The Malta Conferences: Science Diplomacy as a Bridge to Peace in the Middle East

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Morton Z. Hoffman, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background: The Middle East has had a long history of instability, uncertainty, and lack of civility.  The political and economic climate currently shared by the nations in the region is grave with daily violence and an increased threat to the world that consumes lives and resources, and portends far wider conflagrations.  Yet, within these countries, there are people who do the work of science and science education, and hunger to know their colleagues from across the forbidden borders and learn about the results of their research.  This genuine desire on the part of concerned individuals to improve the quality of life and political stability in the Middle East could be addressed by providing opportunities for collaboration among them to solve environmental, scientific, and educational problems. Methods: The Malta Conferences, “Frontiers of Science: Research and Education in the Middle East,” have taken place biennially since 2003, where approximately 85 scientists and science educators, including students and early-career scientists, from Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates meet for five days with six Nobel Laureates for the discussion of scientific and educational issues of importance to the region and the world that transcend geopolitical boundaries and international politics, and for the development of collaborations among the participants.  They feature plenary lectures by the Laureates, keynote talks by other distinguished scientists, workshops, oral and poster presentations by participants from the Middle East, and ample time for everyone to make personal and professional connections.  Results: Six Malta Conferences, organized by the Malta Conferences Foundation <>, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, have been held over the past decade on the Mediterranean island of Malta (three times), Istanbul, Amman, and Paris.  The topics that have been discussed include air and water quality, renewable energy resources, bio-medicinal chemistry, nanotechnology and material science, chemistry safety and security, and chemistry education at all levels.  The notable result has been the establishment of international collaborations in areas of basic and applied research that hold promise for the development of innovative products, processes, and educational materials.  The next Conference will be held in November 2015 in Morocco.  Conclusions: Conflicts among nations are of consequence to the entire world, and place barriers to the free exchange of ideas, the establishment of collaborations, and the development of innovations in science, technology, and education. The Malta Conferences, by facilitating contacts among scientists from all sides of the Middle East conflicts, may be able to build some bridges to peace.  This same model of science diplomacy could be applied to other nations in conflict in other regions of our planet.