Producing cars is not enough for Turkey
We applauded Turkish scientist Bilge Demirköz at the cosmetic giant L’Oreal and UNESCO’s “For Women in Science” award ceremony this year.
At the award ceremony I attended in Paris, Demirköz, an associate professor at the Middle East Technical University’s (ODTÜ) physics department, received the “Rising Talents” award. She is one of the 14 women scientists selected among 9,000 people in the world.
She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and studied physics, mathematics and music. She received her Ph.D. from Oxford. She studied “dark matter” in CERN. She returned to Turkey in 2011.
Now, she delivers a course at ODTÜ and is working on a project worth 7 million Turkish Liras, supported by the Development Ministry, together with her team. She allocates six hours a week to classes and 55 hours to research. Demirköz and her team are measuring radiation in space for local satellite projects. Radiation in space can have serious harm on satellites.
The young scientist told us, smiling and pointing at my mobile phone, “This phone of yours cannot even withstand one hour of the radiation in space.”
We spoke on a wide spectrum of subjects including science, technology and digital revolution. There is one important aspect Demirköz draws attention to. First of all, in Turkey, not enough importance is given to basic sciences. This in turn has the biggest effect on industry.
“We are going through a paradigm change in production. Turkey produces cars and is very proud of this. But what counts as value today, what brings money is to build the factory that produces the cars,” she said.
She referred to major projects such as the tunnels and bridges that were opened recently. “What is important is not building the tunnel, but to produce the machines that drill tunnels. Similarly, are we able to produce the steel and the product of high technology that holds the bridge?” she said.
She stated that the ministries and institutions that have these mega projects should also hold project competitions of the same dimension for advanced technology products.
“However, before producing technology; knowledge should be produced. Turkey is weak on that point,” she said.
Among nearly 90,000 academics in Turkey, only 10,000 are doing projects, Demirköz said, adding, “We can only advance with the cooperation of industries, universities and the public.”
She is trying to cooperate with companies in Turkey on the project she is conducting with the Development Ministry. “I buy 80 percent of my supplies needed for our project from here. We transfer information from CERN and guide these companies. We teach them the material,” she said.
Upon her return to Turkey, Demirköz actually wanted to continue her research on “dark matter,” as she did in MIT and CERN, but could not find the necessary funds.
Her teacher in MIT was Samuel Ting, who won the 1976 Nobel Physics Prize. “You have to pursue the love of science to win a Nobel. You cannot win a Nobel by working in industry. Because Turkey does not give me money to research ‘dark matter’ I can only be the woman scientist who did not win a Nobel Prize,” she sadly said.
“However, I am happy that I am raising human resources,” she added.