The UAE’s own “Einstein” said he was inspired to pursue a love of science by his first grade teacher, demonstrating just how crucial it is to have passionate educators.
Speaking at the Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi this week, Dr Ahmed Al Mheiri, 36 — nicknamed “The Einstein Fellow” — said that his teachers were essential in his academic journey.
It began when his first grade teacher noticed a UAE flag he built from Lego.
“I was just minding my own business, my teacher saw the flag and she was so excited that she took me by the hand and showed my flag off to all the students and to the neighbouring classrooms,” he said.
“That's when I realised that something that I can make can actually bring happiness and make a positive change to others.”
It was a quality that soon became second nature.
Contagious passion for science
Once in high school, his physics and chemistry teachers ignited his love for the subjects.
“I was extremely lucky to have exceptional chemistry and physics teachers,” he said.
“They were both exceptional teachers but that isn't just the only thing that matters — they taught with a kind of contagious passion. That's what made science, especially physics, stick with me.”
Dr Al Mheiri described how a “teaser” about quantum mechanics from his physics teacher showed him just how much there was to learn.
“She would knock on the table on her table and say that the electrons on the atoms of this table had a probability of being on the moon,” he said.
“I thought she was crazy but then I went on to learn about quantum mechanics and realised that quantum mechanics is crazy.
“But by then it was too late, I was hooked.”
The teachers Dr Al Mheiri credits for his success were present at the lecture.
He is the first Emirati to be accepted for post-doctoral studies at Princeton University.
Dr Al Mheiri holds a PhD in physics from the University of California and received the Best PhD Thesis Award in the field of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.
He is currently studying what happens inside black holes, and understanding the connections between quantum information theory, quantum field theory and quantum gravity.
“I am thinking very deeply about how I can contribute to physics in the region, and my plan is to develop science by leveraging local resources,” he said.
“I hope to use the UAE’s extremely strategic resources [to develop theoretical physics in the region, especially as] there is so much interest and support.”
Speaking alongside Dr Al Mheiri was his mentor and Nobel Prize winner, Prof David Gross.
Dr Gross, who taught at Princeton, is chair professor of theoretical physics and former director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara.
“I am very impressed with what I see,” said Dr Gross.
“The last time I visited Abu Dhabi was 10 or 12 years ago, and I am very impressed with what is going on now, with the NYU Abu Dhabi efforts, and your dreams and ambitions.
“There is clearly enough potential, and enormous resources and opportunities. The future could be very, very bright for science in the UAE.”