Essays on Science and SocietyGLOBAL VOICES OF SCIENCE

Following the Light: Opening Doors to Science in Tunisia

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Science  02 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5753, pp. 1435-1437
DOI: 10.1126/science.1115181

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When Zohra Ben Lakhdar was growing up in Tunisia in the 1950s and 1960s, the opportunities for women to work their way into the scientific community were practically nonexistent. In this essay, Ben Lakhdar chronicles how she overcame personal, political, social, and cultural obstacles to become in 1978 professor of physics at the University of Tunis, El Manar, in Tunisia. She was the first woman to achieve this status. Although her talents in science and math were apparent at an early age, she still had to argue her way into the all-male preserve of higher education in her country. Her first break came in 1967 when she was selected to be among the few top students in the country given an opportunity to study in France, where she developed expertise in atomic and molecular spectroscopy and eventually earned a Ph.D. Rather than accepting offers to pursue her interests in countries with long traditions of science and research, she returned to Tunisia, where she became an active physicist devoted to widening the pathway to science, that she helped to open, for ever more Tunisian and African women.

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