Science winds from Aziz Sancar good for the country

Science winds from Aziz Sancar good for the country

I don’t know if you’ve felt it, but for more than two weeks, there has been an Aziz Sancar science storm blowing in Turkey. 

The winner of the Nobel Chemistry Prize this year, Sancar has visited several cities and universities from Konya to İzmir, Istanbul and Ankara in the past 16 or 17 days. He has delivered conferences and seminars, the number of which he does not remember, sometimes six times a day. He has also participated in official banquets and galas, the number of which he equally does not remember.

In the meantime, he has met the president, the prime minister, the chief of General Staff and several university rectors; he has dedicated his Nobel medal to Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, and he has left the medal at his mausoleum, Anıtkabir in Ankara. 

He visited high schools, he visited universities; in his own words he delivered “stand-up” speeches in several places. He made his audience laugh at times and excited them at other times. On several occasions, he gave completely scientific seminars. 

Even I, in this time frame, sat at the same table as Sancar on two different occasions; I had the opportunity to have short conversations with him. My colleague, Orhan Bursalı from daily Cumhuriyet, wrote Sancar’s life story, with the first edition of the book now out in print.

In his more than 20 conference and seminars in Turkey, all of them ended in a Q&A. For instance, he delivered scientific speeches at Koç University and Sabancı University. I don’t know about Sabancı but he was happy with the questions at Koç. 

Microbiology and genetics are two important fields that quickly attract scientists in Turkey, and Sancar’s works are benchmarks for everybody. They are also benchmarks illuminating the future.   

Two of Sancar’s post-doc students are currently academic staff at Koç University. One of them, Professor Halil Kavaklı, thinks he has found a molecule that will kill cancer cells faster; research and experiments are ongoing. For his molecule, Kavaklı has used a mechanism invented by Sancar. In other words, the flag is being carried on. 

In other impromptu speeches, he takes many questions. In his replies, Sancar generally advises young people to work in science and work hard.   

As you can follow from news reports; Sancar has created a science storm in our country; he did whatever he can to increase the interest into science and he has inspired many people in this sense. 

In the limited time I spent with Sancar, the most frequent sentence I heard was, “You have inspired us, thank you, professor.” I heard it both at Istanbul Technical University and Koç University. I am sure it was the same at Hacettepe, Ege and Yeditepe universities.

One thing that made Sancar very happy in his Turkey visit, apart from the interest and warm welcome for him, was that he was able to raise funds for the foundation he and his wife Gwen Sancar have founded. He has taken pledges from prominent members of the Turkish business world for the 5 million to 6 million dollars needed to expand the Turkish House founded by them. 

Up until now, this center was funded by the limited means of the Sancar couple and was providing modest residences for Turkish-origin researchers studying at North Carolina University. Sancar has also donated the monetary prize from the Nobel to this center. 

Several schools, two research centers in two universities in Turkey and a health center in the southeastern province of Mardin where Sancar worked have all been named after Sancar. 

With all his modesty, Sancar said he would try to be deserving of this. The final surprise came from Koç University: Every year the university will provide a full scholarship to a student from Mardin, preferably a girl, regardless of the student’s score in the central university entrance examination. 

Let us hope this positive science storm that Sancar has created in the last 16 or 17 days becomes permanent in our country; hopefully more young people opt for science.