"Science in Exile"
The 2017 TWAS documentary explores the story of four researchers who were forced to suspend their work and flee conflict in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. The film has won global recognition, screening more than 50 times in two dozen countries, at film festivals, major science centres, international conferences and universities.


Would you like to screen “Science in Exile”? TWAS will provide the film and publicity materials for organisations, schools and others that wish to screen the film. Please email scienceinexile@twas.org

  1. Crew

  2. Featuring

  3. Synopsis

  4. A Global Context

  5. Statement from Director Nicole Leghissa

  6. Director

  7. Producer

  8. About TWAS

  9. Screenings

  10. Press coverage


  12. Promotional materials


directed by

produced by

cinematography by

edited by

original music by








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GHANYA NAJI AL-NAQEB (Yemen-Sudan), Nutritional scientist
AHMAD SADIDDIN (Syria-Italy), Economist, agriculture and development
ZAID ALHAJJAJ (Iraq-Germany), PhD candidate in pharmaceutical biotechnology
SAJA TAHA AL ZOUBI (Syria-Lebanon), Economist, agriculture and gender


ALLAN E. GOODMAN, President and CEO, Institute of International Education (IIE), USA
ULRIKE ALBRECHT, Head of Strategy and External Relations, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany
MUSTAPHA JAZAR, Founder and President, Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASeR)
STEPHEN WORDSWORTH, Executive Director, Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), UK
KARLY KEHOE, Historian, Global Young Academy, Saint Mary’s University, Canada

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“Science in Exile”: Synopsis

They are scientists in developing countries, committed to a life of research. Focused on fields ranging from agriculture to climate change and medical care to economics, they are pursuing discoveries and innovations that will improve life for the people in their countries, and their regions. But then comes a conflict, a war. Universities are bombed. Colleagues disappear, or are killed. And those who remain – what should they do? where should they go?

“Science in Exile” explores how recent violence in Syria, Yemen and Iraq has threatened the lives of four researchers, forcing them to suspend their work and flee their homelands. The same decision has confronted uncounted thousands of their colleagues globally – scientists, engineers, doctors and medical researchers, advanced science students.

“Science in Exile” challenges the common stereotypes of refugees from a war-ravaged region. It finds women and men with years of training and experience who are struggling to find a place in new lands – a safe place where they can continue their research and make a scientific contribution.

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A Global Context

Driven by civil conflicts and war, millions of people in recent years have left their homes in such countries as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. In news coverage, they are often portrayed in starkly negative terms, and as they arrive in their new countries, they are often met with opposition, hostility and xenophobia.

The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), based in Trieste, Italy, works to build scientific capacity in the developing world. As this historic migration unfolded, TWAS began to hear troubling stories from scientists in the region – laboratories damaged, universities closed, colleagues disappeared or killed. These stories in some cases came from scientists who had participated in programmes offered by TWAS and its partner, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD).

In 2017, with support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), displaced and refugee scientists became a priority focus for TWAS. In March 2017, the TWAS science diplomacy programme co-organised a workshop in Trieste, Italy. “Refugee Scientists: Transnational Resources” convened more than 50 participants from 19 countries for a week-long exchange of information and analysis that produced an extensive list of recommendations.

The film “Science in Exile” emerged from the workshop. It was born from the belief that a commitment to science  for developing countries required a commitment to scientists who have been driven from those countries. Every scientist who leaves represents a significant loss to the development potential of the home country; in the view of TWAS and many partner organisations, the global scientific community is obligated to support these displaced scientists, so that their skills are cultivated and not lost. They may have great potential for contributing to scientific progress. Someday, many of them will be needed to help rebuild their home countries.

“Science in Exile” was planned and filmed over a period of 11 months. Director Nicole Leghissa, an Italian, travelled first to Lebanon – to the Syrian refugee camps of the Beqaa Valley, and to the city of Tripoli, headquarters of the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASeR), which runs innovative programmes serving hundreds of students among the Syrian refugee community.

In subsequent months, she and her team travelled in Sudan, South Africa, Germany, Italy, the UK, including Scotland, and the United States. She came to know a number of displaced scientists, many of whom opened their lives to her. Even after escaping the cities that had turned to battlefields, they often found new struggles in their adopted countries. At the same time, many have been fortunate to find vital support from organisations such LASeR, the Scholar Rescue Fund, Scholars at Risk, the Council for At-Risk Academics, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Philipp Schwartz Initiative and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

The resulting film, “Science in Exile”, is a scientific story, but it is also a profoundly human story. It counteracts the stereotypes that dominate much public debate. The film focuses on the stories of four displaced scientists: two from Syria, one from Iraq and one from Yemen. They work in fields such as nutritional biology, pharmaceutical chemistry and agricultural economics. Each is at a different stage of the transition as they look to resume their work in a safe, secure environment.

But they have this in common: Each dreams of the day when he or she can return home to rebuild.

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Statement from Director Nicole Leghissa

Through this film I really wanted the displaced scientists speak for themselves.

My choice from the beginning was to build the story’s structure following the protagonists’ words and experiences. I spent a long time looking for the right people, and when I found them, I established with them a very personal relationship.

We became friends and they opened to me the doors of their lives. They shared their thoughts, fears and hopes. They did this because they trusted me and because they thought that this film could be useful to support other scientists like them.

All the people who participated in this documentary, in front and behind the camera, did it for the same purpose: to have an impact, to support change.

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Nicole Leghissa, an Italian filmmaker and documentary director, has worked for international production companies and broadcasters such as HBO, Channel 4, and ARTE, creating historical and cultural television series and documentary films.

With her educational background in Diplomatic and International Sciences, Ms. Leghissa has developed a special sensitivity to global issues related to development. For the past five years she has worked in collaboration with The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) telling stories of scientists and scholars doing research around the world. In 2013, she directed the film “Seeds of Science”, focusing on four TWAS-supported scientists in Kenya. The film has shown on Italian television, and at a range of diplomatic and education events in Europe and Latin America.

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Edward W. Lempinen joined The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) as public information officer in 2013. He served as producer of the documentary, “Science in Exile”, and has played a leadership role in the Academy’s initiatives in support of refugee and displaced scientists. At TWAS, he has guided the development of numerous short films, and served as the adviser for Nicole Leghissa’s 2013 film “Seeds of Science”.

Before joining TWAS, he served for nine years as senior writer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where he wrote and edited a monthly column in the journal Science and managed the AAAS website. Previously, he was the news director at Salon.com, a pioneering online news site. He has been a reporter and editor at U.S. newspapers including Newsday (New York), the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Sun-Times.

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About TWAS

The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries – TWAS – supports sustainable prosperity through research, education, policy and diplomacy. TWAS was founded in 1983 by a distinguished group of scientists from the developing world, under the leadership of Abdus Salam, the Pakistani physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Today, TWAS has more than 1,200 elected Fellows from nearly 100 countries; 14 of them are Nobel laureates. The Academy is based in Trieste, Italy. Through more than three decades, its mission has focused on supporting and promoting excellence in scientific research in the developing world and applying scientific and engineering research to address global challenges. TWAS receives core funding from the government of Italy and programmatic funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). It is a programme unit of UNESCO.

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Interested in screening “Science in Exile”? Please contact scienceinexile@twas.org

8 November 2017 | World Science Forum - Dead Sea, Jordan

2 December 2017 | Elsevier Foundation - Amsterdam, The Netherlands

7 December 2017 | US National Academies' Symposium on Human Rights - Washington DC, USA

13 February 2018 | Saint Mary's University - Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

14 February 2018 | American Association for the Advancement of Sciences' Annual Meeting - Austin, Texas, USA

9 March 2018 | Institute of International Education-Scholar Rescue Fund, 2018 Forum - New York, New York, USA

19 April 2018 | University of Potsdam - Centre for Citizenship, Social Pluralism and Religious Diversity - Potsdam, Germany

7 May 2018 | Rutgers University - Bi-Annual Statistical Mechanics Conference - Rutgers, New Jersey USA

8 May 2018 | University of Bielefeld - EU Horizon 2020 Bridge Project - Bielefeld, Germany

10 May 2018 | Province of Trento - Training Centre for International Cooperation - Trento, Italy

11 May 2018 | University of Trento - Rovereto, Italy

17 May 2018 | University of Lagos Department of Zoology - Lagos, Nigeria

20 May 2018  | Festival èStoria - Gorizia, Italy

25 May 2018 | Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology - Chinese Academy of Sciences - Shenzen, China

May 2018 | Karolinska Institutet - Huddinge, Sweden

May 2018 | Malawi University of Science and Technology  - Limbe, Malawi

4 June 2018 | Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg  - Würzburg, Germany

7 June 2018  | University of Turku/Finnish National Agency for Education - Turku, Finland

7 June 2018 | University of Port Harcourt - Abuja campus - Abuja, Nigeria

8 June 2018 | Zimbabwe Technology Centre - affiliated with University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers, et. al.  - Harare, Zimbabwe

8 June 2018 | Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology - XIV International Congress of Scientific Research - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

12 June 2018  | Royal Society/UK Academies Human Rights Committee - London, UK

21 June 2018 | University of Perugia - Perugia, Italy

22 June 2018 | University of Hull - (UK Refugee Week) - Hull, UK

28 June 2018 | Socios en Salud Sucursal  - Lima, Peru

28 June 2018 | International School of Science Journalism of Erice - Ettore Majorana Foundation - Erice, Italy

3 July 2018 | European Academy of Science Film (EURASF)  - CERN - Geneva, Switzerland

6 July 2018 | Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale - OGS - Trieste, Italy

12 July 2018 | Liverpool Arab Arts Festival - Liverpool, UK

14 July 2018 | EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF 2018) - Toulouse, France

July 2018 | Thamar University - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - Thamar, Yemen

17 September 2018 | Ceremony of Trieste scientific institutions - Trieste, Italy

27 September 2018 | World Social Sciences Forum - Fukuoka, Japan

28 September 2018 | CERN – European Organisation for Nuclear Research - Researchers’ Night festival (opening film) - Meyrin, Switzerland

5 October 2018 | MIT - Experimental Study Group - Cambridge, Massachusetts  USA

28 October 2018 | 13th Biennial Meeting of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and  Scholarly Societies - The Korean Academy of Science and Technology - Seoul, South Korea

29 October 2018 | Festival Pariscience (international science film festival) - Paris, France

6 November 2018 | University of Rome - Department of Physics - Rome, Italy

11 November 2018 | InScience - International Science Film Festival  - Nijmegen, Netherlands

23 November 2018 | University of Münster - Münster, Germany

21 February 2019 | Melbourne Social Equity Institute - University of Melbourne - Melbourne, Australia

25 February 2019 | Marie Curie Alumni Association (international network) - General Assembly - Vienna, Austria

26 March 2019 | Gender Equality for Mobile Scientists  - University of Newcastle (UK) - Newcastle, UK

March 2019 | University of Alberta  - Edmonton, Canada

3 May 2019 | University of Munich - Munich Centre for Ethics

21 May 2019 | Sida Science Days - Stockholm, Sweden

22 May 2019 | EURAXESS Conference 2019 - Prague, Czech Republic

17 June 2019 | Refugee Week - Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security - University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh, UK

27 June 2019 | Science in Exile - Researchers turned refugees - EURAXESS Meeting Point Vienna - co-organized with the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education Research (OeAD-GmbH) - Vienna, Austria



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Press coverage

Physics Today | 4 April 2018
Displaced scientists strive to restart professional lives in new lands

Physics Today | 4 April 2018
New Books & Media

Al-Fanar Media | 6 March 2018
New Film Focuses on 4 Arab Researchers’ Lives in Exile

The Signal (University of King’s College, Canada) | 14 February 2018
Halifax would be a good home for refugee scholars, researcher says

Halifax Chronicle-Herald (Canada) | 8 February 2018
Initiative aims to help at-risk scholars find safe haven

SciDev.net | 7 December 2017
Film documents plight of Arab scientists in exile

New Scientist | 16 December 2017
Bringing it all home (print)

New Scientist | 7 December 2017
How refugee scientists can change the world (web)

The National (United Arab Emirates) | 12 November 2017
Initiative helps relocate academics from war-torn Arab countries with hopes they will return home

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"Many thanks for giving us an opportunity to screen it and to let people be aware of situations, [and] more importantly that there are support system in place to help scientists in difficult conditions."
Byambajav Buyandelger, PhD, Integrated Cardio Metabolic Center (ICMC), Karolinska Institutet Department of Medicine, Sweden

“Finally we do not see masses of indistinct people fleeing from war, but persons and their individual stories.”
Fernanda Sehbe Rizzo, Brazil (fsr producoes)

“The film is a powerful picture of the toll that leaving their home countries has taken on these scientists and an inspiring story of the important research they are still managing to do.”
Monica Baldwin, Physics Today

“Fabulously moving”
Iris Kisjes, Elsevier Foundation, The Netherlands

“Science in Exile offers a brief but poignant glimpse into the lives and aspirations of young displaced scientists, from their own perspective.”
Teresa Stoepler, Global Young Academy, USA

“Science in Exile drives home a point that Saint Mary’s University, and other universities in Canada and around the world, can and must be aware of the dire challenges facing colleagues at-risk globally. Our own faculty member and Canada Research Chair, Dr. Karly Kehoe, is featured in the film. She is leading the effort at Saint Mary’s to support scholars at risk, and this film serves as inspiration for others to be active and involved.”
Malcolm Butler, Vice President, Academic and Research, St. Mary’s University, Canada

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Promotional mAterials

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