ALD23: Dr Noor Shaker, Computer Scientist

Dr Noor Shaker

Dr Noor Shaker, نور شاكر, is an award-winning Syrian computer scientist and biotech entrepreneur. With multiple patents and businesses to her name, her research focuses on how artificial intelligence (AI) can help cure chronic diseases by discovering new drugs faster and more effectively than humans. She has described herself as “passionate about data and pushing the boundaries for what is possible with AI”.

Born in Syria, Shaker studied computer science at the University of Damascus. Motivated by the accurate belief that AI technology would play a pivotal role in “what the world would look like in 10 or 20 years”, she chose to major in artificial intelligence studies. A master’s in Belgium came next, followed by a PhD and a postdoc in machine learning at the IT University of Copenhagen. In 2016, Shaker was appointed assistant professor at Aalborg University in the Danish capital, where she researched the use of machine learning in affective computing.

During her time in academia, Shaker produced more than 50 papers and co-wrote a textbook on generative methods. However, in 2017, she left her university post behind to move to London and co-found GTN Ltd (Generative Tensorial Networks). This startup aimed to use AI and quantum computing to discover new medications by identifying effective but previously untested combinations of drug molecules. The company’s overall goal was to develop new medicines that could reverse once-incurable neurological diseases, while halving the time it took to bring a new drug to market.

Business success is no more guaranteed than scientific breakthroughs, and GTN Ltd entered liquidation as the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Undeterred, Shaker founded another London-based start-up that same year, aiming to use AI to make drug discovery faster and more effective by blending experts’ chemistry knowledge with advanced machine learning. Before being acquired by the US company X-Chem in 2021, the company collaborated on research with universities including King’s College London and Cardiff University.

Shaker is currently a senior vice-president and general manager of X-Chem’s London office. A regular speaker at AI events, she also sits on AI and diversity advisory boards for several organisations and universities, including Artificial Intelligence and Informatics at the Rosalind Franklin Institute.

In 2018, Shaker was named one of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 and received a CogX UK Rising Star Award from then Prime Minister Theresa May. Other accolades include being named one of the BBC 100 Women in 2019; one of the Top 100 Asian Stars in UK Tech 2021; and a winner in the Artificial Intelligence Excellence Awards program from Business Intelligence Group in 2022.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @noorshak

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Dr Haleema Alamri, Materials Scientist

Dr Haleema Alamri

Dr Haleema Alamri is a materials scientist whose work has contributed to the development of biodegradable plastics. With a background in chemistry and macromolecular engineering, her aim is to find sustainable solutions for the environmental problems posed by traditional plastic materials.

Born into a family of scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers in Saudi Arabia, Alamri studied chemistry at Umm Al-Qura University. After a master’s in chemistry and nanoscience at the University of Waterloo, Canada, she returned to Saudi Arabia and completed her PhD in chemistry at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in 2016.

Alamri was then hired by petroleum and natural gas company Saudi Aramco as a research scientist in its Research and Development Center (R&DC). She was promptly nominated to spend a year on a fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, working on cutting-edge research in chemistry and polymer science. She rejoined Saudi Aramco’s R&DC and held a number of senior roles, leading a team working on smart technologies for polymeric materials, including new techniques to help control their decomposition.

Over the course of her career, Alamri has authored or co-authored multiple peer-reviewed papers on more sustainable alternatives to plastic. These have covered diverse subjects including the safety of degradable polymers and the development of water-resistant materials inspired by lotus leaves. The aim of this research is to create the next generation of functional, cost-effective and degradable materials, which will never cause environmental harm by clogging up oceans or landfill.

In 2022, Alamri became director of the Innovation & Technology Observatory Department at the Saudi government’s Ministry of Energy. She is also a research affiliate at MIT.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @haleema_alamri

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23 Books: The Modern Bestiary: A Curated Collection of Wondrous Creatures, Joanna Bagniewska (author) & Jennifer N.R. Smith (illustrator)

The Modern Bestiary: A Curated Collection of Wondrous Creatures, Joanna Bagniewska & Jennifer N.R. Smith

Written by a zoologist with a flair for storytelling, The Modern Bestiary is a fascinating celebration of the animal kingdom. From the familiar to the improbable, the gross to the endearing, The Modern Bestiary is a compendium of curious creatures. It includes both animals that have made headlines and ones you’ve probably never heard of, such as skin-eating caecilians, harp sponges, or zombie worms (also known as bone-eating snot-flowers). 

Organised by the basic element in which the animal lives (earth, water, air), The Modern Bestiary contains well-known species described using new, unexpected angles (rats that drive cars; fish that communicate by passing wind), as well as stranger and lesser-known creatures such as carnivorous mice that howl at the moon, cross-dressing cuttlefish, and antechinuses – small marsupials that literally mate themselves to death. Finally, there are the ‘aliens on Earth’ – the incredible, the surreal, the magical – such as tardigrades, tongue-eating lice, and immortal jellyfish, creatures so astonishing that they make unicorns seem rather commonplace.

The Modern Bestiary is an illuminating compilation of weird and wonderful creatures that provides engaging, accessible, and humorous insights into the wonders of the natural world. Each animal profile is crafted with affection and is supported by cast-iron scholarship and an unyielding dedication to exposing all the hilarious weirdness that the animal kingdom has to offer. 

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About the Author

Dr Joanna Bagniewska is a zoologist and science communicator. Her interests span behavioural ecology, wildlife conservation, and broader issues such as women in science and the internationalisation of science. She is a teaching fellow in Ecology and Zoology at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading. She also serves as the Communications and Public Engagement Officer at the Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford, and is a course co-ordinator for the Oxford Teacher Seminar, Oxbridge Academic Programmes. 

As a science communication coach Dr Bagniewska has collaborated with the British Council, Copernicus Science Center, the Society for Conservation Biology, the British Ecological Society, and the London International Youth Science Forum, among others. 

You can follow Joanna Bagniewska’s work here:

Twitter: @JMBagniewska
LinkedIn: joannabagniewska

About the illustrator

Jennifer Smith is an award-winning illustrator, author and the director of WonderTheory Studio, based in Bristol. She studied Drawing at Camberwell, UAL, and is also a qualified medical illustrator, using her creative and technical training in tandem.  

In 2020, she completed her training in Medical Illustration with the Medical Artists Education Trust, receiving a distinction for her work, and became a fully certified member of the Medical Artist’s Association. WonderTheory was launched shortly after, to deliver an approach to informative illustration that resonated with her own experiences of learning and engagement.

 She has since been shortlisted for the World Illustration Awards two years running, the Huion Innovation Award, the 2022 V&A Illustration awards, the 2023 Communication Arts Award, and was a Distinguished Merit winner in the 2023 3×3 illustration awards.

You can follow Jennifer Smith’s work here:

Twitter: @wondertheoryart
Instagram: @wonder.theory 

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Dr Fatemah Alharbi, Computer Scientist

Dr Fatemah Alharbi

Dr Fatemah Alharbi, فاطمة الحربي, is an award-winning cybersecurity consultant, researcher and computer scientist who works to detect and analyse weak spots in security networks. In 2019, she made global headlines for identifying a flaw in the security systems of some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Alharbi’s interest in cybersecurity was first sparked during her bachelor’s degree in computer science at King Abdulaziz University. She went on to gain a master’s degree in the same subject at California State University, completing her PhD at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in 2020.

A self-described “white hat hacker”, Alharbi hacks to find weaknesses or defects in computer systems as a way of improving network security. In 2019, while still a PhD candidate, she realised there was a problem in the Apple macOS, Linux Ubuntu, and Microsoft Windows security systems.

This flaw allowed any hacker to force the browser to visit a hacker-controlled site – making victims believe they were on a safe site and potentially causing them to hand over personal information to hackers. Alharbi contacted Apple to alert them to the issue, sharing all the relevant technical details and code. The company subsequently released a new update for all Apple devices, credited Alharbi on its website and added her to the system’s list of contributors.

Alharbi is now an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Taibah University, Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, as well as a visiting assistant researcher at UCR. Her research has been published in journals including IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing and presented at prestigious conferences including USENIX, CCS and INFOCOM. Her ultimate goal is to build cybersecurity “systems and tools that will result in long-lasting real-world impact”.

In 2023, she was featured as one of “40 under 40” cybersecurity specialists to watch by Cyber News magazine.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @fatemahalharbi

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Professor Abla Mehio Sibai, Epidemiologist

Professor Abla Mehio Sibai

Professor Abla Mehio Sibai, عبلة محيو السباعي, is a world-renowned epidemiologist and self-described “public health activist” who researches healthy ageing and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in older populations. Her work is particularly focused on ageing in low- and middle-income countries and those that have experienced wars and socio-political unrest. A professor and chair of Epidemiology and Population Health at the American University of Beirut (AUB), her mission is “to inspire a paradigm shift in the way we relate and act towards age and ageing”.

Sibai earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1977. The Lebanese civil war and motherhood put her scientific career on hold temporarily, but her later research was inspired in part by witnessing the impact of violence and conflict on vulnerable older people.

After almost a decade of full-time parenting, Sibai returned to AUB to complete a master’s degree in epidemiology in 1986. She received her PhD in epidemiology eleven years later from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Over the course of her long career, Sibai has published more than 200 scientific papers and around 100 book chapters, reports and policy briefs – all aiming to identify and address the health, social, political and economic challenges brought about by population ageing. These include the growing burden of chronic diseases and the financial cost of care for elderly people, particularly in countries like Lebanon that are not wealthy and have been affected by conflict. A central preoccupation of Sibai’s work has been the impact of NCDs such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among older adults in underprivileged communities, including within refugee settlements.

Sibai has led or co-led many major research projects on the impact of disease, including Lebanon’s first nationwide survey on NCDs for the World Health Organization (WHO). This went on to inform public health policy in her home country and globally. In 2008, she co-founded the Center for Studies on Aging in Lebanon, a “hub for research, education, policy formulation and training on ageing in Lebanon and the Arab region”, where she is now president.

Sibai’s advocates for “a human-centred approach to science”, and this goes hand-in-hand with her belief that all elderly people have the right to enjoy a fulfilling, meaningful life. In 2010, she co-founded the ‘University for Seniors’ (UfS) lifelong learning programme at AUB,  which offers educational “opportunities to remain intellectually energised, physically active and socially connected” for older adults. The internationally acclaimed programme has been recognised as helping to delay cognitive decline.

More recently, Sibai led the development of Lebanon’s National Strategy for Older Persons (2020-2030), the country’s plan for “ensuring the health-related, social and economic rights of older people”. A member of the WHO’s Science Council since 2021, she is currently Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at AUB.

Sibai was awarded the Dr AT Shousha Foundation Prize in 2014 for her contributions to public health, and the State of Kuwait Prize for the Control of Cancer, Cardiovascular Diseases and Diabetes in the Eastern Mediterranean Region in 2019. In 2020, she won the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award “for her pioneering research and advocacy”. She said that the recognition was deserved by anyone who works “to make the world a better place for older people, especially those who are too often marginalised and ‘left behind’”.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.