press release, 09. June 2016

UFZ is one of the winners of the first round of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative

Syrian scientist granted Philipp Schwartz fellowship to study at the UFZ in Leipzig from summer 2016

Bonn/Leipzig. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has elected the winning universities and research institutions in the first round of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative. The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) will receive funding for a fellowship to take in foreign scientists in danger, who are seeking protection in Germany because they are threatened by war or persecution in their home countries. Biologist Dr Nedal Said from Aleppo, Syria, will research and receive further education in the field of microscopic environmental microbiology as a Philipp Schwartz fellow for two years starting in summer 2016.

 Photo: UFZ / Sebastian Wiedling

Photo: UFZ / Sebastian Wiedling

Nedal Said (43) is a scientist. He studied biology at the University of Aleppo in Syria and Vladimir State University in Russia, successfully completing a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. He obtained his PhD on the topic of "To determine epidemiological risk to drinking water" from Vladimir State University. He returned to Syria in 2007 and took up a position as chairman of the Department of Laboratories for Monitoring Drinking Water at the centre of Aleppo. During that time, he also offered Russian language classes for scientists at the University of Aleppo.

In 2012, Nedal Said fled to Turkey with his family to escape from the atrocities of the war in Aleppo and worked as a microbiologist in the area of drinking water disinfection at the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) in Gaziantap. He also monitored the drinking water quality in the buildings of the provisional Syrian government in Gaziantap. He arrived in Berlin as a refugee in August 2015 and later relocated to Halle an der Saale. Nedal Said has been a recognized refugee in Germany since March 2016. "When I arrived in Halle I was glad to be treated well and kindly at last after fleeing through Europe. I hoped to soon make friends and find work in Germany and, of course, that my wife and four children (11, 8, 7, 2) would soon be able to join me. Arrival was the first, good step towards a new exciting future," says Nedal Said.

His hope of finding work has already been fulfilled: Dr Nedal Said has been working as a guest student at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig since May 2016. For two years starting in summer 2016, he will now receive one of the first Philipp Schwartz fellowships enabling him to study and undertake research at the UFZ in the field of microscopy of biochemical processes in the environment.

Despite Said taking the initiative and actively searching, chance did play a decisive role: Dr Matthias Schmidt, a scientist at the UFZ’s Department of Isotope Biogeochemistry, and Nedal Said got to know each other through friends at the Lutheran St Paul’s Church in Halle an der Saale. When Matthias Schmidt learnt that Nedal Said held a doctorate in biology, he remembered how committed the UFZ and the head of his department PD Dr Hans-Hermann Richnow were to promoting the integration of people with migrant backgrounds and he invited Nedal Said to an interview at his department in the UFZ. "His research profile, his open, intelligent and inquisitive demeanour impressed and convinced us. We offered him a six-week career orientation internship at our ProVIS centre for chemical microscopy and put him forward for a fellowship," Matthias Schmidt explains. "We are also familiar with his personal situation. We are aware that he and his wife are making efforts to obtain a family reunification visa. We will support him and his family and help with the search for a suitable flat, nursery, school and integration courses," Schmidt continues. Said’s wife is a teacher and could imagine working in a nursery or primary school once she has completed her language training.

With the assistance of the fellowship from the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, Nedal Said will dedicate himself over the next two years to preparing specimens for correlative electron microscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) - fixation, filtration, staining, drying, freeze-drying, freeze substitution and freeze fracture. He will learn how to handle cryo-scanning electron microscopes and Raman microscopes. In addition, he will receive classroom and practical training in equipment care and laboratory organization as part of the educational programme provided by Carl Zeiss Microscopy. Intense language courses in German and English, his ability to learn and his gift for languages - he speaks fluent Arabic, Turkish and Russian and, after only a few months in Germany, already fairly good German - will help him to quickly overcome any language barriers, allowing him to prepare scientific publications in English. Matthias Schmidt and his colleagues are convinced: "In two years, he will have obtained all the abilities and skills necessary for him to take care of scientific equipment and oversee experiments in the field of microscopy as a laboratory manager in research or industry."

This is not intended to remain an isolated case. "We are an international research institution. Some 15 percent of our staff are from other countries. We are in an excellent position to offer other jeopardized foreign scientists the possibility of work and further training in the field of environmental research at our facility, to help integrate them," says Prof Dr Georg Teutsch, scientific director of the UFZ.

Nedal Said is pleased to have been given this opportunity and knows that not everyone is as lucky: "I wish for nothing more than an early end to the war in Syria so that people can return to their work, their schools and houses. Enough blood has been spilt. I wish a future for Syria in which people can live together with all their differences but without borders between the various religions and ethnic groups."

The Philipp Schwartz Initiative was launched by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation with the support of Federal Foreign Office. It receives funding from the following foundations: Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung, Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Gerda Henkel Stiftung, Klaus Tschira Stiftung, Robert Bosch Stiftung and Stiftung Mercator.

Each year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a global alumni network of more than 27,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries - including 52 Nobel laureates.

Further information

Dr. Matthias Schmidt
Department of Isotope Biogeochemistry

UFZ press office

Susanne Hufe
Phone: +49 341 235-1630

In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, ecosystems of the future, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, the effects of chemicals in the environment, modelling and social-scientific issues. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the Federal Government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With some 39,000 employees in 19 research centres, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation.
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