An Extravagant Feast of Turkish American Scientists and Scholars

The second Annual Conference of TASSA (Turkish American Scientists and Scholars Association) demonstrated once again TASSA’s determination to build a sustainable science bridge between the U.S. and Turkey. The participation level of more than 300 attendees at the conference, hosted by Drexel University in Philadelphia on March 25-26, 2006, exceeded original expectations. The conference venue was enriching, effectively served its theme Knowledge and Innovation to Benefit Society and addressed two main objectives:

 To create a platform conducive to encourage the Turkish-American brain trust to think about the matters related to Turkey with an aim to bring scientific solutions to them  To facilitate the enhancement of scientific and technological collaboration between the U.S. and Turkey

The opening remarks delivered by the honorary speakers Ambassador Nabi Sensoy and Dr. Kenan Sahin pointed to the vast potential of Turkey for science and technology with its high quality human capital and included examples of how it has long been neglected. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried sent a message expressing how much the U.S. State Department values the work of TASSA. Ambassador Sensoy mentioned that the establishment of TASSA is an exciting phenomenon in and of itself and added that it was one of the very first organizations he met with as soon as he undertook his duties last January. He noted that the success of Turkish scientists in the U.S., a country known to be at the forefront of science and technology, is certainly the pride of all Turks and Turkey.

Among the distinguished speakers, Prof. Nuket Yetis, the Acting President of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK), delivered the keynote address on the first day. She displayed the scientific realities of Turkey and provided guidance to how the Turkish brain power living abroad can become more active and productive by the collaborative projects facilitated by TUBITAK and TASSA. TUBITAK had a strong presence at the conference and its representatives tried to address the questions of the participants via private meetings held throughout both days.

The technical group sessions featured world-renown speakers under themes reflecting today’s emphasis on “bio” sciences, namely, bio-nanotechnology, bio-chemical physics, and bio-medicine. Esteemed scientists selected by TASSA presented how their research expanded the frontiers of science as well as led to applications to benefit society. While Prof. Aziz Sancar, who got elected as a member to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, explained how his original research added brand new words to the American scientific vocabulary, Dr. Ahmet Yildiz, who was granted the Young Scientist Award by the Science magazine, showed how molecular motors move. The social science session focused on discussing the relevance of the Turkish political model in a globalizing world.

On the second day of the conference, Prof. Gazi Yasargil, honored as the Neurosurgeon of the Century in 1999 by the Journal of Neurosurgery, gave the keynote address. He received a standing ovation for minutes with his speech on science with a historical, scientific, and cultural perspective. As an educator who trained hundreds of physicans, Dr. Yasargil gave examples of how his pioneering techniques paved the way to microsurgery and how the applications he developed formed the basis of today’s neurosurgery.

The session concentrating on meeting the needs of the private sector for R&D hosts top-level executives of major U.S. and Turkish companies. They provided concrete examples of their expectations to carry scientific research from the lab to commercial products. While finding sufficient number of qualified engineers remains a challenge they emphasized the enormous potential Turkey offers to new business and encouraged technologists abroad to invest in Turkey.

Key policy making organizations such as the U.S. Department of State, TUBITAK, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) participated on a panel with prominent representatives and discussed the challenges of building a sustainable science bridge between te U.S. and Turkey. They stresssed the importance of the role TASSA can play in this pursuit and gave solid recommendations for their implementations.

The final session of the conference was devoted to exploring new visions for the Turkish higher education system. About ten presidents of major universities as well as some representatives of institutions relevant to higher education in Turkey participated in discussions on how Turkish higher education could to tackle the challenges for a brighter future.

Besides the technical sessions, there were about 90 posters selected by TASSA and displayed during the conference. TASSA provided grants to 11 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who presented posters in order to assist them with their travel expenses.

The presentation of TASSA Honorary Membership plaques to the 2005 selectees Prof. Erdal Inonu, Ambassador Dr. O. Faruk Logoglu, and Dr. Kenan Sahin, and to the new honorees Profs. Aziz Sancar and Gazi Yasargil was another highlight of the conference.

In his closing remarks Prof. Selcuk Guceri, the Dean of Engineering at Drexel University, expressed his pleasure for hosting such a significant event and a group of eminent scientists and scholars. The conference concluded with the inspirational words of TASSA President Dr. Suleyman Gokoglu who summarized the two days as not only a spectacular showcase of works of distinguished scientists and esteemed scholars but also of their passion to link the two countries across the Atlantic through science for peace and prosperity.

More information about the conference is available on the TASSA Web site,