Palestine places a very high value on education, with over 25 percent of 18-24 year olds enrolled in university, 10 percent higher than the average in the Arab region. Half of all students are women, a ratio that is among the highest in the world. Despite this, a number of factors have stifled the development of the sciences in general and physics in particular in Palestine. Many problems and hardships are a consequence of the ongoing and internationally denounced occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which creates tight restrictions on the mobility of students and academics. Nevertheless, the demand for a high-level exchange with the international scientific community has been growing rapidly in recent years. For example, Palestine has recently signed a cooperation agreement with CERN, the world’s leading particle physics laboratory.
To address the need for further scientific exchange, a group of international scientists formed Scientists for Palestine (S4P) in 2016. S4P’s first act was to organize, in collaboration with CERN, the first Palestinian Advanced Physics School (PAPS). The school took place on July 26-28, 2016 at the Arab American University in Jenin in the West Bank. During the school thirty Masters students from different institutions within Palestine attended lectures on different topics in contemporary physics from internationally renowned scientists.
The school attracted world leading scientists of the caliber of Professor John Ellis (of King’s College London and CERN), Professor Philip Argyres (of the University of Cincinnati) and Professor Giorgio Paolucci, director of SESAME – the synchrotron light source located in Jordan. Lectures ranged from an introduction of the fundamental interactions and mathematical foundations of particle physics, to the physics and applications of synchrotron radiation.
The school generated an interactive and vibrant environment which inspired students to take small research initiatives on their own. In addition to formal lectures, students took part in smaller discussion sessions on the lecture material, each led by a member of the organizing committee, and performed a hands-on computer activity, simulating collision data from the CERN experiment and testing their newly acquired particle physics knowledge.
Overall, the school was a tremendous success. Wada Awad, physics master students at Birzeit University, described her experience at the school: “Being at the first Palestinian Advanced Physics School was a wonderful experience. The lectures were helpful and interesting. We feel lucky to have such a chance to improve our physics knowledge, meeting scientists from all over the world. We wish to have more of these opportunities, especially on experimental physics. Now we know we could do some training at SESAME or CERN, or come to ICTP. Go Scientists for Palestine!”.
The students’ performance on the problem sets and during the discussion sessions was particularly impressive, demonstrating that they had obtained a healthy command over the material. PAPS 2016 received remarkable media attention, it was reported by Palestinian and international media, including coverage by the American Physical Society, Physics World, the US Palestinian Community Network, and Mondoweiss (see here, here, here and here). Most importantly, the students, lecturers, and organizers developed lasting connections and friendships. With the words of Falestine Abu Saif, physics master student at An-Najah University: “In one word the school is very cool! It is great to hear lectures directly from world experts and connect with them. It is the most helpful way to get involved and make progress in advanced physics research.
Palestine needs more and more connections with the rest of the world. We have plenty of potential, and very smart people. We just need more support and encouragement. We need to believe in ourselves…we can do it!”
Encouraged by the success of the school, Scientists for Palestine intends to make PAPS a recurring event. In particular, we are currently organizing PAPS 2017, to be held at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem in the summer of 2017. Following student desires the plan is to make PAPS 2017 longer (five days rather than three) and have a different focus, on condensed matter physics and cosmology rather than high-energy physics. We plan to attract at least 50 Palestinian master’s students!
We have already contacted world leading scientists in these fields and they are on board with the project. The main obstacle now is to raise the money to pay for it! Organizing high-level scientific events requires funding. While PAPS has been extremely well-received in the scientific community, securing funding has been challenging. Indeed, PAPS is an unusual event, being an international master’s-level science school in a developing country, and covering a wide variety of physics topics. Few universities, laboratories, or science agencies provide funding for such events.
That is why Scientists for Palestine decided to start a fundraising campaign. PAPS 2017 needs your help! We have a goal of $7500 to reach in less than 90 days! Donations to this cause will go directly to the essential expenses of the school. These include local expenses, 2 daily meals and accommodation for each students, and alleviating the cost of travel for lecturers.
No donation is too small, and all contributions are greatly appreciated!
Thank you for supporting the development of physics in Palestine!