Nature reports on Jordan’s new push to make itself into the future scientific powerhouse of the Middle East:
Jordan’s leaders see science, engineering and technology as an engine of economic growth for their 71-year-old country, which lacks the oil resources of many neighbouring states. The nation’s political stability and central location have aided these ambitions. So has its diplomacy: Jordan is one of the only places in the Middle East where scientists from Israel and Arab countries can meet. “We are all in the region facing issues with energy, water and the environment,” [Jordan’s Princess Sumaya bint] El Hassan says. “A bird with avian flu does not know whether there is a peace accord between Israel and Jordan, it just flies across the border.”
The Jordanian government is also looking for ways to cope with one of the lowest levels of water availability in the world — a problem that has intensified with the recent influx of an estimated 1.3 million Syrian refugees. Some help could come from a partnership that the Royal Scientific Society announced in February with the University of California, Berkeley, to build a reticular-chemistry foundry. Reticular chemistry involves making porous crystals. It was pioneered by Jordanian chemist Omar Yaghi, who heads the Berkeley Global Science Institute and has developed materials that can harvest water from the atmosphere.
Still, Jordan faces a long climb to fulfil its scientific ambitions. The country spent just over 0.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available. That beats its wealthy neighbour Saudi Arabia (0.07% of GDP), but Jordan lags behind some nearby countries, such as Turkey. And although Jordan nearly doubled its yearly output of scientific publications between 2005 and 2014, from 641 to 1,093, the overall number remains small.
To help build research capacity, the government set up the Jordanian Scientific Research Support Fund in 2005. The fund was initially supported by a law that required all companies in Jordan to pay 1% of their profits into the fund. By 2012, when that statute was overturned, the fund had acquired US$85 million. It is now kept afloat by Jordan’s universities, which must spend 3% of their annual budgets on research or contributions to the fund. Between 2008 and 2016, the foundation gave a total of $35 million to 325 projects, mainly in the medical, pharmaceutical and agricultural sciences.