Dr. Sameera Moussa – Nuclear Medicine

Dr. Sameera Moussa

“I’ll make nuclear treatment as available and as cheap as Aspirin.” – Dr. Sameera Moussa commenting on the goals of her research.

Profile.

Sameera Moussa
Image of Dr. Sameera Moussa. [2]
Name: Dr. Sameera Moussa

Life: 03/03/1917 – 05/08/1952 (Age 35)

Born: Gharbia Governorate, North Egypt

Died: Pacific Coast, San Francisco, United States

Occupation: Nuclear Physicist, Medical Physicist

[1] [2]

Who was Dr. Moussa?

Dr. Sameera Moussa was a nuclear physicist who dedicated her research to finding ways to make nuclear technology as cheap as possible for cancer treatment, following the death of her mother by the same disease. [1][2][3][4][5]

She was the first woman earn a PhD in atomic radiation, the first woman to gain an assistant professor position at Cairo University and globally she was one of the first advocates for nuclear hazard protection. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Life.

Born at the beginning of the 20th century, Dr. Moussa was primarily raised by her father. He was a political activist in the Gharbia region, an important region due to its history in Egyptian cotton and textiles. Her mother died after a fierce battle with cancer when Dr. Moussa was young, influencing her future career. [1][3]

From an early age, Sameera excelled in school, always favouring the STEM subjects. Upon completing her primary and secondary education with an extremely high GPA (Grade Point Average) Sameera set her sights on The University of Cairo. It was noted that she achieved grades high enough to allow her to join the school of Engineering (the course with the highest entry requirements), but instead she chose to go into the school of Science, despite most women going into the Humanities. [1][7]

In 1939 she graduated with a First Class with Honours Degree in in Radiology, with her research focusing on the effects of X – Rays on different materials. [1][2][3]

Soon after this, she began working on her PhD where she focused on using Nuclear Science for peaceful means – researching how radiation can be used to identify cancer cells. Through this she would become an important figure in the field of medical physics. She finished her PhD study in England, solidifying herself as the first woman to achieve a PhD in atomic radiation. [1][2][4][7]

Career.

Unlike many scientists in the 40’s, Sameera was dedicated to using atomic energy exclusively for peaceful uses and was an excellent medical physicist. At the time she was one of the few scientists who was an expert on X – Rays, which was crucial as X – Ray technology was extremely clumsy and costly to run. X – Rays are extremely useful in the field of medicine, even today they are used daily by millions of doctors across the globe to identify fractures and breaks in bones, so rather than abandoning the technique Moussa worked to fix the many issues it had, including: a need for shorter exposure times, easier fluoroscopic procedures, improving the flexibility of x-ray beams, decreasing patient exposure, and increased mobility. [2]

In addition to this she constantly volunteered in hospitals and eventually began the first steps delivering on her promise as seen in her popular quote “I’ll make nuclear treatment as available and as cheap as Aspirin”. She developed an equation that would allow the atoms of cheap metals (e.g. Copper) to be split – accessing their nuclear energy. [1][2][3][4]

Unfortunately, this excellent discovery would go on to be abused in Nuclear Warfare, and whilst studying in England this prompted Moussa to famously set up the Atomic Energy for Peace Conference. [1][2][5][6][7]

Atomic Energy For Peace.

Due to the massive potential for warfare that Nuclear Energy possessed, the field faced a real threat of being abandoned. However politicians and scientists alike knew the potential for positive applications for the technology and as such set up the Atoms for Peace event.

The conference featured many prominent scientists and had a banner “Atoms for Peace”, where a number of recommendations for protections against nuclear hazards were made. This included setting up a committee dedicated to protecting against nuclear hazards (including nuclear warfare). Moussa was a strong advocate for this. [1][2][4][6]

Death by alleged assassination.

Due to her outstanding work Sameera Moussa received The Fulbright Scholarship in Atomic Radiation in the 1950’s and was invited to do some research at the University of St. Louis, Missouri. Again, she would be (rightfully) praised due to the outstanding level of her research and she was actually offered American Citizenship and a Green Card, so that she could stay and continue her work. She famously refused saying “My country awaits me”.

Just before leaving she was invited to visit some nuclear labs in California. Many were upset at this gesture due to a mix of racism, xenophobia and misogyny, as she would be the first non US citizen to have access to these facilities. [1][4][5][6][7]

It is stated that on 05/08/52 on her way to the facility the road was extremely windy and right next to a valley. The car she was in crashed, falling from 40 feet, killing her immediately, with the driver jumping out just before and never being found.[1][2][6][7]

It is believed to have been an assassination as there was a lot of Arab/Israeli conflict at the time and Dr. Moussa was a prime target due to her being a prominent scientist and political figure. As well as this, the investigation into her death was never completed (the reason for this is still unknown) and when the facility was asked who drove the car they replied that they had never sent anybody to pick her up. [7]

Legacy.

Due to conflict/war and the de-development of Egypt via colonialism there are few scientists of note whose work survives to today. Even in primary schools, X – Rays go hand in hand with medicine and as such Dr. Sameera Moussa was granted several awards posthumously, as her work was invaluable. These include:

  • Being honoured by the Egyptian Army
  • Being awarded the Order of Science and Art, First Class.
  • A laboratory at the Faculty of Science and a school in her village were named after her.
  • The Egyptian TV transmitted a serial titled The Immortal dramatizing her biography.
  • In 1998, while celebrating Egyptian Woman Day, it was decided to establish a cultural solace in her birthplace bearing her name.
  • A book was published covering her life and scientific contributions.

[1][6][7]

Due to her untimely death and the fact that a majority of her work was written in Arabic, her work would never get officially published, leading to her not being featured in curriculums despite the abundance of X – Radiation used in medicine, and science, today. [1][2][7]

References:

References are categorised by the following types:

🗒️ = Written 

🎧 = Audio

💻 = Video

[1]🗒️ – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sameera_Moussa

[2]🗒️ – Medium article on Dr. Sameera Moussa – https://medium.com/@ccdecou/week-science-history-sameera-moussa-egyptian-89cdc6312838

[3]🗒️ – Cairo360 Article on Dr. Sameera Moussa – https://www.cairo360.com/article/city-life/to-commemorate-womens-history-month-heres-the-story-behind-the-brilliant-sameera-moussa/ 

[4]🗒️ – Muslim Observer article on Dr. Sameera Moussa – http://muslimobserver.com/20th-century-muslim-scientists-sameera-moussa/

[5]🗒️ – Ignite: Women fuelling Science & Technology article on Dr. Sameera Moussa – http://ignite.globalfundforwomen.org/be-the-spark/sameera-moussa

[6]🗒️ – Physics today article on Dr. Sameera Moussa – https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.5.031428/full/

[7]🎧 – The Femmes of STEM podcast – https://www.femmesofstem.com/podcast/episode-seven

Authors Note: Due to the mystery of her murder and systematic racism within the scientific system, Sameera’s work was never published simply because a majority of it was written in Arabic.

Non-western science is never featured in any curriculum and this has created a false narrative that science does not exist outside the west. This simply is not true. Dr. Sameera Moussa is one excellent example of a woman who, despite suffering tragedy at an extremely young age, spent her entire life working in one of the most dangerous fields of science purely for the pursuit of helping others. We can only imagine what she could have achieved had she lived, as even today here expertise and philosophy on Nuclear Science is desperately needed.

For more information on POC scientists please visit our resources page or read through the rest of our blog. We are constantly updating both.

Written by Karel Green. For more information see the about page or follow her on twitter @thisismeonline.

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