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“Researchers without frontiers”: Lebanon

From the Land of the Cedars to Belpaese, Amira El Merhie is one of the 60 countries of IIT

Lebanon, Beirut. Amira has long black hair and deep dark eyes, the typical look you can see in the eyes of Arabic women. She went to school until she graduated in Saida, in the South of Lebanon, from there she moved to France. She came to Italy few years ago while she was studying for her PhD in IIT. She obtained her PhD in the research group of Alberto Diaspro under the supervision of Silvia Dante. Her PhD thesis was focused on the investigation of the role of Single Layer Graphene (SLG) as a bio interface for its possible future exploitation in various biomedical applications; in particular for the development of biosensors, substrates for regenerative medicine, interfacing platforms for better recording of electrophysiological activity of neuronal networks, among others.

She accepted to keep working in Italy, in IIT, also after obtaining her PhD. At present, she is a postdoctoral researcher in the Nanomaterials for Biomedical Applications group at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia lead by Teresa Pellegrino. The multidisciplinary research project she’s been working on is focused on magnetic nanoparticles with a double objective, used for the targeted transportation of radiopharmaceutical and for locally heat the tumor region that is exposed to nanoparticles and stimulated by radiofrequencies.

In Italy I have found some similarities with Lebanon’s customs and traditions, which are typical of the Mediterranean culture. Good food and hospitality in IIT are strongly connected for the feeling of “enlarged” community that researchers live as a wide and borderless group working to improve science and technology.

It’s not hard to believe how attached she is to Italian landscapes, to sociable people and, of course, to Italian food. As it is not hard to imagine how annoyed she is by the slow Italian bureaucracy and by the Genoese poor decorum of the most central city streets, popular with the tourists. On the other hand, she admires the peculiarity of the alleys, the frequently mentioned “caruggi” in the city center, tangling in a continuous mixture of attractive faces, provoking women and magnificent buildings.


What about food? What’s your favorite Lebanese and Italian food?

 “Pizza and typical regional pasta! Also, Stoccafisso Accomodato now that I think about it! Lebanese cuisine is likewise very good and diverse. I would not know which one to pick, maybe Kibbeh bi Laban (meatballs in yogurt sauce with pine nuts).”


Bright eyes and elegant moves, a young girl glowing with a huge possibility to learn while travelling the world. She presents the IIT labs she is working in with great pride.


Amira, what do you really like about IIT and the environment you found here?

 “I like a lot IIT being a research institution where you can actually find the right spaces, good technologies and machines to work with, do experiments and learn new techniques. Just as much I like the multicultural environment you can breathe in IIT. My dearest friends come from different countries like Bulgaria, Germany, Egypt, France, Italy, India, Iran and Mexico. Sure, my best friends are the ones I’ve known since childhood, they are from Lebanon, but I have created strong bonds here as well.”


She tells about her country like every expat would, she keeps her childhood memories like a treasure. In these weeks, in Lebanon the so called “thawra” is taking place, the revolution was renamed this way by demonstrators, families and young people. Also called “harak” this movement is against corruption, degradation, public debt and a badly distributed wealth. “Kulani yani kulani“, “all means all”, which means everyone without exception should go away, go home. This is the most shouted slogan of the revolt.


What do you think of thawra? Would you rather be there? And why?

 “I am completely in favour of this rebellion because the situation was getting everyday worse and worse. There is a high level of unemployment, environmental degradation, corruption and many other problems. Sure, I would like to be there and demonstrate with my family and friends to save our country and give an end to these injustices. I love Lebanon and I want the best for my country even if I know for sure it won’t be easy.”


Can you tell me a Lebanese expression you are particularly attached to?

‘في العجلة الندامة وفي التأني السلامة’

“It can also be written as “Fil aajala en-nadama wa fil ta’anni as-salama” in Lebanese slang. Literally it means “in rush there is regret but in patience and care there is peace and safety”. There is no point in being constantly in a rush and do things badly. To take the right time also means ensure a good job and find peace in this awareness.”


Despite the strong bond she has with her home country, her love for travels, her curiosity in exploring new places and landscapes are crystal clear. Her Instagram profile proves this, she dedicates her free time to travel and find new horizons. “I find it very relaxing and it gives me positive emotions”, says Amira. “I also enjoy hiking and Liguria is full of places that give you the opportunity to do so”.


Do you have a secret whish?

 “I would love to continue my career as a researcher, despite all the sacrifices and difficulties, in order to contribute, maybe one day, to increase the life expectancy of people affected by cancer. And I would also like to contribute somehow to bring a smile back on the faces of little kids who live in foster care.”


Amira, why are you still here in Italy when research continuously moves around the world?

 “IIT offers some excellent opportunities, especially for young students. When there is the possibility to stay just a little more, you stay.”


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