A sister from NASA in Mardin

A sister from NASA in Mardin

Prof. Dr. Feryal Özel, the first and sole Turkish scientist accepted to Hubble staff in NASA, visited the ‘Sisters’ Laboratory’ founded in Mardin for high school girls wishing to study science. She answered questions of students regarding both space and the ways of career for research of space.

In a workshop in Mardin, 11 high school girls are making the last touches to their inventions with great excitement. We are in the ‘Sisters’ Laboratory’ founded by Mardin Culture Association one year ago in order to make contribution to strengthening of schoolgirls through science and to their getting out of the social gender roles designed for them.


In Turkey, rate of women preferring professions related to physical sciences is lower than men. And in Mardin, places enabling the young girls to contact science and technology in any way are scarcely any.  For this reason, for the project realized with the support of Sabancı Foundation Donation Programs and in collaboration with Kersnikova Institute, 33 schoolgirls are selected from Midyat Science High School, Mardin Science High School and Kızıltepe Republican Anatolian High School. First, a science and technology workshop of three days is organized. Students are taught to make their own microscopes, sound synthesists and illuminated breastpins.  Then 11 girls are chosen from among them so as to ensure that they are beneficial and helpful to their ‘sisters’ around. These girls first participated to a training of four days in Istanbul. Then, each of them accepted three sixth-class students from Hacıhamdiye Özdemir Secondary School in Mardin as her “sisters” and shared what she has learnt with them. Then, they started to make inventions together in the ‘Sisters’ Laboratory’.

The day before, a special guest visited the Sisters’ Laboratory: Prof. Dr. Feryal Özel, the first and sole Turkish scientist accepted to Hubble staff in NASA. First, schoolgirls showed and explained their inventions. Included among the remarkable inventions were an automatic hand drier machine made of recyclable materials by Nida Nur Özgün for guests of her family, and a bedside lamp with led invented by Dilara Torlak for being able to read books in student hostel room shared with three friends. And the girls asked many questions to the Turkish woman astrophysicist dealing with worldwide projects. But before the secrets of space, they were wondering the ways to go there: “Should we move on our journey for career with our own choices or under the direction of our families? What are the difficulties of being a woman?”

“Only after seeing once that you can do and manage, you can easily continue on your way. Everything starts either from curiosity or from need. Pursue your own curiosity, but also make use of the experience and know-how of your families. It may be difficult to work on fields lacking women in general. Sometimes I remember being the sole woman sitting at a meeting. Then, I became furious and decided ‘I am going to teach and train young students so that they will be more and more’. You will always encounter tough and challenging turns in your half, and it will not be easy to overcome them at all times. What’s important is not to give up when anyone says ‘You cannot do it’. You can both build a career and have children, but of course you have to choose a man after your own heart. Girls capable of thinking well and looking technically to everything are needed,” said Prof. Özel to the candidate scientists of the future.'IS USA

Of course, space is also spoken in the meeting. Prof. Özel summarized the recent developments as follows: “Up to now, there are nearly 3 thousand planets known by us. Some of them are similar to our earth as they are neither too hot nor too cold. But solely due to this reason, we cannot say ‘There is life on it’, because even if its temperature is fit, there is not water or oxygen on it. As we do not exactly know how life has begun on our earth, we are searching others. Curiosity is a part of human spirit. Habitants of a village wonder about the neighbour villages. We are trying to learn more about history of human beings by reflecting this migratory spirit onto science and universe. There are new investments and trials. We are trying to see black holes and first stars which have formed in the universe. We are looking for planets which have hosted life 13 billion years ago and may still host. Two years ago, we were able to start receiving signals of gravitation waves from universe. We are continuing to listen to them; at any time we may face some surprise developments.” To a question of a schoolgirl “Are there aliens and is NASA hiding them?”, Prof. Özel gave the following answer with a smile on her face: “Everything is transparent in USA. As we are continuing our studies by using taxes paid by the people, we are under obligation to disclose all inventions within not more than one year. Therefore, there are ‘no aliens hidden by NASA’.” 


Prof. Dr. Feryal Özel was born in Istanbul as the second daughter of parents, both being medical doctors. She developed a passion for mathematics and physics ‘by doing homework of her elder sister’ with her own words. After graduating from Üsküdar American High School, she studied Physics and Applied Mathematics education in Columbia University in New York. Then, she studied for master degree on ‘Physics’ in Niels Bohr University in Denmark, and is accepted to a doctorate program in Harvard University. In 2002, she completed her doctorate study program on ‘Astrophysics’. Prof. Özel is presently a faculty member in Astronomy and Astrophysics Department in Arizona University.