• The Lebanese Academy of Sciences’
    First Report on the Sciences in Lebanon

    Present Challenges, Recommendations and Future Directions
    for Scientific Research and Education in Lebanon

    Executive Summary

    In this first report to the nation, the Lebanese Academy of Sciences (ASL) presents an overview of the existing strengths (e.g. human resources, intellectual traditions, strong universities) and challenges Lebanon has in the areas of scientific research and education, and proposes a set of recommendations for leveraging these strengths and meeting these challenges.


    The challenges identified are as follows: brain drain, PhD Programs, research funding, affordable high-speed Internet service, research infrastructure, collaborative research, academic standards and accreditation, pre-university science education, and scientific literacy among the general public.


    Specific recommendations for meeting these challenges, including the urgent and overdue implementation of tenure in academic research, the adoption of the overhead cost system (which gives institutions a financial incentive to foster research), the application of the principle of selective excellence, and the expansion of affordable wideband Internet access, are proposed and discussed.


    The report culminates with a suggested top-ten list of research areas that stand to yield the highest benefit to the nation given its particular needs and limited resources. These areas are:

    1. Renewable energy and energy and environmental control

    2. Water resources research

    3. Natural resource mapping and geological research

    4. Waste management research

    5. Biodiversity research

    6. Botanical and crops research aimed at agricultural modernization

    7. Disease control research with particular emphasis on major health burdens of the Lebanese population

    8. Fundamental physics and chemistry research

    9. Pure and applied mathematics, and information science

    10. Popularization of science

    In the context of these ten critical areas for Lebanon, the ASL proposes a number of concrete projects of varying ambition and scope including: the creation of a network of student-driven solar energy laboratories; a multi-disciplinary research program in Energy-efficient Building Systems; a space-based system for natural resource mapping; a pilot plasma gasification plant for waste disposal; a "Rural Campus" for training students in modern agricultural methods; a Center of Excellence in Immunology, Genetics and Disease Control; a National Institute for Health and Medical Research; and a Super-Planetarium that would be both an exemplary educational center and a major tourist attraction.

    Read Online Below or View/Download a PDF of the First Report to the Nation.

  • Table of Contents

    (section navigation links in bold)



    1. Existing Strengths


    2. Problems and Challenges
    2.1. The Brain Drain
    2.2 PhD Programs
    2.3. Research Funding
    2.4. Affordable High-Speed Internet Service
    2.5. Research Infrastructure
    2.6. Collaborative Research
    2.7. Academic Standards and World-Class Accreditation
    2.8. Science Education at the Pre-University Level
    2.8. Scientific Literacy among the General Public


    3. Recommendations

    3.1. Adopting the Model of the Research University with Tenure
    3.1.1 PhD Programs
    3.1.2 Tenure and Promotion
    3.1.3 Administrative Infrastructure for Research
    3.2. Accreditation
    3.3. Increased Funding for Research and Education in Science and Engineering
    3.3.1 Funding and Competitive Grants
    3.3.2 The Importance of Overhead Fees
    3.3.3 Other Funding Sources and Practices
    3.4. Enhancing Collaborative Research and Improving Cooperation between Universities
    3.5. Identification of Areas of Excellence in Science and Engineering
    3.5.1 Selective Excellence
    3.5.2 Research Priorities
    3.6. Improving Science Education and Instilling a Culture of Science in the Lebanese Population
    3.6.1 Popularization of Science
    3.6.2 Science and Culture
    3.6.3 Science and Religion
    3.6.4 The Lingua Franca of Science
    3.6.5 The Role of National Academies


    4. Future Directions and Research Priorities
    4.1. Renewable Energy Research and Environmental Control
    4.1.1 Lebanon as a Practical Laboratory of Solar Energy R&D
    4.1.2 Energy-efficient Building Systems
    4.1.3 Recommended Focus Areas in Energy-efficient Building Systems Research
    4.2. Water resources research
    4.3. Natural resource mapping and geological research
    4.4. Waste Management Research
    4.4.1 A Pilot Plasma Gasification Plant for Lebanon
    4.5. Biodiversity research
    4.5.1 The Biodiversity Country Study as a Guideline for Future Research
    4.5.2 Cultural Awareness of Biodiversity
    4.6. Botanical and Crops Research
    4.6.1 Maximizing the Value of Current Crops
    4.6.2 Recommended Focus of Agricultural Research
    4.6.3 The Creation of a "Rural Campus"
    4.7 Disease control research with particular emphasis on major health burdens of the Lebanese
    4.7.1 Centers of Excellence focused on the Particular Disease Burdens of the Lebanese
    4.7.3 A National Institute for Health and Medical Research
    4.8. Fundamental Physics and Chemistry Research
    4.8.1 Archival research in Astrophysics
    4.9. Pure and Applied Mathematics, Computer Modeling, Software Development and Big Data Management
    4.9.1 Mathematical Sciences shaped by Local Mathematicians
    4.9.2 Focusing on IT for the Health and Banking Sector
    4.9.3 Focusing on Big Data and IT for Oil and Gas Sector
    4.10. Scientific Literacy and Popularization of Science
    4.10.1 A Lebanese Super-Planetarium

  • Preface

    The Lebanese Academy of Sciences (officially, Académie des Sciences du Liban- ASL) is an independent, non-profit learned society recognized by a decree of the Lebanese Government in August of 2007. Due to events in Lebanon at that time, the ASL had its first meeting in June, 2008, in Paris, France, under the auspices of the venerable French Academy of Sciences, which has solicitously shepherded the ASL from its conception to its inception.

    The ultimate goals of the ASL are to contribute directly to the growth and invigoration of the sciences in Lebanon, and to help in growing a world-class scientific culture that is both universal in its aspirations and responsive to the particular needs of the nation.

    As is declared in its charter, the ASL seeks to achieve the above stated general goals by 1) providing independent advice and guidance to governmental and private institutions, and the nation at large, on matters of scientific research and education; 2) encouraging, initiating and aiding research and educational programs in the sciences; 3) helping the dissemination and promulgation of the results of scientific research; 4) facilitating the exchange of ideas and results with similar institutions around the world.

    The ASL does not aim to become a source of research funding, nor to manage research funding and grants for the government. Research funding and its management are the domain of governmental institutions, such as the CNRS, and private and philanthropic organizations.
    The members of the ASL consist of some of the leading Lebanese scientists working inside and outside of Lebanon, as well as a smaller number of prominent foreign scientists, including some of Lebanese origin or who can contribute to the growth of the sciences in Lebanon. All ASL Academicians provide their services pro bono, i.e. voluntarily and without compensation, as a public service.

    As its first public function, the ASL organized and held on November 6-7, 2009, a two-day symposium titled “The First Symposium on the Sciences in Lebanon: Present Challenges and Future Directions." The symposium, which was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beirut, gathered more than one hundred leading scientists, educators, policy makers and administrators to define the challenges and future directions for scientific research and education in Lebanon. It was held under the patronage of the Lebanese Prime Minister who, according to the ASL statutes, is the Honorary President of the Academy.

    The symposium was made possible mostly by funds raised by The Friends of the Lebanese Academy of Sciences (FLAS), a non-profit organization in the USA, which is independent from the ASL, and which was formed in New York City with the goal of supporting the ASL and fostering links between the ASL and the Lebanese-American community. The funds raised by FLAS were mostly donations from that community, other Lebanese expatriates, and friends of Lebanon.

    When the First Symposium was held, the ASL was barely one-year old and consisted of only 16 Academicians, most of whom work and live outside Lebanon. (Today it has 22 members, 7 of whom live and work in Lebanon). The nascent academy needed to formulate a plan to meet the goals stated in its charter and felt that it was essential to have the input of the scientific community residing in Lebanon. That was the main motivation for the symposium.
    The symposium consisted of panel discussions, open discussions and more than 30 talks/presentations most of which delivered by scientists, educators, and policy makers residing in Lebanon. Practically every word spoken during the symposium was recorded and subsequently transcribed into a 140-page written transcript, which served as a starting point for the extended study leading to this present report. It is not the aim of this report to be the proceedings of that symposium, nor does it attempt to reflect with equal weight the many opinions expressed during the symposium. The symposium was simply one source of material for some of the ideas that were elaborated in the long study that led to the report. In particular, only parts of Section 1 (Existing Strengths) and Section 2 (Problems and Challenges) have a direct connection to the discussions that occurred at the symposium.

    The demanding job of distilling the transcript into the nucleus of the first two sections of this report and starting the study that developed into the remaining sections was carried out by ASL Academicians Edward Sion, June Nasrallah and Makhluf Haddadin, whom I thank deeply for their dedication, hard work and acumen.

    This initial draft served as the initial document, which steadily grew with valuable contributions from Academicians Kamal Badr, Fuad Ziyadeh, Georges Bahr, Sir Michael Attiyah, Nesereen Ghaddar, Yves Quéré, Samir Zard, and George Helou. They provided a wealth of expert material, ideas, opinions, and editorial advice that made my job of editing this report, and iterating it with more input from Academicians and outside experts, much easier and more pleasant.

    We are also indebted to the contributions of a number of experts, who responded to inquiries through personal communications or written opinion. In particular, we are grateful to Dean Makram Suidan of the American University of Beirut for his valuable input on water resources research.

    The completion of the study documented in this report is a milestone marking the end of the first chapter of the ASL's evolution. This first chapter started with the inception of the Academy thanks in large part to the dedication, vision and sagacity of Professor Francois Capron of the French Academy of Sciences, to whom we will always remain indebted.

    This Report to the Nation is the ASL’s first major publication. Through it the ASL aims to communicate an overview of the challenges the nation faces in the general areas of scientific research and education and a prescription for how to meet these challenges and invigorate the sciences in Lebanon. We invite Lebanon’s researchers, students, teachers, university administrators, business and banking leaders and government officials to engage in discussing, refining and building on these recommendations. The Academicians of the ASL commit to use their expertise, advice, and connections in the scientific world to serve, to the best of their abilities, in helping the nation implement these recommendations.


    Edgar Choueiri
    President (2008-2013)
    Académie des Sciences du Liban

    Princeton, NJ
    January 20, 2015

  • 1. Existing Strengths

    A major factor that gives cause for optimism regarding the future of research and education in the sciences in Lebanon relates to the extensive human resources available in the nation. The Lebanese population has an intense appreciation for education and the opportunities that it affords. Additionally, Lebanon has numerous institutions of higher learning, some of which operate according to international standards of scholarship. As a result, the nation has a reasonably well-educated population and there is no lack of innovative, intelligent, and well-qualified young individuals having the ability and ambition to achieve much with few resources. Combined with the nation’s traditions of intellectual freedom and of openness to new ideas and different cultures, this reservoir of indigenous talent should make for a vibrant scientific community that can address the major challenges faced by the nation and the region.

    Another area of strength is the investment several institutions have made, or are making, to rebuild or improve their academic programs and the physical infrastructure that is essential for research and training in the sciences. Prominent among these activities is the consolidation of resources into core laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art equipment within some institutions and the establishment of at least one research incubator as a national resource that is available for use by scientists across the nation. There have also been some efforts to develop programs of study aimed at providing students with inter-disciplinary training that integrates life science fields with economics, the social and political sciences, engineering, and agriculture. More recently, an encouraging trend has emerged in medical sciences whereby an increasing number of physicians, scientists in basic and applied disciplines, and engineers have begun to take advantage of the above-mentioned infrastructure resources and return to work in Lebanon after long periods of study and accomplishments abroad. A case in point is the recruitment of over 65 new medical faculty members to the American University of Beirut from 2009 to 2012, more than 50 of whom returned from North America.

    Also encouraging in this regard is the recent establishment of several new PhD programs, including ones in Biology, several branches of Engineering, and Biomedical Sciences.

    Finally, a strength that Lebanon has enjoyed for decades, thanks to its ethnic diversity, inherently cosmopolitan culture, its openness to the rest of the world, freedom of expression and political association, and the vibrancy of its press, media and publication industry, is its well-recognized regional role as a cultural center and a trend setter in the Arab Middle East. This strength could be an effective catalyst in allowing many of the advances, improvements, and projects that are recommended in this report for Lebanon to be transmitted to, or emulated in, the rest of the region, especially at a time when this region is undergoing a number of transformative revolutions.

  • 2. Problems & Challenges

    The challenges facing science and engineering research and education in Lebanon are multifold and complex. Clearly, the status quo has failed to foster a widespread generation of new knowledge, and a significant fraction of the research being carried out in the country duplicates or confirms previous findings. The impact scientists in Lebanon are making on the advancement of basic sciences (as measured by the number and quality of their peer-reviewed archival publications, collective h-index, invited talks by the leading international scientific societies, participation in worldwide scientific projects and share in international awards) is disproportionately low when compared to that of scientists in many developing nations. Similarly, there are too few examples of successful translational research in which the results of basic research are effectively translated into meaningful outcomes for society, and the number of worldwide patents issued to Lebanese inventors is subpar by any standard. The following specific challenges were viewed as major factors that confront researchers and educators in all fields of science and engineering.


    2.1 The Brain Drain


    Foremost among the challenges facing the scientific endeavor in Lebanon is the “brain drain" or “skills exodus" from the country. This exodus is largely driven by the severe lack of positions in science and engineering and a shortage of industries that provide employment to science and engineering graduates as well as teachers in these disciplines at all levels. As a result, there is no strong incentive for graduates and teachers, whether educated in Lebanon or abroad, to remain in or return to the country. This problem is exacerbated by the wealth of employment opportunities in the Gulf States and other countries. This external job market and the emergence of competing strong science and engineering programs in the Gulf States present grave obstacles to the objective of fostering thriving science and engineering research institutions in Lebanon.


    2.2 PhD Programs


    There is a lack of support to local PhD programs in science and engineering that could compete for graduate students and quality faculty with much stronger programs abroad. As a result, the educational system generates too many graduates with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, or MDs, many of whom leave the country, often permanently, in search of employment or post-graduate study overseas. The low number of committed PhD students and post-doctoral fellows who typically commit to multi-year research projects means that there is no critical mass of personnel needed to sustain a significant research effort by those scientists who choose to remain in the country.


    2.3 Research Funding


    A major challenge is the inadequate funding for science and engineering. A very small percentage of Lebanon’s GDP is spent on research and development; there is very little funding from industries and pharmaceutical companies. Local industries are not driven by research and development, but rather by family and sectarian ties. They have little interest in establishing partnerships with research-oriented universities in Lebanon and are given no incentive to do so.

    The very low level of investment by the public and private sectors, as well as the fact that most scientists working in Lebanon are not eligible to apply for funding to the leading external agencies (such as NSF, NASA and NIH in the USA), hinders the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment or maintenance of available equipment, and makes it very difficult for researchers to cover the expenses of even modest projects and travel to international conferences. For example, in the life sciences, the major source of funding is from the CNRS, with the average award being $10,000-30,000 per year, a woefully inadequate level of funding considering the high cost of supplies (typically 3-4 times the cost of materials in the USA) required for effective scientific research.


    2.4 Affordable High-Speed Internet Service


    Although Internet services in Lebanon have significantly improved over the past few years (from a sad state only 5 years ago), wideband Internet access remains prohibitively expensive for a good portion of the society, and, most critically, for students at home. Wideband Internet access is significantly more expensive in Lebanon than in many developed and developing nations which has been an impediment for the population at large, especially the youth, to partake effectively in the vibrant online dialogues and forums related to science, therefore compounding the low level of scientific literacy of the population.
    The evolution of a home-grown software development industry in Lebanon has been severely retarded by the high cost of wideband Internet access due to unfair practices in the telecommunication industry that render effective Internet and wireless communications in Lebanon among the most expensive in the world. This situation is exacerbated by antiquated government regulations that are not suitable for the information age.


    2.5 Research Infrastructure


    The infrastructure required for research in science and engineering at many universities in Lebanon is weak or absent. Research requires an office dedicated to managing grants and contracts with skilled personnel, as well as a supportive administration that values and rewards research and teaching excellence. Research productivity in Lebanon is impeded by institutional and national bureaucratic red tape, excessive administrative duties, and at some institutions, heavy teaching loads. There are few incentives that might attract and retain innovative researchers and educators. Additionally, there is little incentive for individual faculty members to engage in research and contend with these impediments because promotions at several institutions are not dependent on research productivity. Professorial appointments, promotion, and tenure (in the rare cases where it exists) are often decided on the basis of sectarian formulae, politics, and connections rather than upon academic merit and the best possible appointment. Additionally, there are no established mechanisms for intellectual property ownership and patent protection for discoveries and applications resulting from scientific research.


    2.6 Collaborative Research


    There is little interdisciplinary collaborative research or integration between research and education, although these situations have improved over the past few years with support of education and research grants from the European Union. There is also a lack of inter-university collaboration; little pooling of facilities, resources, equipment, and laboratories, and maximization of available expertise.

    The existing “Rabitat Al-Jamiaat fi Lubnan" (League of Universities in Lebanon) is quite ineffective. With a few exceptions, Lebanese scientists appear to find it easier to engage in international collaborations, often with former research mentors, than in local collaborations. For example, in 2011, only 131 papers out of 2500 engineering publications in Lebanon involved collaborations between Lebanese universities. Among perceived hurdles to collaborative research within the country are lack of institutional support, competition between institutions, and barriers resulting from the use of either French or English as the primary language of scientific research and teaching in different institutions.


    2.7 Academic Standards and World-Class Accreditation


    The relatively large number of private “universities," many of which are basically teaching universities, is another impediment to effective research and education in science and engineering. These “universities" do not require their faculties to conduct research to keep their jobs or to be promoted to higher academic ranks, and several do not uphold high academic standards of scholarship. As a result, there is a lack of uniform academic standards for students at different institutions: GPAs from different universities are not equivalent and students who graduate from these programs without interactions with research-active faculty have highly variable proficiencies in their chosen field of study. Additionally, while some programs strive to incorporate hands-on training in research and to instill in their students the ability to solve problems, too many programs provide few, if any, opportunities for experiential learning. Thus, rather than being an asset, the large number of institutions and the numerous programs they offer in any one field, many of which lack accreditation, have caused a dilution of education standards.

    In recent years, the Ministry of Higher Education initiated a local accreditation process and developed policies for licensing universities and approving new programs. A National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Committee at the Ministry of Higher Education developed policies and started the implementation with major challenges. Several private universities received accreditations from international accrediting bodies in the US and Europe. The Ministry of Higher Education has recently established policies to regulate PhD programs for applicable to private universities.


    2.8 Science Education at the Pre-University Level


    Poor and uneven science education at the pre-university level, especially in public schools, is another major challenge to advanced training and research in science and engineering as well as for the development of the country as a whole. The Lebanese system of education suffers from significant discrepancies in the quality of education between private and public schools, especially in remote parts of the country. As described by a prominent educator, there is “stagnation in the quality of education in Lebanon." The consensus voiced by expert educators from at least three major universities is that teaching at the elementary and secondary levels is outmoded in its approach and deficient in its curricula, as well as lacking in development programs and financial compensation for teachers. As a result, Lebanese high school students perform poorly in international tests (data from 2003 and 2007), especially in mathematics and the life sciences. This disappointing performance results in low enrollment in the sciences at universities, especially in basic science disciplines, and contributes to low research productivity, in both quantity and quality. Yet, there is a widely held misconception that “all is well" in pre-university science education in Lebanon. This misconception, together with the absence of persuasive lobbying for education reform, has no doubt contributed to the government’s failure to recognize the deficiencies of the current system of education and provide the framework for its reform.


    2.9 Scientific Literacy Among the General Public


    In addition to these challenges, research and education in the sciences and engineering occurs against the backdrop of a population that on the whole has little science literacy. In fact, any informal poll would quickly reveal that most people know more about astrology than astronomy. It is unclear how the Lebanese public, with its historically mercantile culture, views research and education in science and engineering, and to what extent it supports the scientific endeavor, especially since the benefits of the scientific enterprise are not manifest in the media and culture. Furthermore, the perennial confessional and sectarian struggle, which often presents a serious challenge to the social and political cohesion of the country, hinders the process of long-range planning. Consequently, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify and establish national priorities and uniform standards for science and technology in Lebanon. This issue has likely contributed to the lost opportunity of the country becoming a leader in Information Technology for the region.

  • Recommendations

    3.1 Adopting the Model of the Research University with Tenure


    3.1.1 PhD Programs


    It is essential that the leading Lebanese universities and institutions of higher learning commit to quickly evolve into doctoral-granting graduate institutions, and scientific research would become a primary component of their mission, a component that should be on equal footing with teaching.



    3.1.2 Tenure and Promotion

    In order to effect this transition and attract world-class scientific talent, universities must adopt the tenure system, whereby professors and researchers are accorded the opportunity to exercise their right for academic freedom and are granted long-term employment security after demonstrating to their peers their ability to continue making significant scholarly contributions. It is also essential that promotion and tenure be directly linked to accomplishments and excellence in research, and not only to teaching, and that salaries be commensurate with those in the corporate sector. In granting tenure and promotions, concrete metrics for assessing the volume, importance and impact of the research output of each researcher should be used. Furthermore, tenure and other promotions, as well as appointments of professors, researchers, deans and even presidents of universities should be conducted through revolving promotion or search committees consisting of peers and not government officials.


    Tenure is a particularly misunderstood concept in Lebanese society, and many business leaders, even those few who actively contribute to the leading universities and serve on their board of trustees, view tenure with suspicion and consider it a welfare type of security that may instill complacency. This unfortunate belief stems from a well-founded distrust of assured security, a distrust that is a justifiable tenet in the business world. It is the responsibility of university officials and faculty representatives to explain to them the necessity of tenure in the academic world, the thoroughness and rigor of the tenure review process, and the facts that 1) there is not a single leading research institution in the world that does not offer tenure; 2) practically every leading scientist in the world (including practically all Nobel prize winners) is tenured or becomes tenured; 3) tenure is the main means of attracting and retaining top scientific talent; 4) it is a statistical fact, established by many studies, that on the average the production and contributions of scientists increase significantly after tenure; 5) tenure instills in the tenured scientist a feeling of being invested in the evolution of the employing institution and a commitment to its mission; 6) without a properly adapted tenure system even the AUB, LAU, USJ, NDU and UoB will never be counted among the leading universities of the world, nor can they be considered truly research universities by world standards, and, therefore, will continue to fall short of attracting world-class scientific talent, with the exception of the very few brilliant scientists who have chosen to return to Lebanon for family and personal reasons, or driven by a pure and commendable altruism to contribute to research and education in their homeland.


    3.1.3 Administrative Infrastructure for Research

    Each university that offers programs in science and engineering must have the required research infrastructure, including an office of grants and contracts, financial officers, legal advisors for registration of patents and intellectual property (which can generate royalties that are a significant source of income for research universities), and a supportive administration that is above connections and politics, that values research excellence and academic freedom, and that provides incentives and rewards to productive faculty conducting research.

    It is also critical for the major research-oriented universities to lobby the Lebanese government to establish a reasonably priced high-speed Internet service, which is essential for research and education in science and engineering.


    3.2 Accreditation


    A system of academic accreditation that judges and ranks universities and their undergraduate and graduate programs according to high international standards can go a long way in elevating the stature, visibility and ability of the top schools to attract international talent to their student bodies and research faculties. While the accreditation process recently initiated by the Ministry of Higher Education (mentioned in Section 2.7) is commendable, well-established European or American accreditation boards should also be used to insure that international standards are impartially applied.


    3.3. Increased Funding for Research and Education in Science and Engineering


    The most obvious and most critical need is a substantial increase in governmental funding for science and engineering research projects that would be critical to allowing the retention of gifted Lebanese faculty and students in Lebanon and minimizing their exodus to America, Europe, and the Gulf States. Lebanese students must be retained long enough for them to complete their graduate studies rather than having them exit the country for a job in the Gulf or elsewhere as soon as they obtain their undergraduate degrees.


    3.3.1 Funding and Competitive Grants

    Greater funding from government is also required to support graduate students and Ph.D. programs, purchase equipment, build laboratories, and attract young dynamic faculty who publish in the highest-quality journals. Young Lebanese graduates are self-driven researchers who do not see research as an onerous duty. If retained in the country, they will spawn research ideas, convey enthusiasm for science or engineering, and thus engender more research funding and with it the hiring of postdoctoral fellows.

    The sponsoring of scientific research and awarding of grants and contracts should not be based on internal and regional politics, ethnic and racial parity, nor demographics, but on merit-based competitions. The issuance of competitions and managing of research contracts should be entrusted to national science foundations. The Lebanese CRNS has been doing a commendable job at this despite meager budgets allocated by the government.

    Proposal review committees consisting of scientific peers and experts, and not politicians or administrators, should determine the selection of competition winners. Furthermore, the establishment of government-funded research centers, national laboratories and think tanks should be a priority of national spending. According to the United Nations, until recently, no Arab country spends more than 0.3 percent of its gross national product on scientific research. By contrast, the United States spends more than 10 times that fraction. Universities, individual faculty, and political representatives should, therefore, lobby for an increase in the percentage of GDP spent on research and development. A good example that this goal can be achieved is provided by Tunisia, which more than tripled its R&D funding from 0.3% to 1% in the last 10 years.


    3.3.2 The Importance of Overhead Fees

    Universities and research institutions should be allowed and encouraged by the government to collect overhead fees on research contracts, a model that has proven to be critical to the success of scientific research at American universities and that has been copied by research institutions around the world. Individual researchers and faculty should not perceive such overhead fees members as a taxation burden imposed by their own institutions but as a well-proven financial incentive for their institutions to make research a priority. Overhead funds also go into improving the infrastructure of the institutions, increasing salaries across disciplines (even non-scientific ones) and providing financial headroom for various programs that benefit employees and students.


    3.3.3 Other Funding Sources and Practices

    The government, also, can further fuel the scientific enterprise by offering significant tax breaks and subsidies to companies, foundations and individuals that choose to sponsor scientific research; by creating a rigorous patent system that is efficient and has enforceable laws aimed at protecting intellectual rights; and by bestowing honors and awards on outstanding research scientists.

    Governmental institutions, the banking sector and private foundations could collaborate or work separately to provide long-term, interest-free loans for science research, development and education projects, in the form of seed funding with the goal of having funding become self-sustaining after an "induction" period.

    Research-oriented universities should give incentives to their individual faculty members to enter international research competitions, at least as collaborators with colleagues overseas, thus tapping the large research funding available through international development agencies, and research funding agencies in the US, Europe and Asia, many of which have competitions that are open to foreign participants or collaborators.

    University officials, alumni and individual faculty members should use their connections through the large Lebanese Diaspora to raise funds specifically targeted for scientific research and education and to lobby foreign institutions (e.g. the National Science Foundation) to allow Lebanese scientists to enter some of their research funding competitions. In that latter direction, the ASL can play an active role.


    3.4 Enhancing Collaborative Research and Improving Cooperation between Universities


    Interdisciplinary collaborative research and a higher level of integration between research and education are critical for the advancement of science and engineering. Efforts should be made to facilitate the networking of local scientists with each other and with prominent scientists (particularly those in the Diaspora and among alumni), as a means of providing opportunities for collaborative research, possibly through co-mentoring of graduate students. The establishment of “visiting scientists" programs (ranging from one or more seminar presentation, to participating in courses, etc.) provides an effective mechanism for collaborative efforts in research and education.

    There must be more seamless cooperation between universities. In education, such cooperation would involve developing and enforcing uniform standards for academic programs across institutions and strict guidelines for the licensing of graduates [e.g. licensed engineers]. Uniform standards would allow students taking courses at one university to receive credit at another. In research, inter-university cooperation would allow the exchanges of ideas and the sharing of equipment and laboratories, and thus precludes the need to duplicate expensive facilities.

    The ideal is for each institution to have a critical mass of committed faculty carrying out collaborative, interdisciplinary research, and sharing facilities and expertise within and between universities. This goal is clearly achievable, as there is already precedence for such cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, management of water resources, and at least one joint degree program at the graduate level. Achieving this goal will require strong and stable leadership, which could be provided by enhancing the effectiveness of the current “Rabitat Al-Jamiaat fi Lubnan" or establishing a new committee charged specifically with fostering collaborations among the major research universities.


    3.5 Identification of Areas of Excellence in Science and Engineering


    3.5.1 Selective Excellence

    The principle of selective excellence should be applied to maximize return on the limited available resources. It is important to recognize that no one university or institution can sustain excellent training and research programs in all fields of science and engineering. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on five or six of the best universities and to strengthen selectively education and research programs (and possibly establish rigorous PhD programs) in four or five fields of science and engineering within these universities. Ideally, the fields of excellence should be chosen and their supporting programs adjusted on the basis of both academic considerations and the employment opportunities available locally and regionally. The goal is to develop excellent training and research programs that are recognized as the number one choice for a given field, and to obtain the international accreditation that is critical for the success of these programs.


    3.5.2 Research Priorities

    The identification of specific areas of research in science and engineering that Lebanon must excel in is essential. Rather than attempting to duplicate research being carried out elsewhere, focus should be on local or regional problems with the goal of carving out niches of research topics that will be recognized as unique, groundbreaking, and, therefore, worthy of financial support. The creation of these unique areas of excellence might spur international companies to establish centers of employment within the country and thus alleviate the exodus of qualified personnel. Additionally, translational research, having the potential to address the most pressing societal needs, should be encouraged.

    Given the limited resources of even the wealthiest nations, priorities for funding research should be established and continuously updated. For instance, in many research problems in the applied sciences that are of direct interest to industry, the government should give only seed funding to research institutions, then judge their performance by their ability to use their initial results to secure industrial funding and transfer technology to industry. There are, however, a number of research problems that are critical to the common good and that are not profitable enough to attract the attention of the industrial sector. Such research areas should receive high funding priorities by the government, private foundations and philanthropists.

    The limitations on resources imposed by the size of the country cannot be seen as an obstacle or excuse for inaction. For example, Morocco has made progress by choosing solar energy and biomaterials as areas of focus. There is no reason why Lebanon cannot do the same taking into consideration the expected significant transformation in the Lebanese economy with the discovery of offshore gas fields. In engineering, areas of national priority might be in the energy sector addressing the forthcoming energy mix of the country, including both natural gas resources and green energy technologies such as hydroelectric power, and solar energy, while still promoting mitigation of climate change, environmental protection, and power distribution. In the life sciences, there are ample opportunities for unique groundbreaking research to be conducted in Lebanon. One example is in the field of genetics, in which the small size of the country and the tightly-knit communities allow for multi-generational sampling and rigorous analysis of diseases that are more common in Lebanon or surrounding countries than in other regions of the world. Another example is in the area of describing and preserving biodiversity, which has traditionally received little attention in Lebanon, but has tremendous potential both from a basic and applied perspective.

    The ASL presents its own top-10 list of research priority areas for Lebanon in Section 4 of this report.


    3.6 Improving Science Education and Instilling a Culture of Science in the Lebanese Population


    Scientists, engineers, educators, officials, political and religious leaders and the media must strive to enhance the public’s appreciation of science and engineering. They must convey the potential that research has to address pressing societal issues and the positive impact it can have on people’s lives. In turn, this awareness will influence how supportive the government and university administrations are towards research.


    3.6.1 Popularization of Science

    For science and engineering to thrive, a culture of science must be instilled in the population from a young age. It is important to counter the common misconceptions regarding the excellence of science education and to lobby for a nation-wide review and reform of the current system of science education at the pre-university level in Lebanon.

    Several activities would help jump-start science education in elementary and high schools. For example, universities could establish public service programs through which their science students would spend time away from campus, visiting primary schools (especially in underprivileged areas) and helping local teachers to practice an "inquiry-based science education" (IBSE), where children learn science by practicing it. (The ASL, a member of the IAP, would be willing to help by linking such programs to the IAP program on science education of children.)

    Another possibility is to launch “laboratories on wheels" similar to Craig Venter’s “DNA Bus". Such mobile laboratories would bring to underprivileged schools one or two instructors recruited from university science students who would provide children and their teachers with hands-on experiences in a variety of science fields. Efforts should also be made to enhance the general public’s awareness and understanding of science and technology outside the classroom. A step in this direction is to increase access to computers, e.g. by equipping each underprivileged child with a laptop. Particularly suited for this effort is the “One Laptop Per Child" program , which provides “a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning".

    A high-speed Internet network with affordable subscriptions for private homes and free access to students in public schools even in the most remote villages should be a national priority, much like the road network connecting Lebanese villages was a national priority in the 1950’s. Although significant leaps have occurred by which Internet speed has been increased 10 fold, it is still expensive and below level expected when compared to other countries in the region. This is not only impeding the scientific literacy of the population, but also handicapping Lebanon’s otherwise exemplary hospitality industry from having its facilities as viable locales for scientific conferences and meetings, as Internet connections in Lebanese hotels are among the slowest and most expensive in the world. In addition, this undermines the important role of high performance computing, big data and e-infrastructure in the information economy, e-health, and opportunities in the oil and gas sector in Lebanon and the wider region.

    Another effective approach for the popularization of science is to engage the public in activities that are both informative and entertaining. The establishment of an educational center, such as a museum of natural history, a planetarium, or an “Exploratorium," would help realize a vision of “Science For All." To make science more understandable and demonstrate how science is experienced in everyday life, such a center would mount attractive exhibitions, provide simple hands-on science activities directed at a wide range of age groups (especially the young), and present a history of science that highlights the contributions of Lebanese and Arab scientists in the present and back to the golden age of the Islamic world. An additional benefit of such a center would be to augment the training of undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences by recruiting them to participate in center activities and to convey the excitement of science to the general public.


    3.6.2 Science and Culture

    On the cultural level, there is much that can be done by the media to enhance the image of the scientist and to show that a career in the sciences can be rewarding. Today, fewer than one in 20 Lebanese university students pursue disciplines in the pure sciences, as the only opportunity after graduation for science majors is teaching in elementary or secondary schools. The Lebanese media, especially television, not unlike their counterparts in the US, are mostly focused on the entertainment industry and its celebrities. Comparatively, few people in Lebanon and the Arab world know the names of prominent Arab scientists, who would be inspiring role models for young aspiring scientists but who remain practically unknown in Lebanon despite their international prominence. The fledgling science journalism movement in Lebanon has great potential, but it is not commercially viable on its own. A very modest investment would enable it to prosper, leveraging the low cost of electronic news outlets such as websites and social media.


    3.6.3 Science and Religion

    Religion plays a far more important role in Lebanese society than it does in most Western and Eastern countries, which is not surprising since three of the world's greatest religions originated from the region. The prominence of religion could be made an asset for the promulgation of scientific values and not seen as an inherent impediment, especially since all three of these religions, when free from the aberration of fundamentalism, put great value on learning, inquiry and independent thinking.


    3.6.4 The Lingua Franca of Science

    We must also learn a lesson from the failed experiment of the Arabization of scientific teaching in some Arab countries, where students were kept from learning science in English and became severely handicapped in engaging in the inherently international discourse of science. The innocuous fact that, since the middle of the 20th century, English has become the lingua francaof science in the world should not be interpreted as cultural bias. (Today, Chinese applicants to graduate schools in the US often score higher on English comprehension tests than native Americans.) Most of the leading scientific journals in the West and East are written in English. Lebanese youth should become well versed in English, especially in the context of the sciences, starting at an early age. French-speaking universities, aspiring to train scientists and engineers who would interact with their counterparts globally, should require their science students to be proficient in expressing scientific ideas in written English, much like research universities do in France. (In that context, the USJ is setting a good example by requiring English proficiency from its graduates.)


    3.6.5 The Role of National Academies

    Another component of the formula that has proved successful in continuously correcting the path of scientific progress and enhancing the standing of science in the West, Russia and the Far East, is the role played by the national science academies. Their charters perform an invaluable public service by bringing together committees of distinguished experts in all areas of scientific and technological endeavor. These experts serve pro bono to address critical national issues and give advice to the government and the public on research priorities. The Lebanese Academy of Sciences is striving to play this role.

  • Future Directions and Research Priorities

    Drawing on the expertise of ASL members and input we solicited from local, regional and international experts, the ASL has undertaken the constructive exercise of defining, and proposing to the nation, a top-ten list of priority research areas that, given the particular needs and the resources that can be realistically expected, stand to yield the highest benefit to the nation in return for its long-time investment in scientific research and education.

    The ten priority areas are as follows:

    1. Renewable energy research aimed at making renewable energy practical and economical, focusing on development of clean and hybrid power generation and energy storage systems, and on energy and environmental control research aimed at the development of technologies that are adaptable to Lebanon's needs and that can reduce conventional energy consumption in buildings and processes.
    2. Water resources research aimed at providing access to clean and plentiful water. 
    3. Natural resource mapping and geological research aimed at the discovery, characterization, and development of natural resources with emphasis on the new offshore gas and oil resource, and the formulation of eco-friendly plans for their extraction and utilization. 
    4. Waste management research aimed at exploring new methods for processing  common, organic, hazardous, inorganic and electronic waste and minimizing the use of landfills. 
    5. Biodiversity research aimed at characterizing biodiversity on land, the Mediterranean sea and water bodies, and formulating methods and plans for its preservation. 
    6. Botanical and crops research aimed at agricultural modernization. 
    7. Disease control research with particular emphasis on major health burdens of the Lebanese population.  
    8. Fundamental physics and chemistry research, especially in topics that do not require large groups and facilities. 
    9. Pure and applied mathematics, computer modeling and software development, especially for applications in banking, transportation, health informatics as well as oil and gas explorations, reservoir modeling and production optimization, and the management and analysis of "big data" and data mining.
    10. Popularization of science through education and public projects aimed at raising the national literacy level in science and technology. 

    We now present a few comments and propose some ideas in the context of each of the above ten areas. Many of the ideas below are given in the spirit of an example of what could be done in these areas and are meant to encourage debate and further definition by the relevant experts and institutions in Lebanon.

  • Renewable energy and environmental control

    4.1 Renewable Energy Research and Environmental Control


    4.1.1 Lebanon as a Practical Laboratory of Solar Energy R&D

    Lebanon is particularly suited to be transformed into a grass roots-operated laboratory for studying, testing and developing highly economical solar energy technologies. Making renewable energy economical has been ranked as the most important engineering challenge of the Twenty First Century by the US National Academy of Engineering as the technologies for extracting useful electrical energy from sunlight remain highly inefficient and thus prohibitively expensive.

    Lebanon, most of which is blessed with more than 300 sunny days per year, could marshal university and high-school student volunteers and their teachers to outfit villagers’ homes with experimental solar panels and energy storage systems and carry out coordinated experiments and measurements in villages and towns, guided by research centers at universities and funded by industry and governments. New materials and techniques developed by researchers at the universities could then be quickly tested in field on a large and realistic scale. Students’ facility with computers and networking can be leveraged to transmit measurements to a central database available to researchers around the world.

    The ability to mobilize an effective workforce of volunteers and paid workers to undertake ambitious projects in Lebanon was clearly demonstrated by the highly successful effort of cleaning up the Lebanese Mediterranean shore after the catastrophic oil spill of 2006.


    4.1.2 Energy-efficient Building Systems

    Particular to Lebanon, the energy consumption in the buildings accounts for more than 70% of the total electrical energy produced in the country; therefore, thermal innovations in the building sector are necessary to reduce the energy used, provide thermal comfort and at the same time fight the global warming, and meet Lebanese directive for energy conservation in buildings.

    Despite significant improvements to the electricity distribution network since 1993, power shortages and rationing are still widespread, particularly during summer and following major storms. As a result, Lebanese have reverted to alternative power supply systems as backup UPS systems for computers and private power generators. Nearly 10 per cent of all buildings are equipped with private power generators. The city of Beirut and Mount Lebanon have more than 60% of all buildings in Lebanon, and are heavily populated areas. Forecast of power sector predicts that by end of 2015, the back power sector of private generation will provide almost 50% of electricity consumed in that year, assuming that the National Electric company, EDL, does not improve its services. The national policies for improving energy efficiency in the construction sector were announced in 2010 along with governmental initiatives to reform the Lebanese power sector. Reducing Lebanon’s dependency on imported fossil fuels is a key objective of the Lebanese government when setting the target for renewable energy at 12% of the total energy supply by the year 2020. It is simply not possible to meet the government’s target without promoting sustainable and strict conservation measures in buildings. The electricity sector reform plan, approved by the Lebanese government, "gives priority to traditional energy sources that are least harmful to the environment, mainly gas and renewable energy."

    Investment in energy systems that leads to low and zero-net energy buildings is important given that the total annual amount spent by the Lebanese on electricity consumption amounts to 2.4 billion dollars, of which only 700 million is paid to EDL, while the remaining 1.7 billion dollars is paid to so-called private back-up electricity providers. Therefore, a foremost goal of energy research in Lebanon is to find ways to enhance its local capacity in the areas related to building technologies and services in order to reach zero energy neutral buildings.


    4.1.3 Recommended Focus Areas in Energy-efficient Building Systems Research

    Research on energy-efficient building systems and processes is an interdisciplinary, high priority area progressing beyond passive sustainable building design where it is aimed to balance energy requirements with active energy production techniques and renewable technologies, localize use of energy resources to where and when they are needed to attain human comfort and air quality in the building environment, and optimize water use and waste water treatment and management. This research would address fundamental and applied concepts that address material advancement for energy applications, such as anti-reflecting coatings for solar cells and electrochromic materials, nano-structured and thermoelectric materials, and address the fundamental understanding and predictive design of new nanocomposites, interaction of clay and clay-like materials with polymers, organic light-emitting diodes and solar cells, metal and semiconductor nano-particles for catalysis and energy conversion, dye sensitized solar cells and sol-gel materials and their use in oxidation catalysis. It would also address technology advancement and fundamental modeling and control of air quality and air distribution systems in buildings. Research needs to focus on Lebanon’s building performance evaluation and innovative technologies targeting net-zero energy housing; reducing building envelope heat gain with consideration of local material; using renewable resources like solar power and wind energy, natural ventilation, energy modeling and performance simulation; improving the efficiency of air conditioning and heating systems and processes; improving indoor air quality; enhancing human comfort and productivity while reducing waste; and promoting green building technologies where possible and decentralized effective building power generation alternatives. It will be unique to Lebanon and the region and should address issues of human comfort, health, and productivity linked to climate, architectural practices, local clothing choices, and culture. This research focus requires interdisciplinary and collaborative research between disciplines such as architecture, agriculture, mechanical, construction and electrical engineering, and material science.

  • Water resources research

    4.2 Water Resources research


    The sustainability of water resources in the region is challenged with increased demands and uncontrolled exploitation. Given the seasonality of rainfall in the region, the bulk of water is delivered during the winter season with high percentages of runoff channeled directly to the Mediterranean. Changes in land use due to urbanization are continuously increasing the rates of runoff as is the case with the changes associated with climate change. This allows less volume of water to infiltrate and recharge the groundwater aquifers and results in elevated water shortages as predicted by many studies on the challenges of water resources in the region. In Lebanon, the result is obvious, particularly at the sea fronts where sea water intrusion is now an ongoing threat. Solutions to the problem require efforts at multiple fronts, including: optimizing water resources allocations among different sectors, working on technologies that improve the efficiencies of irrigation and water use in agriculture, developing storage structures, treatment of wastewater for reuse in irrigation and aquifer recharge, as well as the continuous work and research on unconventional water resources and technologies.

    A large percentage of the treated water supplied to consumers is lost due to leaking, old infrastructure, and improper design. Furthermore, the condition of the wastewater collection infrastructure, and in some instances, the lack of it leads to water supply and groundwater contamination. Untreated wastewater discharge to the Mediterranean is destroying fish habitat and reducing the appeal of an otherwise beautiful shoreline. Wastewater treatment and reuse of the treated wastewater for irrigation and groundwater recharge is critical.

  • Natural resource mapping and geological research

    4.3 Natural Resource mapping and geological research


    Lebanon, despite its diminutive geographical size, is blessed with significant natural resources, many of which have remained unexplored and untapped since its independence. An example is the recent discovery of natural gas resources, which promises a bright future for the economy and more reliance on domestic energy resources. Aside from the important geological research undertaken by individual scholars and small groups, Lebanon could instigate grand projects related to natural resource mapping and development that can leverage the interest and resources of larger and wealthier countries in the region. The immediate research needs for oil and gas explorations include mapping of the offshore basin for underwater and surface currents to develop a tool to select the rig/well locations that do not affect marine life and that avoid earthquake-induced dynamic faults. This requires extensive climate and basin simulations. Reservoir management and prediction simulation tools of different production scenarios need to be developed to allow government to optimize resource utilization and have informed decisions on production rates.
    For instance, Lebanon, given its unique international connections and large scientific Diaspora, could team up with regional and world partners to design, fabricate, launch and maintain the most comprehensive and state-of-the-art remote sensing satellite system for the Middle East. The system would consist of a constellation of satellites having unprecedented capabilities and the ability to “see" over and under the surface of the Earth, which would allow it to map and track resources such as water, fossil fuel and vegetation, as well as the migration of animals such as birds, mammals and even swarms of large insects such as locusts, and the extent and evolution of sandstorms, fires, deforestation, and geological events. This dedicated space-based system would also allow Lebanese scientists and officials to predict and track natural and man-made disasters and guide environmental cleaning efforts and agricultural planning, and would serve a regional resource and international research center.

    One particular use of such a remote sensing system is to assess environmental impact of oil spills and gas well blowouts, to monitor and mitigate oil spills near shorelines, and to guide the development of bioremediation methods of contaminated shorelines (for which research on the use of dispersants to retain oil in the water column and accelerate bioremediation is recommended).

  • Waste management research

    4.4 Waste Management Research


    Waste management is a particularly onerous problem for a country as small as Lebanon, where the real estate for landfills is scarce and where the tourism industry, which relies on a clean and unpolluted environment, is a critical part of the economy. In the past decade there have been major research breakthroughs and critical developments in clean waste management and disposal methods, especially the process of plasma gasification, which are revolutionizing common, hazardous, medical, and electronic waste processing in developing countries, and which could be particularly suited for solving the mounting waste problem in Lebanon.


    4.4.1 A Pilot Plasma Gasification Plant for Lebanon

    Plasma gasification relies on processing organic and inorganic waste through a reactor where a powerful plasma torch (an electric arc that ionizes and heats an inert working gas, such as argon) raises the temperature of the waste to many thousands of degrees (even exceeding the temperature of the sun's chromosphere) which completely gasifies the waste and breaks it down to its elemental constituents. Most hazardous waste can be processed very cleanly. The process, pyrolysis, does not rely on combustion and, therefore, does not produce tar, char, ash, furans, dioxins, Nox, sulfur dioxide nor residual carbon and has low carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. For inorganic waste, including electronic equipment and appliances, the outflows from the reactor are stable metals, that can be refined, and clean vitrified slag which could be used as construction material. For organic waste there is a tremendous added benefit as the plasma pyrolysis produces syngas, an energy-rich mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, at near 99% efficiency. Syngas, which has about half the energy density of natural gas can then be combusted in turbines that produce electric power, only 5% of which is needed to completely power the waste gasification plant and the rest can be supplied (or sold) to the national power grid.

    We propose the establishment of a pilot plasma gasification plant in Lebanon that would serve as a center for research and development while functioning as a pilot waste management plant to be replicated in the region thus ushering a new era of clean waste management for the entire region, saving precious lands from becoming landfills while producing electric power. Countries with high population densities, such as Japan and India, have recently built plasma gasification plants, which are functioning as both R&D facilities and serving the waste management needs of regional communities.

  • Biodiversity research

    4.5 Biodiversity Research


    Lebanon’s terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity are seriously threatened by human activities and changes in climate patterns. The country and the entire Mediterranean region have been designated biodiversity hotspots by Conservation International. In all regions of the country (the coast, Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa, the Anti-Lebanon range, and southern plateau), habitats are being degraded and biodiversity is being lost due to uncontrolled development, over-hunting of birds, over-fishing, over-harvesting of trees and wild plants collected for aromatic and medicinal use, and uncontrolled grazing by goat herds. Species are protected only in a few areas designated as nature reserves, but these areas extend over less than four percent of the country, far less than the international standard of ten percent.

    However, despite extensive degradation of ecosystems, Lebanon has retained one of the highest densities of floral diversity in the Mediterranean basin. Indeed, it is estimated that at least 9,119 species of plants and animals, many endemic, exist in the country. Describing and preserving this biodiversity is critical.

    In recent years, Lebanon has made important strides towards conservation of habitats and biodiversity. It is a signatory to many international treaties relating to the environment, such as the Convention on Biodiversity, there is an increased environmental awareness among the population, and ecotourism is on the rise. Completion of the Lebanon Mountain Trail, the designation of protected nature reserves, the restructuring of the Ministry of the Environment, the new Environment Framework Law, and, if approved, the establishment of a national park in the north of the country as recommended by the National Land Use Master Plan, are all high-visibility projects that promote a Green Lebanon and further enhance public awareness of the value of nature and biodiversity conservation.


    4.5.1 The Biodiversity Country Study as a Guideline for Future Research

    A Biodiversity Country Study has been completed, which has identified a number of endangered species, enumerated existing threats to habitats, and proposed guidelines for the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity. Thus, the framework and baseline for future conservation efforts are available. However, and with the notable exception of the National Strategy for Forest Fire Management, current efforts suffer from the lack of over-arching national strategies for cost-effective conservation and management of biodiversity and for restoration of robust maritime, fresh-water, and forest eco-systems. It is particularly important to establish a national forest strategy that coordinates the currently sporadic activities in re-forestration and protection of existing groves of oak, pine, and cedar trees from degradation, because forests provide the ideal conditions for rapid regeneration of biodiversity and slowing the threat of desertification. Adequate budgets must be allocated to implement the recommendations of the Biodiversity Country Study and the National Land Use Master Plan, and the will must be found to enforce existing laws and enact further environmental laws as needed.

    In parallel, a national biodiversity strategy should bolster groups and institutions committed to the description and conservation of biodiversity. A priority is to invest in biodiversity research and in the training of personnel for technical professions related to the environment, such as forestry, taxonomy, biological monitoring (using motion detectors, tagging, Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking; population and molecular analyses), and Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. The space-based natural resource mapping system proposed in Section 4.3 would be instrumental in these research areas.


    4.5.2 Cultural Awareness of Biodiversity

    It is also critical to intensify efforts at raising the public’s awareness of biodiversity issues, explain the non-material and material (ecotourism, green job opportunities, sustainable economic use of aquatic and forest ecosystems) benefits of biodiversity conservation, and steer the public to become responsible stewards of their environment. Of particular value are educational programs directed at the youth, such as extra-curricular activities involving nature trips, participation in volunteer environmental community service or income-generating activities for environmental remediation, and programs that provide hands-on awareness of the negative impact that human activities have on wildlife and ecosystems.

  • Botanical and crops research aimed at agricultural modernization

    4.6 Botanical and Crops Research


    As part of the Fertile Crescent, Lebanon was one of the major regions in which agriculture evolved ten thousand years ago. Yet, much of the food consumed in the country is now imported. The lack of long-term planning for development and management of the agricultural sector, the continued exodus of rural communities to cities and their abandonment of arable land, and the loss of agricultural land to urban development do not bode well for the nation’s future food security. In view of these challenges and future pressures caused by climate change with expected water shortages and threatening desertification, the agricultural sector is in urgent need of strengthening and modernization. It is essential to optimize productivity while improving sustainability, thus reducing the nation’s dependence on food imports and minimizing its vulnerability to global economic changes. In the process, meaningful employment opportunities would be created, rural communities would be revitalized, and the traditional Lebanese village way of life would be preserved.

    A drastic increase in investment in agricultural planning and research should be a priority for the government. Leaders in the public and private sectors, scientists, and farmers should share ideas and experiences, and formulate policies for preserving current resources and a comprehensive plan for promoting agricultural research and development. There is a dire need for strict zoning laws that preserve agricultural land, better management of water resources (e.g. by using smart irrigation systems such as drip irrigation) to conserve the water table, especially in the Bekaa valley, and establishment of rural sewage disposal systems to prevent further deterioration and pollution of major water resources.
    4.6.1 Maximizing the Value of Current Crops

    Measures should be taken to maximize the value of current crops by adopting modern refrigeration technologies (e.g. storage of apples under controlled atmosphere) that will minimize post-harvest deterioration. Most importantly, guidelines for strict quality-control and for compliance with International Plant Protection Convention standards and Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) regulations should be established and enforced to establish a reputation of consistent quality and safety for Lebanese food products, and thus enhance exports to countries with stringent Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards. Efforts should also be made to set strict standards for organic farming and explore possible expansion of this sector in response to increasing consumer demand.


    4.6.2 Recommended Focus of Agricultural Research

    Investments in agricultural research should support programs directed at generating knowledge and resources for increased productivity and marketability. Attention should be given to cataloguing, characterizing, and conserving the local plant genetic resources represented by landraces for the major crops (including olives, fruits, cereals, potatoes, legumes, and vegetables) and their wild relatives. Similarly, the many wild plant species that are harvested for use of their aromatic products as spices or condiments or for their pharmaceutical value in folk medicine should be inventoried and evaluated for potential cultivation and commercialization as means towards increasing income and reversing loss of wild populations due to over-harvesting. Overall productivity and crop diversification will be enhanced by expanding on-going efforts in new variety development [such as those of the governmental Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI)] through testing for suitability and adaptation to the varied topographical and bioclimatic conditions of the Lebanese countryside, with the goal of introducing new crop species or new improved cultivars of existing fruit, vegetable, cereal, and pulse crops, especially those that are suitable for food processing (e.g. seedless grape varieties) and have potential for local and foreign markets. In the specific case of fruit production, which represents a major component of agricultural production in the country, introduction of dwarfing rootstocks will improve management and productivity in orchards. In parallel, a revival of plant breeding programs at public institutes and private universities will allow the incorporation of useful traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance into landraces of target crops. Furthermore, the development of a local seed production capacity and long-term seed storage facilities will reduce reliance on prohibitively expensive imported hybrid seed and provide farmers with certified seed at low or no cost.


    4.6.3 The Creation of a "Rural Campus"

    The success of these research efforts and their impact on productivity in the field depend on the availability of skilled personnel trained in modern agricultural laboratory and field methods, as well as on the establishment of effective channels to communicate newly gained knowledge to farmers. To underscore the nation’s commitment to research and development in the agricultural sector, we recommend establishment of a “Rural Campus,” possibly in the Bekaa valley, one of the main agricultural areas in the country. Such a campus would be a two-year technical college with ties to the major four-year universities. It would offer an educational program dedicated to training students in modern agricultural methods, as well as extension programs that provide small agricultural producers and consumers with practical research-based information on available resources and on up-to-date crop production and management practices.

  • Disease control research with particular emphasis on major health burdens of the Lebanese population

    4.7 Disease control research with particular emphasis on major health burdens of the Lebanese



    4.7.1 Centers of Excellence focused on the Particular Disease Burdens of the Lebanese

    A number of disease burdens have been identified in the Lebanese population, most notable of which are cardiovascular disease, driven by the extremely high rates of smoking (cigarettes and most alarmingly water pipe, or ‘argile’, among young people), high choleterol, and diabetes. Cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in Lebanon appears to occur at earlier time points as compared to cohorts in the West. Other disease burdens include the high prevalence of early-onset breast cancer, unusually high rates of bladder cancer (especially in the South, clearly genetic in origin as it is replicated in immigrant populations from the South in the USA), lung, prostate, and colon cancers, as well as a heavy burden of genetic diseases fuelled by the alarmingly high rates of consanguinity. The latter offers a tremendous opportunity for discovery and therapeutic interventions because of the possibility of multi-generational sampling for single-mutation as well as complex disorders.

    Despite the well-respected medical services at University Hospital Centers in Lebanon, little has been done to generate innovative medical research and to incorporate the outcome of this research within novel approaches in medical practice. Moreover, there are no institutions in Lebanon that are capable of dealing with new and life-threatening infections, such as the appearance of SARS virus in 2003 or bird influenza virus in 2004/2005, and there is no laboratory infrastructure available today, meeting the international safety norms, to allow Lebanese medical scientists to participate in the isolation and identification of unknown infectious agents. In addition, Lebanon has no centralized national vaccination facility that can undertake, at the same time, the task of disseminating information to the public, the practice of vaccination, and the participation in the development of improved vaccine formulations or of new vaccines.

    Lebanon has long been recognized in the region for its experts in medical sciences. Specifically, some Lebanese scientists from inside or outside the country are internationally recognized authorities in most fields of biomedical science. It is high time that the country takes advantage of this scientific asset and develops it to establish Centers of Excellence serving the country and the region. The center could be charged with performing cutting edge research aimed at determining the genetic basis of inherited diseases, at developing improved diagnostic procedures, as well as participating in the production of novel therapeutics for the treatment of diseases.


    4.7.2 A National Institute for Health and Medical Research

    It may be advantageous and necessary for the country to establish a structure that may be called “Lebanese Institute for Health and Medical Research,” comparable to the National Institute of Health in the USA or to the INSERM in France. This structure could propose priorities of research in the medical field; develop high security laboratories and trained personnel to deal with new microbiological threats; facilitate the grouping of scientists and medical doctors within active, theme-directed research units; and provide the administrative support for financing key projects as well as the legal support for obtaining patents. If public funding of such a project proves to be difficult, private universities, hospital centers, and private investment groups could be approached to participate in the establishment of such an Institute.

  • Fundamental physics and chemistry research

    4.8 Fundamental Physics and Chemistry Research


    While there are many very prominent physicists and chemists in the Lebanese Diaspora, these fields, especially the experimental branches, are particularly handicapped in Lebanon, where the procurement of materials and equipment needed to conduct state-of-the-art research has been difficult since the outset of the civil war (before which Beirut was a regional distribution center for many western companies supplying research equipment), to say nothing of the prohibitive costs.

    Despite these impediments, a handful of outstanding physicists and chemists in Lebanon have made impressive world-class contributions to fields such as experimental modeling in material science (including slow movement nano-materials), soft matter physics as well as some theoretical work with applications to industry and medicine (e.g. protein folding).
    Although Lebanese chemical industry remains limited to some packaging of pharmaceuticals and application of already known procedures in simple industrial chemical products, chemists in Lebanon have made a few notable world-class contributions such as the patented and licensed chemical reaction known worldwide as the "Beirut Reaction" and the more recent "Davis-Beirut Reaction."

    On the theoretical side there has been some excellent work on theoretical high-energy physics and the theories of gravity, as well as ground-breaking work in non-commutative geometry, and notable contributions to string theory, the understanding of stellar black hole nuclei and their instabilities, and the development of a statistical mechanics framework for characterizing their thermal equilibria.

    There is practically no significant work in observational astrophysics and astronomy in Lebanon at present, in sad contrast with the prominent role astronomy once played in ancient Arab sciences.


    4.8.1 Archival research in Astrophysics

    Archival research in astrophysics is a burgeoning field with tremendous promise, and it is perfectly suited to developing science capacity at low cost and potentially jump-starting a scientific interest in astrophysical sciences. All major archives from space missions to ground-based observatories are open for public access and hold huge amounts of unexplored data. Another opportunity is participation in time-domain astronomy networks by contributing modest aperture telescopes. Several such networks are engaged in gathering data to study phenomena that vary on time-scales from minutes to weeks and must be followed around the clock, thus necessitating telescopes spread out in longitude to span the globe. At least one such telescope suitable for such a pursuit is in development by the NDU physics department.

  • Pure and applied mathematics, and information science

    4.9 Pure and Applied Mathematics, Computer Modeling, Software Development, and Big Data Management


    Mathematics and computer science are uniquely suited research niche areas for developing countries with good universities but limited resources, as they require relatively little in terms of facilities and capital investment. Lebanon has also had a remarkable record in producing world-class mathematicians, especially in the Diaspora.


    4.9.1 Mathematical Sciences shaped by Local Mathematicians

    Given the fundamental nature of pure mathematics, it is apposite to recommend a focus on particular areas, which are better defined by the particular and varying interests of practicing mathematicians. The Lebanese Society for the Mathematical Sciences (LSMS) is playing a leading and active role in invigorating research in mathematical sciences (pure, computational and applied) in the region. It has recently emphasized financial mathematical modeling as an area of particular interest to the region and is playing a commendable role in organizing conferences and creating communication channels between mathematicians. It should be supported and encouraged.


    4.9.2 Focusing on IT for the Health and Banking Sectors

    The wideband Internet access problem mentioned in Section 2.4 has had a retarding effect not only on scientific research and education but also on the development of a homegrown software industry. A rapid and effective solution could still open the door to research and applications of computer science in areas that Lebanon especially excels in, namely the health sector and banking.

    If the Internet problem is rectified, the nation could quickly catch up in becoming a valuable player in these areas.

    A foundation that is funded by a consortium of computer software and hardware developers worldwide, Lebanese expatriates, and philanthropists, could lead this transformation by giving each Lebanese student a state-of-the-art laptop with a wireless connection to the Internet. The foundation would sponsor various competitions and exciting events that exhort students of all ages to write innovative programs on their computers. Before too long the first generation of home-grown Lebanese software developers would naturally appear, no doubt spurring a huge increase of enrollment in computer science and computer engineering at Lebanese universities. Given the Lebanese great tradition of excellence in banking and commerce, it would not be surprising if these software engineers would become valuable contributors of innovation and software development in the sectors of finance and electronic commerce.

    With the well-known tradition of excellence in medical research and health services at some of the leading universities in Lebanon, the next sector to be mastered by this generation of computer wizards, students and researchers might well be the burgeoning and important field of medical informatics, which has been singled out by other national academies as an important R&D area for the near future.


    4.9.3 Focusing on Big Data and IT for Oil and Gas Sector

    An economic transformation is expected to happen in Lebanon as a result of the rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in the country. The need for a workforce trained in modern methods of information technology and the management and analysis of "big data" is unquestionable.

    Such a workforce would be needed to undertake critical studies including modeling and simulation of multi-fluid dispersed systems and reservoirs, production optimization for enhanced oil recovery, interfacial characterization of dispersions, modeling of downstream processes using process simulators, development of distributed computer systems for accelerating the process of handling seismic data (which is characterized as “BIG Data”) and drawing conclusions as to where petroleum may be found.

    Research needs to also focus on developing advanced analytics systems for the Lebanese oil wells covering different aspects of automation, modeling, optimization, forecasting, faults modeling and prediction, and yield analysis. This type of research requires the development of high performance computing clusters and e-infrastructure, as well as the development of data centers for local operations that can be utilized by Lebanese researchers using state-of-art modeling and simulation tools to improve data mining methods and the accuracy of predicted reservoir performance.

  • Popularization of science

    4.10 Scientific Literacy and Popularization of Science


    Aside from the recommendations made in Section 3.6 for popularizing the sciences and raising science literacy in the Lebanese population at large, we recommend leveraging the excellent media, hospitality and tourist industries and tendency of the Lebanese to be galvanized by high-visibility and image-enhancing projects, to undertake science-related projects that have high popular appeal and impact.


    4.10.1 A Lebanese Super-Planetarium

    For instance, Lebanon could be the home of the world’s most advanced and spectacular planetarium designed as an exciting destination for millions of tourists, students and enthusiasts from around the region and the world. The Planetarium would be a 25-meter dome-shaped projection screen onto which the most scientifically up-to-date scenes of stars, planets and other celestial objects are projected. The projections and educational shows would be the first to include live images of planets, stars, quasars, galaxies and other celestial bodies transmitted by land-based and space-based telescopes from around the world. One show would focus on the history of astronomy with particular emphasis on the great contributions of Arab astronomers over the centuries.

    The Planetarium would also serve as a hub for star parties, which already elicit great public interest in Lebanon. A modern media presence for the Planetarium would assure its continued visibility and help grow science journalism.

    The planetarium would enhance Lebanon’s image as a family-friendly tourist destination and would complement its famous tourist attractions, nightclubs and restaurants, with an educational venue that is second to none. The planning, implementation and maintenance of the planetarium would involve Lebanese and Arab astronomers from around the world and would introduce thousands of Lebanese and regional youth to the wonders of the night sky, the beauty of astronomy and the excitement of science and space exploration.

    Moreover, the acquisition of small reflecting telescopes (10-inch to 14 inch mirrors) and high quality microscopes by each elementary school and high school in Lebanon would help stimulate the intellectual curiosity of young students and possibly help steer them toward careers in the sciences.