Hayat is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She is a biotechnologist working to bring affordable health care to remote, impoverished communities using a unique tool—a tiny piece of paper.

According to National Geographic, “The low-tech diagnostic tool detects disease by analyzing bodily fluids. The device is produced by etching micro-channels and wells onto a small square of paper, and pre-filling the wells with chemicals. To perform a test, a drop of saliva, urine, or blood is placed on the paper. The fluid travels through the channels and a chemical reaction occurs that causes the spot to change color. Results show up in less than a minute and can be easily read using a color scale provided with the device. (The team even chose colors that someone who is color-blind can see.)”

EARLY WORK

Growing up in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Hayat understood that “science is a universal language.”

Her first scientific influences were early Arab scholars such as Averroes and al-Battani. She also relished National Geographic magazine. “It was an open horizon to the world,” she remembers.

Hayat’s father always encouraged her to read, which helped give her confidence as she embarked on a career in science. Even at an early age, Hayat stood out from her peers. “Scientists were always thought of as old, bald men,” she says. “And I was a young, Arabic woman!”

Hayat went to England to study, and was shocked to be rejected by the colleges to which she applied. She did not give up, however, and continued to study, research, and apply for college. “I decided that I would show them! I could read the same books they read, and do the same scientific work.”

She earned her first degree, in pharmacology, from King’s College in London, England. She went on to earn her PhD in biotechnology from Cambridge University.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“The emails I receive from other scientists and women are incredibly inspiring to me. I remember reading an email from a woman in India who just earned her PhD. It simply said, ‘Thank you for inspiring my life.’”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Travel is time-consuming. I recently traveled from Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] to Germany, to Boston [Massachusetts], to Seattle [Washington], all in less than a week. It makes me homesick, as well as exhausted.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“The birth of the Earth, and what human beings do with these gifts of natural resources.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Hayat pursued higher education in Europe because she believes the West continues to play an important role in training new scientists, even those from non-Western nations. Western universities allow students “to come out of their shells, and mix with different societies and cultures,” she says.

The mixing of deep-rooted cultures and more open cultures allows students and scientists to “gain so many skills in the development of new ideas.”

Hayat says her background as an Arabic woman has given her unique insights into the scientific field. “I can give hope and guidance . . . for a new generation to find the right recipe” to balance science, social systems, education, and their own motivation.

Biotechnology is an increasingly important part of this recipe, Hayat says. “It’s a way to communicate with different cultures toward finding a better way of life. It includes so many different disciplines: physics, technology, chemistry, immunology, pharmacology . . .”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . BIOTECHNOLOGIST

Hayat encourages students to take advantage of their school’s research laboratory.

She also recommends playing with different ideas, both inside and outside the classroom or lab. “Play! When you play, you experiment,” she explains. Experimentation can lead to new ideas or possibilities.

Hayat also stresses the importance of setting goals. “You have to have a goal to affect society, and it has to be sincere, and serious.”

GET INVOLVED

“Develop tolerance,” Hayat recommends to all families and students interested in science. “Educate yourself on the different habits and traditions of other people.”

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur: Dr. Hayat Sindi
Hayat Sindi is a biotechnologist an entrepreneur.
affordable
Adjective

reasonably priced, not expensive.

al-Battani
Noun

(850-929) Arab scholar and astronomer.

analyze
Verb

to study in detail.

Arab
Noun

people and culture native to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and Western Asia.

Arabic
Noun

language that is most common in north Africa and the Middle East.

Averroes
Noun

(Ibn Rushd) (1126-1198) Arab scholar, scientist, and physician.

biotechnologist
Noun

person who researches the use of a living organism to solve an engineering problem or perform an industrial task.

biotechnology
Noun

the use of a living organism for industrial or medical use.

chemical
Noun

molecular properties of a substance.

chemical reaction
Noun

process that involves a change in atoms, ions, or molecules of the substances (reagents) involved.

chemistry
Noun

study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.

color-blind
Adjective

unable to distinguish between colors, especially red and green.

communicate
Verb

to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.

confidence
Noun

belief or trust in something.

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

detect
Verb

to notice.

device
Noun

tool or piece of machinery.

diagnostic
Adjective

having to do with the identification of an illness or disease.

disease
Noun

harmful condition of a body part or organ.

Noun

our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

education
Noun

process of acquiring knowledge and critical-thinking skills.

embark
Verb

to leave or set off on a journey.

Emerging Explorer
Noun

an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

encourage
Verb

to inspire or support a person or idea.

etching
Noun

design produced by cutting into, but not through, a surface, such as rock, metal, or glass.

exhaust
Verb

to tire or drain of energy.

experiment
Verb

to try or test an idea.

fluid
Noun

material that is able to flow and change shape.

generation
Noun

group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

health care
Noun

system for addressing the physical health of a population.

higher education
Noun

education provided beyond high school, such as college, university, or professional school.

homesick
adjective, noun

sad or depressed from being away from home and community.

immunology
Noun

branch of biology that studies immunity and the immune system.

impoverished
Adjective

very poor.

influence
Verb

to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.

insight
Noun

understanding.

inspire
Verb

to influence to act.

laboratory
Noun

place where scientific experiments are performed. Also called a lab.

motivation
Noun

process or desire to act in a certain way, or toward a specific goal.

Noun

political unit made of people who share a common territory.

National Geographic magazine
Noun

monthly journal of the National Geographic Society, which features articles, images, and maps about geography, science, history, and culture.

natural resource
Noun

a material that humans take from the natural environment to survive, to satisfy their needs, or to trade with others.

peer
Noun

colleague, coworker, or equal.

pharmacology
Noun

science of the creation and effects of drugs.

PhD
Noun

(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

physics
Noun

study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.

pursue
Verb

to seek or strive to accomplish.

recipe
Noun

set of instructions for preparing a specific dish of food.

reject
Verb

to refuse or throw away.

relish
Verb

to enjoy.

remote
Adjective

distant or far away.

research
Noun

scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

saliva
Noun

watery substance in the mouth that begins the digestion process.

scholar
Noun

educated person.

science
Noun

knowledge focused on facts based on observation, identification, description, investigation, and explanation.

sincere
Adjective

genuine or real.

social system
Noun

process or situation where people are organized by familial, economic, and community relationships.

technology
Noun

the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

time-consuming
Adjective

taking a long time to finish.

tolerate
Verb

to endure, allow, or put up with.

tool
Noun

instrument used to help in the performance of a task.

tradition
Noun

beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

travel
Noun

movement from one place to another.

unique
Adjective

one of a kind.

universal
Adjective

used or understood everywhere.

West
Noun

having to do with the developed nations of Europe and North America.