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.)”
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.”
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.”
“Develop tolerance,” Hayat recommends to all families and students interested in science. “Educate yourself on the different habits and traditions of other people.”
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry affordable Adjective
reasonably priced, not expensive.
(850-929) Arab scholar and astronomer.
to study in detail.
people and culture native to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and Western Asia.
language that is most common in north Africa and the Middle East.
(Ibn Rushd) (1126-1198) Arab scholar, scientist, and physician.
person who researches the use of a living organism to solve an engineering problem or perform an industrial task.
the use of a living organism for industrial or medical use.
molecular properties of a substance.
chemical reaction Noun
process that involves a change in atoms, ions, or molecules of the substances (reagents) involved.
study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.
unable to distinguish between colors, especially red and green.
to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.
belief or trust in something.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
tool or piece of machinery.
having to do with the identification of an illness or disease.
harmful condition of a body part or organ.
our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.
Encyclopedic Entry: Earth education Noun
process of acquiring knowledge and critical-thinking skills.
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.
to inspire or support a person or idea.
design produced by cutting into, but not through, a surface, such as rock, metal, or glass.
to tire or drain of energy.
to try or test an idea.
material that is able to flow and change shape.
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.
branch of biology that studies immunity and the immune system.
to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.
to influence to act.
place where scientific experiments are performed. Also called a lab.
process or desire to act in a certain way, or toward a specific goal.
political unit made of people who share a common territory.
Encyclopedic Entry: nation 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.
colleague, coworker, or equal.
science of the creation and effects of drugs.
(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.
study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.
to seek or strive to accomplish.
set of instructions for preparing a specific dish of food.
to refuse or throw away.
distant or far away.
scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.
watery substance in the mouth that begins the digestion process.
knowledge focused on facts based on observation, identification, description, investigation, and explanation.
genuine or real.
social system Noun
process or situation where people are organized by familial, economic, and community relationships.
the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.
taking a long time to finish.
to endure, allow, or put up with.
instrument used to help in the performance of a task.
beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.
movement from one place to another.
one of a kind.
used or understood everywhere.
having to do with the developed nations of Europe and North America.