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June  2004, Vol. 5 No. 5
 
 

Highlight of the month:

Czech President's visit
Four Honorary Degrees Awarded
Islamo-Christian Civilization

Archive:

check it out

 

Articles included:

Hostler Groundbreaking Ceremony
Professor Nahla Hwalla Lectures on Obesity
Czech President Reveals Lessons His Country Learned Through Reforms
US Ambassador Vincent Battle Visits AREC
For the Second Year in a Row: Honorary Degrees to be Awarded
New Book by Samir Makdisi
Final Stages of Accreditation
Two New Trustees Join the Board
Recent Senate Activities: Meetings of February 27 and March 26, 2004
Keynote Address by Dean Daghir at King Faisal University

New Faculty Profiles: Bariche, Saoud and Smith, Biology
Arthur Charles, Combining Teacher Evaluation and Professional Growth
From the Editor
A Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization
INTEL's Melissa Laird on Campus
School of Business Activities
Gala Dinner for Scholarships Fundraising
Woman’s Auxiliary Annual Meeting
Nabil Nahhas Lectures at Issam Fares Hall
 

Michel Bariche.

Imad Saoud.

Colin Smith.

Three new assistant professors joined the Department of Biology at the beginning of the 2003-04 academic year: Michel Bariche, a marine biologist; Imad Saoud, an aquatic scientist, and Colin Smith, a molecular biologist.

Two of these young professors, both Lebanese, who had never met before joining AUB, share startlingly similar and remarkably coincidental interests, goals, and circumstances. In their research, both Bariche and Saoud work with the seas around us. Both are studying a local fish introduced into the Mediterranean Sea with the opening of the Suez Canal, the rabbit fish. Both are passionately interested in preserving the environment of Lebanon and in developing awareness among students of the many possibilities the study of biology offers—over and beyond that of a gateway to the study of medicine. Saoud has a Norwegian wife; Bariche has a Norwegian fiancee. Both are accomplished scuba divers. Both men are enthusiastic cooks. Saoud, who, at his father's urging, had turned down acceptance by "a really good cooking school in Switzerland" before he became an ichthyologist, says that when he and his wife entertain, he does the cooking.

After completing his baccalaureate at Mont LaSalle, Bariche continued his studies in France, following his professors around from 1993 to 2002, moving from Grenoble (General University Diploma in Sciences in 1995 and licence in biology in 1996 from Université Joseph Fourier), to Montpellier ( maîtrise in aquatic ecology from Université Montpellier II in 1997), to Paris for an MS in animal and plant systemic from the Museum of Natural History in 1998, and then to the sea for his PhD in marine biology (2002) at the Université de la Méditerranée at Marseilles.

Only three years old at the start of the civil war, when Bariche left for France, he was glad to get out of the war-torn country and thought he would never return, but, he said, "I missed my country and I missed my 'big blue.'" His professors in France were interested in the fish of the Eastern Mediterranean, so when he received his PhD, AUB seemed the logical place to apply for a teaching job.

Why marine biology? "I always wanted to be a marine biologist.  I think I was a naturalist before I learned to walk. When the kids were playing football or basketball I was always in the corner of the field watching the ants; on the beach I was always checking the small fish. . . Now at home I have my own library, my own museum, my own fish collection." He plans, however, to offer his own collection to AUB.

In his PhD studies Bariche focused on two species of the rabbit fish, signus rivulatus and signus luridus, which came from the Red Sea and settled in the eastern Mediterranean.  Bariche, who says he used to conduct his studies at home, finds that teaching marine biology at AUB "couldn't be better." "If I were offered the same position in Harvard University I would have preferred AUB.  I'm doing what I always wanted to do in my own country." And, he is near his rabbit fish.

Among Professor Bariche's courses this year is one in conservation biology, an applied ecology course taught with two other teachers. They want to show the students the damage done to the environment, but that Lebanon is not a hopeless case, that repairs can be made. Bariche tries to lead his students to the beauty of the environment in which they live.  Unfortunately, he says, most Lebanese always look somewhere else—on the Discovery Channel or on National Geographic. "They cannot see that one meter below the surface we have some beautiful things.  We have whales; we have sharks; we have turtles, but we need to show people. We need to cultivate awareness, awareness, awareness."

Professor Bariche tries to establish such awareness by taking students into the field (the department has just bought a boat which it will use this summer), by bringing specimens to class, by giving outside lectures to other faculties and to communities in Lebanon and abroad, and by advising students.  "I tell the students, don't let yourself get pushed. Do what you want to do, because if it works, you will be working all your life on something you love to do.  If it doesn't work you cannot blame anyone else."

 

Colleague Imad Saoud  is also working on the rabbit fish. He does not describe himself as a marine biologist, but rather as an aquatic scientist specializing in environmental physiology. Most of his research is in the field of aquaculture, focusing on how aquatic organisms react to stress in aquaculture situations.

Take, for example, he said, a large mouth bass, which usually grows in a solitary way in its natural environment.  What would happen if you decide to grow it in a pond with 50 bass per cubic meter? How would they all react?  How would their feeding, digestion, respiration, growth, and reproduction be affected?

Professor Saoud's concentration on aquaculture has a practical spin off for the fish farming industry in Lebanon. Like Professor Bariche, Saoud is also working on the rabbit fish, but whereas Bariche did his work on the ecology of the rabbit fish, Saoud is working on actually growing the fish in ponds and cages. He is examining the optimum temperature, water salinity, and density of fish per cubic meter. He is also developing a possible diet--how much protein, fat, and other ingredients are needed. "I want to find a simple method to grow rabbit fish commercially in Lebanon and to allow fish in our sea to diversify so that all those fishermen who tend to work with diminishing returns today can get a new source of income while reducing pressure on our wild populations.” This would help, he continued, both the fishing industry and the environment. It's a win-win situation."

After a BSc in biology at AUB in 1987 Saoud studied biological marine science at the University of Southern Mississippi (MS, '92) and aquaculture at Woods Hole in Massachusetts. Starting his PhD in zoology at the University of Hawaii in the same year, he completed his work in aquaculture and fisheries at Auburn University in Alabama, where he was awarded three separate prizes for academic excellence. He continued at the university in a post-doctoral program until he took up his position at AUB in the fall of 2003.

In the present academic year Professor Saoud has been teaching Freshman Biology, Plant and Animal Systems, Environmental Physiology of Aquatic Organisms, and Oceanography-Introduction to Marine Science. A course he particularly enjoys, Biology 106, Contemporary Issues in Biology, which he teaches to non-biology students through recent newspaper clippings on the environment, evolution, diseases such as SARS and Asian bird flu, and biological weapons of mass destruction. He is also the coordinator of Conservation Biology.

Professor Saoud is currently building his own "system of fish tanks in an environmentally controlled room downstairs (the basement of the Biology Building). I will get fish, sort by size, and try different salinities. We will watch them for several months and check growth, survival, and reproduction.” Heaters and coolers will control the temperature in the tanks.

A master navigator and scuba diver, Saoud likes hiking, traveling (he hiked up the Amazon for three days last year), and playing with his two boys, aged almost two and four.

 

The third new member of the Biology Department is a molecular biologist, assistant professor Colin Smith, who came to AUB from Molgen AG, Berlin (2000-03). After taking his BA in chemistry at Reed College in Oregon, he worked as a research assistant before completing his PhD in chemistry at Washington University in Missouri. He was then a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Understanding Professor Smith's field of interest is daunting for the non-biologically trained layman. He is interested "in how macromolecules recognize each other in biological systems. There is incredible diversity in mechanisms and strategies. I am interested in how large the diversity is,” he said, "how the parts bind to each other, how things work."

Pointing to an intricate, colorful model of RNA on the top of his file cabinet, he continued: "The things I'm interested in are easy to visualize. Very often regulatory events in the cell have to do with one molecule binding to another molecule. Whether or not they bind properly has to do with where they bind and exactly what the constituents are and how flexible the molecule is."

When asked about the practical side of such research, Professor Smith reiterated his interest in basic research where "the stated goals are not immediately practical." An important impetus driving research in Smith's field is the desire "to understand how biological organisms are regulated. Some of the practical applications involve drug targets, materials with which to purify drugs, bio-sensors, and many others."

Professor Smith feels that although the Biology Department is satisfyingly diverse, few are involved in his particular branch of research. "We are a small department,” he said, "and we can't cover everything, although we do pretty well, considering the number of people we have."

This year Professor Smith has been teaching Introduction to Biology, a course for non-majors; one freshman and sophomore course for prospective majors; Genetics; two sections of an undergraduate seminar for biology seniors; and a graduate class in the structure and functions of nucleic acids.

Like many a new professor before him, Smith spoke of the onerous burden of first semester teaching. "Three courses are a lot of work. If I'm teaching, I want to teach as well as I can. In addition, I have to get my research started. At research universities in the United States," he said, it's the standard that there is no teaching in the first semester. And there are substantial start-up funds." Despite these thoughts, Smith says he did not come to AUB with any false illusions. "I knew that the job here was heavily undergraduate teaching. That I'm allowed to and am given an opportunity to do research is wonderful."

Although living on campus with his Lebanese wife and two young children is so peaceful, quiet, and insular that he doesn't even feel he is living in Beirut, "the kids are in absolute heaven. They go across the street to ACS, love their teachers, and play outside with neighbor children. For children it's better than any other place I've lived or could imagine living."

For Smith, family comes first, but when he has time, he enjoys photography and hiking. Having come from an enriching diet of music in San Francisco and Berlin, Smith is delighted with the excellent concerts on campus in the Assembly Hall. The fact that they are within walking distance is an inviting plus.


 

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