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PhD student with passion for chemistry and opera

Wassim W. Ayass

September 6, 2017

A scientific paper changed his life. He had not the slightest idea about Jacobs University, knew nothing about Bremen, and little about German culture and of course did not speak any German. However, while in Saudi Arabia, Wassim W. Ayass read a research paper on polyoxometalates by chemistry professor Ulrich Kortz, which propelled him to successfully apply to Jacobs University as aPhD student. Today, Ayass says: “I want to stay in Germany and build the rest of my life here".

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, the 25-year-old first studied at the American University of Beirut, then at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Scholarships made it possible for him to study. It was during in Saudi Arabia when the aspiring chemical engineer came across Kortz's paper. At the beginning of 2014, Wassim W. Ayass came to Bremen as a PhD student and joined Prof. Kortz’s research group. “It was all a pure coincidence”, says Wassim.

“Chemistry is my passion. The trip from basic research to industrial applications inspires me”, he says. He found polyoxometalates particularly appealing as they are like the little Jacks-of-all-trades in the nano world. “They have enormous potential for large-scale catalytic applications in industry”. During his PhD thesis, he was involved in industrial and academic projects; four patents and several scientific papers were resulted from his work.

In June, his journey in chemistry led Wassim to Lindau, on Lake Constance to the 67th Meeting of Nobel Laureates. Numerous Nobel laureates meet at the prestigious venue annually and discuss scientific topics among the most talented, international and young researchers. “It was an overwhelming experience with enthusiastic lectures and discussions on science, politics, economics and life experiences”, he says. “These fascinating scientists, as role models, had a positive impact on my life settings.”

His second passion is music: In his spare time the baritone further perfected his classical vocal training in Bremen. “When I am in the laboratory, I forget my life. When I am on stage, I forget myself”. That was the case in May: The night before his oral defense of his PhD thesis, he gave a much-applauded concert, including songs and arias by Strauss, Liszt and Rossini. “They all thought I was out of mind to do these two things on consecutive days. But I wanted to show that my very different passions can be combined”.

Music has greatly inspired Wassim, and through him, it has also inspired others. Jacobs University accommodated Syrian refugees in 2015 and Wassim formed a choir with them to perform in one event at Jacobs. One year later, he won the talent competition at Jacobs University with an operetta he wrote and produced with the help of student Nouria Jantz. He used his knowledge of chemistry during the performance – in the form of smoke.

By the end of September, Wassim would have successfully completed his PhD in inorganic synthesis and catalysis research. He is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and now, German, after being granted a two-month German course at the Goethe Institute in Göttingen funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) of which he is a scholar. “I recommend everyone to learn the language as it is an important factor to integrate in society. The daily life has become easier.” Music also helped here as many arias and songs are written in German.

Wassim wants to stay in Germany and is currently looking for a position in industry or as a post-doc. “The quality of life here is very decent. Many Germans don’t know how good they have it as it became taken for granted”. Naturally, Wassim will also continue thriving his musical career as well. “My dream is to one day sing in a real opera”. He will continue to work hard in order to make this dream a reality, as he does on his scientific career. He hopes that his story will inspire others. “The secret lies in being goal oriented, challenging yourself, never giving up but also remaining open-minded. I always give 200% to achieve the half of it”.

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