I met two Oxford University, United Kingdom based researchers, at the Natural Medical Sciences Research Centre of the University of Nizwa, this week, and was greatly impressed. Actually the Scientific Collaboration Officer, a Molecular Biologist by the name of Ahmed bin Nasser al Rawahi, a graduate of Sultan Qaboos University, now finds himself at the ‘pointy end’ of both a flourishing research centre, and an academic research exchange programme between the two institutions. He is young, enthusiastic, and genuinely easy to talk to, proud of his culture and traditions, but with significant focus on what lies ahead.
Along with Liaison Officer Dr Djamila Gabruck, he introduced me to two pleasant and articulate Oxford researchers in Zoe Heighes, a Master of Chemistry student/researcher in Enzymology, and Solomon White, also a Masters student/researcher in the field of Bioengineering. We soon got down to ‘brass tacks,’ with a question regarding Heighes specialisation, and research while she is here. The few minutes went a bit like this:
ZH: “Put simply, I’m doing protein related research — drug screening — mainly with anti-depressant applications, and in what’s been a significant boost to that research, is the computational work we are able to do here with some amazing programmes, where we can do virtual screening, and modeling proteins.”
I nearly kept up with that… Hmm… Modelling proteins? Warning bells were ringing though.
ZH: “Dr Sobia Halim is my supervisor, and she’s amazing! She’s highly educated, with a PhD in molecular docking and is a specialist in the field of computational chemistry and drug design. And she’s lovely!”
I was saved from asking what’s that (compu…?) by the arrival of 2 metres of smiling, athletic, biomedical engineering intelligence. Of course, he being English and me a New Zealander, my opening gambit was his thoughts about the upcoming Rugby World Cup…
SW: “You’re asking the wrong person… Zoe over there is an Oxford rugby ‘Blue!’
I swiveled immediately: The pretty, petite blonde, pony-tailed, girl-next-door, dimpled, saw my jaw drop, and almost blushed with her response…
ZH: “Yeah, I play halfback or wing,” she demurred, “not always for the ‘firsts’ but enough.”
It just goes to show, doesn’t it? I should keep an open mind. This girl’s no cutout, no china doll, more catwalk than rugged rugger type. Wow! Somehow, I made pleasant conversation before thinking I should return to Sol….
SW: “Our research, under Dr Sulieman al Hashmi, who specialises in stem cell research, regenerative medicine, venomics and cancer treatments is on Frankincense-based cancer research, using keratin-based hydro-gels in wound healing applications. What we do is take micro-fluids and separate to molecules onto different slides, to create barriers between the skin and the body or brain tissue to…” He looked up then, and smiled… knowing… he had lost me somewhere around hydro-gels…
“Guys,” I shamefully admitted, “I’m so out of my depth. Goodness, I think I’m changing my students’ lives, changing the way they see the world… It’s insane… you guys can change, or save, ‘the world!”
ZH: “That’s nice, and I guess it could come true, but I don’t think either of us see ourselves as that special, do you Sol?”
SW: “No. We still put our shoes on, one foot after the other, and I think when we step out of the lab, we switch off, we’re no different to anyone else are we?”
This was a humbling few minutes and I wish I had more time with them, but then, maybe they had enough of me.
I left though, certain that in their hands, I would gladly place my will, and I can think of no better acclaim for these young people, and others, walking similar paths.