During his long career as a scientist, Dr. Fatah has developed among other things the currently popular self-adhesive postage stamp, which is environmentally friendly, and recyclable with non-toxic security inks. Dr. Fatah has also published many papers and wrote book chapters on several areas of chemical sciences; he has also reviewed new books for publishers such as the Chemical Rubber Company (CRC) Press. Dr. Fatah has received many awards over the years including the Zappert award from the American Chemical Society, the US Postal Service Merit Award, the Team Leadership Award for Environmental Achievement from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; and the Gold Medal for Distinguished Service, Leadership and Accomplishments, awarded by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce which is the highest award given to U.S. Civil Service.
WardheerNews takes this rare opportunity to recognize Dr. Fatah's achievement in his professional field and presents him to its readership. Mr. Ahmed A. Hassan conducted the interview for WardheerNews
WardheerNews (WDN): Dr. Fatah, can you briefly talk about your background?
Dr. Fatah: I was born in Laasqoray, an old and historic town on the Red Sea in what was then British Somaliland; it is now in the “Sanaag Region” of Somalia. I want to Quranic School and then Elementary School in Laasqoray. I attended Dayaxa Intermediate School, and then Amoud Secondary.
WDN: When did you first become interested in pursuing a career in science, and chemistry in particular?
Dr. Fatah: My interest in science was initially stoked by one of my teachers at Amoud Secondary School. His name was Christopher Jones and he was an American Peace Corps teacher. Mr. Jones taught us chemistry, physics and biology. Even though Amoud was relatively an excellent school, we did not have a well-equipped laboratory to do many science experiments in the natural sciences. But that did not stop Mr. Jones; he was a unique character and he had such a flare and creativity that he will improvise by using materials that are readily available in the local stores or at home or the village market place, replace the fancy lab equipment with home made materials and still manage to do scientifically credible and interesting experiment.
WDN: Was there something in your background or the environment in which you grew up that encouraged you in this pursuit?
Dr. Fatah: I think both the environment and background had something to do in my pursuit of education and professional advancement:
WDN: You have achieved many successes in your career in science; can you highlight those achievements that you are at liberty to discuss?
Dr. Fatah: I received my Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the State University of New York at Binghamton. After graduate school, I spent a one-year postdoctoral research fellowship with the New York State Research Foundation where I worked on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research project.
I joined BASF Corporation, as a Research Staff Scientist, in 1981. At BASF, I developed new ester demulsifiers for breaking water-in-oil emulsions; synthesized a new line of reactive Uvinul compounds to protect polymer films, coatings and structural materials from harmful UV radiation and degradation; I also co-developed with another chemist a proprietary process for removing N-nitrosoamines impurities, synthesized new types of nonionic surfactants for applications such as dishwasher detergents, fiber lubricants, hydraulic fluids, agricultural chemicals, and cosmetics.
I joined Artech Corporation in 1986 as Senior Materials Scientist. While at Artech I developed new luminescent (both fluorescent and phosphorescent) taggants, based on terbium and europium metals, for use with environmentally engineered water-based ink jet printer inks used in U.S. Mail bar coding for optical character recognition (OCR) of automated mail processing equipment and other applications.
I joined the Federal Civil Service in 1989 at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), U.S. Department of the Treasury as Program Manager/Senior Chemist, responsible for Security Inks and Paper Specifications. My research focused on material specifications for U.S. Currency and Postage Stamps. I was involved in the program to switch the BEP from solvent-based to water-based inks to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the District of Columbia (DC) environmental regulations and, with another chemist, jointly developed a process for treatment of the waste from the printing inks at the BEP’s new Waste Water Treatment Plant.
I joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1991 as Program Manager, Senior Materials Scientist/Engineer. I managed the United States Postal Service's (USPS) Inks and Stamp Technology Research & Development Program. The program focused on development of specialized papers for high line screen printing for gravure, offset, flexographic and silk screen printing as well as high quality security inks. Under my technical leadership, the USPS developed the currently popular self-adhesive postage stamps, as well as high quality, archival stamp paper, environmentally benign self-adhesives that are recyclable, non-toxic security inks, water-based meter inks and, water-based ink jet printing inks. I am also the inventor of the postage stamp cancellation ink that is now used in all U.S. Postal Service Facilities nationwide.
I joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES) as a Physical Scientist, Program Manager, Chemical Systems and Materials & International Relations. My responsibilities at OLES include: development of chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosives (CBRNE) standards for protective equipment for emergency first responders and other public safety workers; and, development of CBRNE equipment guides; this includes CBRNE personal protection, detection and decontamination equipment. I also manage programs focused on development of new analytical procedures for non-intrusive analysis of drugs of abuse in hair, saliva, and sweat; less-than-lethal weapons, forensic standard reference materials for use by the national and international crime laboratories. I maintain active involvement in many Federal technical working groups and also serve as liaison to several international standards organizations (e.g. BSI, CEN) on personal protection equipment standards
I have published many scientific papers and wrote book chapters; I also reviewed new books on CBRNE for publishers such as the Chemical Rubber Company (CRC) Press. I received many awards over the years including: the Zappert Award from the American Chemical Society; the US Postal Service Merit Award and the Environmental Stewardship Award; the Team Leadership Award for Environmental Achievement from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; and, the Gold Medal for Distinguished Service, Leadership and Accomplishments, awarded by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce. This is the highest award awarded to U.S. Civil Service employees for distinguished service. I am an active member of many scientific and professional organizations, and have served in leadership positions in some of these, including:
WDN: Obviously, you have had a diverse and exciting scientific career. From your experience, what kind of dedication and discipline does it take to become a scientist?
Dr. Fatah: You do not have to be more dedicated or smarter than graduates of any other discipline to be a scientist. However, there are certain characteristics that are more common in scientists. These include the ability to: 1) to have a sense of curiosity and an inclination to explore; 2) Ask why, and how instead of accepting things on face value; 3) be guided by logic and reason instead just pure emotion; 4) contemplate the things around you; that way you appreciate the complexity, and beauty of God’s creation.
WDN: The Somali education system was destroyed during the civil war, however, there are a plethora of private schools and universities flourishing in the country, creating these institutions requires accreditation, what advice do you have in this field?
Dr. Fatah: It is unfortunate that the Somali Educational System was destroyed by the civil war and the resulting disintegration of civil society in Somalia. However, if there is silver lining some where in this tragedy it is that nowadays, with this wired world, there are schools and universities without walls every where. With the Internet, virtual universities have come to everyone in every corner of the globe; you do not have to enroll in virtual universities in your country only, but you can enroll in universities continents away.
WDN: How and what the Somali professionals in the Diaspora can contribute to the new higher education institutions that were and are being established in the various regions of the nation?
Dr. Fatah: The Somali professionals in the Diaspora have to take an active and supportive role in encouraging and nurturing the new higher education institutions that are springing in many parts of Somalia. They should help materially, with fund raising efforts, books, and establishing useful connections between Somali Institutions and those of the countries where Somali expatriates live and work and where they may have good connections with the local educational institutions.
WDN: It is known fact that scientists and other highly trained professionals from developing countries flourish in the United States. What can developing countries, like Somalia, do to reverse the severe brain-drain?
Dr. Fatah: I think the biggest draw that can attract Somalis abroad back to the native country is the establishment of civil society and the rule of law. As long as the country is suffering from lawlessness, lack of national government and civil strive, it will be hard to attract expatriates back to the country. If Somalia calms down and gets a national government that is based on freedom and democracy, it will have no problems reversing the current brain drain. Let us hope and pray that good sense will prevail and that Somalia will rise again and take its rightful place among the community of nations.
WDN - What advise do you have for the Somali youth who are now either in high school or college in terms of choosing their careers?
Dr. Fatah: The best advice I can provide young people is: take your education seriously, work hard and strive to be the best. Growing up in Somalia, we did not carry some of the baggage that is commonly found in some black youth here in America, including some of the newly Americanized Somali Youth, that some how being a good student or showing an interest in science make you “Uncool” or “nerdy”, or not “hip” or what ever the current jargon is; I found that while teaching at college while working on my Ph.D. Most of my Black American Students did not have the confidence or persistence to stay in science or engineering and by the end of their freshman year, they would opt out and decide to major in whatever they perceived as a less challenging academic area.
Dr. Fatah: You are welcome