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Chemistry International
Vol. 23, No. 4
July 2001

the book shelf
Chemistry in . . .
Czech Republic

Chemistry in Egypt

A. S. Shoukry

Chemical Education in Egypt
The Egyptian Chemical Society
Chemistry in the Eyes of the Society and Young Students

The Egyptian National IUPAC Committee’s Action Steps
Systemic Approach in Teaching Chemistry
Small-Scale Experiments
Cost-Effective Chemistry


Chemistry has been practiced in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs. Then, the practice of chemistry was limited to priests and aimed at serving kings and rulers of the country. The practice of chemistry on a broader scale and the teaching of chemistry in Egypt are relatively recent phenomena. Increased national chemical activities began by the end of the 19th century with the establishment of several governmental laboratories for chemical analysis and quality control of raw materials, water, industrial products, and several other imported or locally produced items. Such laboratories served governments and decision-makers by helping to regulate and enforce the import, export, and safe use of items.

Chemical Education in Egypt

Higher education in Egypt began effectively in the early 20th century with the establishment in 1908 of the first university at Cairo, the Egyptian University, which was nongovernmental and was concerned mainly with arts. By 1925, the first governmental university, Cairo University, was founded. It replaced the Egyptian University and had faculties for arts, sciences, medicine, pharmacy, law, and other disciplines.

The chemistry department of the Faculty of Science at Cairo University was established according to the highest international standards. Teaching methods practiced there have stemmed from the pioneering achievements of the Leibig Teaching Laboratory in Germany during the late 19th century. Prof. Schonberg from Germany was the head of the chemistry department at Cairo University until the mid-1950s. It is noteworthy that the implementation of micro-methods in teaching chemistry, which seemingly is thought to be a modern invention (or, rather, reinvention) was fully established in Cairo at the time of the foundation of the chemistry department about 1924. This fact is well documented in a book by Prof. Egerton C. Grey, who was then a professor of chemistry at the Government Medical School in Cairo. The preface of his book (Practical Chemistry by Micro-Methods, W. Heffer & Sons, Ltd., Cambridge, England, 1925) advocates widespread teaching of elementary physical chemistry, qualitative analysis, volumetric analysis, and organic chemistry using micro-methods.

Dr. Ahmed Zewail, 1999 Nobel Prize Laureate

The second university in Egypt was founded at Alexandria in 1942. The chemistry department of Alexandria University was established on the basis of a strong link with high-level international institutes. Prof. Flaschentrager from Germany was Professor of Biochemistry at Alexandria University from the mid-1940s until the late 1950s. The 1999 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Prof. Dr. Ahmed Zewail, was a graduate of the Alexandria University Chemistry Department, and he was also awarded his M.Sc. degree at this university.

Ain-Shams University was established in 1950. Prof. Mostafa El Sayed, the nanostructured systems pioneer and another possible Nobel Prize candidate, is a graduate. Assuit University (1957), as well as several regional universities at Mansoura and Tanta (1969), at Zagazig and Menia (1974), and others, were founded during a period of rapid expansion of chemistry education in Egypt. By 1964, Al Azhar University also had a Faculty of Science. At present, the 13 governmental universities in Egypt have about 2 million students. About 30% of university students are enrolled in chemistry courses.

In addition to the governmental universities, there are the American University in Cairo and two recently established private universities at Sixth of October City near Cairo. The necessity for new universities is dictated by increasing population and the resulting overcrowding in existing universities, a situation that usually has a negative effect on the quality of higher education.

Chemistry instruction takes place in several faculties. Chemistry departments deal mainly with basic chemistry and its applications. In faculties of medicine and veterinary medicine, teaching focuses on biochemistry and vital biochemical processes. Pharmaceutical chemistry departments teach chemistry of drugs and pharmaceuticals. Chemical engineering is given in faculties of engineering. Soil chemistry, pesticide chemistry, and food chemistry are principal disciplines in faculties of agriculture.

Chemistry departments are provided with labo ratories for practical chemical education and with libraries that contain relevant periodicals and scientific books. Information technology is now being introduced in all phases of teaching to enhance students’ educational resources through information and research networks. Distance learning has recently been introduced in Egypt through the Nile Sat Television System, which covers all educational stages.

The Egyptian Chemical Society

The Egyptian Chemical Society (ECS) was established in 1928 and is a member of the Society of Arab Chemists. It strives to foster chemical research connections among chemists and chemical engineers locally and regionally. It also encourages cooperation in the exchange of knowledge and ideas. The ECS publishes the Egyptian Journal of Chemistry, which appears bimonthly and features original research in different fields of pure and applied chemistry. The ECS sponsors the Egyptian Chemical Conference, which is held regularly every three years and covers different fields of chemistry. The society gives support to young chemists through effective cultural and scientific programs that include lectures, meetings, seminars, and scientific visits covering various aspects of chemistry and chemical industry.

One of the main objectives of the ECS is to raise awareness of the importance of chemistry and to improve its general public image. The ECS is engaged in the development of programs with the aim "to enhance the public appreciation of chemistry and its positive contribution to everyday life".

Chemistry in the Eyes of the Society and Young Students

In August 1999, the French Delegation, on behalf of the French Chemical Society at the IUPAC General Assembly in Berlin, Germany, presented a paper concerning the considerable changes in chemistry that have occurred during the last ten years. The image of the chemical industry has been blurred by mergers and scissions and globalization of the activities of multinational companies. These changes will have consequences in the education that young people will need in order to be of use in the future and to get jobs. One attitude would be to say that we do not have to worry about this development, because the market will bring about the appropriate solution. This may have been true before the World Trade Organization (WTO), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), but not now.

Cost-effective appliances for educative small-scale school chemistry experimentation. Courtesty M. K. El-Marsafy, S. Abdel-Moezz, and F. Ebeid, Chemistry Department, Faculty of Education, Ain Shams University, Roxy Cairo, Egypt.


The Egyptian National IUPAC Committee’s Action Steps

We concentrate on the bad image that chemistry has in the public’s and the student’s eyes, in spite of the industrious and costly attempts that have been made to improve matters. In this respect, we are trying to

promote the "Egyptian experiment", which we think still has a long way to go.

Systemic Approach in Teaching Chemistry

Our main concern is the students. First priority are those between the ages of 10–14, and second are the undergraduates.

Prof. Fahmy of Egypt and Prof. J. J. Lagowski of the University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA, started a campaign to replace the linear approach to teaching chemistry with a systemic one in 1997, and the results presented at the IUPAC Committee on Teaching of Chemistry (CTC) meeting in Berlin in August 1999 were encouraging.

A keynote lecture by Prof. Fahmy during the 16th International Conference on Chemical Education (16th ICCE) in Budapest, Hungary in August 2000 presented applications of the systemic approach to teaching and learning organic chemistry for the 21st century.

Small-Scale Experiments

Another important innovation for raising the interest of young students is the design of simple, safe, and practical chemistry kits that all students can afford. This concept was introduced by Dr. M. K. El-Marsafy, the R&D manager of El-Nasr Pharmaceutical Chemicals Company, in 1975 during the 28th IUPAC General Assembly at Madrid, Spain. He succeeded in producing a compact chemistry kit and managed to market it to most of the secondary schools in Egypt, thanks to the support of the Minister of Education, Prof. Mostafa Kamal Helmy, and a team of well-trained chemists for promotion and after-sale services.

Unfortunately, this success persuaded private sector companies to produce lower quality and cheaper kits, without having the means and experience to service their products.

Other similar approaches were presented during the 16th ICCE as follows:

  • "Hands-on practical chemistry for all", J. D. Bradley, Department of Chemistry, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • "Development of microscale chemistry during the last ten years in China", N. H. Zou, Hongzhou Teachers College, 310012 Hangzhou, China
  • "Small-scale laboratory for high school chemistry", K. Ogino, K. Shoji, K. Kon, T. Tajima, and T. Fujikawa, Japan

Cost-Effective Chemistry

Dr. El-Marsafy and his colleagues at the Faculty of Education, Ain Shams University, demonstrated cost-effective appliances for educative small-scale school chemistry experimentation during the 15 th International Conference on Chemical Education (15th ICCE), sponsored by IUPAC and UNESCO and organized by the Chemistry Department, Faculty of Science, at Ain Shams University, 9–14 August 1998. This concept has also been presented internationally on several occasions, including at a conference organized by the Wisconsin Institute of Chemical Education in August 1996.

The trend toward cost-effective chemistry has been very much in focus in various chemistry education institutes in Egypt since 1924. The approach has been tested over a 10-year period at the Faculty of Education in Ain Shams University, with emphasis on two basic features, as follows:

  • Students are required to procure and pay for all microscale appliances. The appliances include a simple two-pan balance and 1-ml syringes for quantitative experimentation, as well as vials and plastic dropper bottles to substitute for all conventional glassware in laboratory experiments.
  • Students are instructed to perform all the experiments and to submit detailed reports, including written results of their experimentation.
Practical Chemistry
by Micro-Methods

D.Sc., F.I.C., M.R.C.S.
Professor of Chemistry,
Government Medical School,




Prof. Grey’s book (at right) is of great relevance in bringing into focus the historical perspective of the modern trend of advocating the practice of these micro-methods internationally.

The preface of his book is prescient in its advocacy of small-scale chemical experiments as a pedagogical tool.

The foreword of a book Microscale Chemistry, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) in 1977, reinforces the value of these techniques, which are being promoted vigorously now by IUPAC’s CTC


by Dr. A. S. Shoukry, Chairman of the Egyptian National Committee for IUPAC.
S&T Company
8 Osman Abdel Hafeez Street, 2nd District,
Nasr City, Cairo 11371, Egypt
E-mail: [email protected]


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