Physicists are gathering in Jenin, Palestine, for the first ever Palestinian Advanced Physics School. The two-day meeting starts today at the Arab American University in Jenin (AAUJ), and aims to boost physics in the region and provide students with an overview of recent research developments. Some 40 Palestinian physics students studying for Master’s degrees at the AAUJ, the universities of Al Quds, An Najah and Birzeit, as well as the Islamic University of Gaza, are expected to attend.

Co-sponsored by the CERN particle-physics lab and the Sharing Knowledge Foundation, the school will include lectures on physics from prominent researchers including Philip Argyres from the University of Cincinnati, John Ellis from King’s College London, and Giorgio Paolucci, scientific director of the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) – an international X-ray facility being built near Amman, Jordan. It will also include problem-solving sessions, an applied particle-physics tutorial, as well as a panel discussion about life in academia.

“Physics does not respect borders and international collaborations are the engines of rapid scientific progress,” notes University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking, who is a member of the international advisory board for the school. “I am delighted to see that physics education and research in Palestine continues to grow and strengthen its international connections.”

Boosting science

Science in Palestine is expected to be boosted by a number of recent developments. In December 2015, Palestine signed an agreement with CERN that will let researchers join the ATLAS experiment. Previously, only a handful of scientists had worked at the lab, with some students participating in CERN summer student programmes. Palestine is also a member of SESAME, along with Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey. The 2.5 GeV synchrotron is expected to come online later this year, and as well as boosting science in the region in the Middle East, it will foster scientific collaboration and better relations in the region.

Enrolment in university education [in Palestine] is more than 10% higher than the average for the Arab region, and half the students are women
Adli Saleh, AAUJ
 Yet the school comes at a time when physics in Palestine faces a lack of funding and travel restrictions for students and academics. Universities and other scientific institutions are also suffering from forced closures. “Despite the difficult challenges Palestinians have faced over the past several decades, they made great contributions throughout the region and the world,” says AAUJ physicist Adli Saleh , who is helping to organize the school. “Enrolment in university education is more than 10% higher than the average for the Arab region, and half the students are women, a ratio among the highest in the world.”

“Remarkable drive”

“Despite obstacles and lack of support for fundamental research, we all noticed the remarkable drive to achieve good physics from both professors and students,” says Mario Martone from the University of Cincinnati, who is on the international organizing committee for the school, told “[The school] will be a remarkable contribution to provide international support for the growing Palestinian physics programme.”

The school was created by Scientists for Palestine – a newly founded international group that promotes and supports science in Palestine. It is hoped that it will become an annual event, with the group planning other scientific activities in the coming years. “We plan to hold a similar school next year with a focus on condensed-matter physics, establish a mentoring programme for Palestinian students, as well as try to organize activities in Gaza,” adds Martone.