Maryam Aljoaan is not your average run-of-the-mill young scientist. The young Kuwaiti has been fascinated with exploring the Earth – and space – since she was very young. In February 2011, she became the first Kuwaiti female to set foot on Antarctica as part of a Canadian science expedition.
Since then, her fascination with Earth continued to grow, leading her to Jacobs University Bremen in Germany where she received her bachelor’s degree in oceanography. Now, the young scientist has set up an NGO to channel her fascination with science to others in the Arab world.
Her first project to do so is by partnering with the International Astronomical Union through a large regional campaign that offers everyone in the Arab world the chance to name an asteroid.
Following the launch of the campaign, I caught up with Maryam for a quick interview.
Can you give me more details about your campaign?
The asteroid naming campaign is aimed at the general public of all ages and backgrounds in the Arab world. We offer this first of a kind opportunity in partnership with the Minor Planet Center, the nerve center of asteroid detection in the solar system. Participants are invited to submit their naming suggestions on our website www.lazurd.org by 31st March, 2014.
I understand you want to raise awareness in the Arab world about the planet and asteroids through the campaign, but how do you think naming an asteroid can help do that?
We hope that this campaign will spark some people’s interest to learn more about asteroids. However naming an asteroid gives the general public the opportunity to be part of the scientific world, and maybe to break their limiting beliefs that they cannot contribute to science.
Is the naming campaign for a certain asteroid as agreed with the International Astronomical Union?
Yes, there is a certain asteroid to be named. We will announce which asteroid once the name has been approved by the Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union.
Tell me more about the NGO Azurd that you set up in Belgium.
Lazurd is the Arabic word for azure – a hue of blue. Azure represents Earth as seen from space, which is our focus at Lazurd. We aim to provide educational opportunities for the Arab youth to explore and deepen their understanding of Earth beyond textbooks. Our vision is to create the next generation of Arabs who learn about our place in space and identify themselves as caretakers of Earth.
What exactly are you doing through it?
Our motto is to explore, understand, and protect Earth. We provide access for Arab youth to a range of scientific experiences and opportunities through our global partners. These first-hand experiences could be snorkeling with a marine biologist, testing experiments in a weightless environment, going on an expedition to the Arctic or presenting ideas to the scientific community. Since we don’t have financial partners yet, we started the asteroid naming campaign as our first project.
And is there a reason why you did not launch it in Kuwait?
I am mostly based in Belgium; therefore it was more convenient to found the organization here. Also it is easier to make contacts in the scientific community and to create and maintain links between organizations worldwide.
Can you tell me more about yourself and your interest in science?
I am a Kuwaiti social entrepreneur. I founded Lazurd in Belgium and am currently the executive director. I am an oceanographer by training, and received my bachelor’s degree in Earth and Space Sciences with specialization in Oceanography from Jacobs University Bremen in Germany. In addition, I have several field experiences on land and sea including the North Sea, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Southern Ocean.
As far as I can remember I have always been interested in science since I was a little girl. Later in high school I majored in mathematics, and enjoyed studying natural sciences.