journey.

    Emerging Explorer Noun

    an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

    encourage Verb

    to inspire or support a person or idea.

    etching Noun

    design produced by cutting into, but not through, a surface, such as rock, metal, or glass.

    exhaust Verb

    to tire or drain of energy.

    experiment Verb

    to try or test an idea.

    fluid Noun

    material that is able to flow and change shape.

    generation Noun

    group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

    health care Noun

    system for addressing the physical health of a population.

    higher education Noun

    education provided beyond high school, such as college, university, or professional school.

    homesick adjective, noun

    sad or depressed from being away from home and community.

    immunology Noun

    branch of biology that studies immunity and the immune system.

    impoverished Adjective

    very poor.

    influence Verb

    to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.

    insight Noun

    understanding.

    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    laboratory Noun

    place where scientific experiments are performed. Also called a lab.

    motivation Noun

    process or desire to act in a certain way, or toward a specific goal.

    nation Noun

    political unit made of people who share a common territory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nation
    National Geographic magazine Noun

    monthly journal of the National Geographic Society, which features articles, images, and maps about geography, science, history, and culture.

    natural resource Noun

    a material that humans take from the natural environment to survive, to satisfy their needs, or to trade with others.

    peer Noun

    colleague, coworker, or equal.

    pharmacology Noun

    science of the creation and effects of drugs.

    PhD Noun

    (doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

    physics Noun

    study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.

    pursue Verb

    to seek or strive to accomplish.

    recipe Noun

    set of instructions for preparing a specific dish of food.

    reject Verb

    to refuse or throw away.

    relish Verb

    to enjoy.

    remote Adjective

    distant or far away.

    research Noun

    scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

    saliva Noun

    watery substance in the mouth that begins the digestion process.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    science Noun

    knowledge focused on facts based on observation, identification, description, investigation, and explanation.

    sincere Adjective

    genuine or real.

    social system Noun

    process or situation where people are organized by familial, economic, and community relationships.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    time-consuming Adjective

    taking a long time to finish.

    tolerate Verb

    to endure, allow, or put up with.

    tool Noun

    instrument used to help in the performance of a task.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    travel Noun

    movement from one place to another.

    unique Adjective

    one of a kind.

    universal Adjective

    used or understood everywhere.

    West Noun

    having to do with the developed nations of Europe and North America.

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