Thriving on uncertainty

May 04, 2002, vol. 24, no. 3
By Carol Thorbes

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Fortunately for Hani Zaher (left), he is a person who thrives on uncertainty.

When his theories flop in the lab new concepts and alternate theories start percolating in his head.

The Simon Fraser University biochemistry major is graduating with a bachelor of science and has held several co-op positions at firms related to pharmaceutical, biotechnological, vitamin and food production.

Originally from Lebanon, Zaher is now exploring a largely uncharted area, the catalytic potential of ribonucleic acid, with SFU molecular biologist Peter Unrau.

“I love the thrill of the unknown in the lab - doing research where you're not sure where you'll wind up or have to start again. I don't like routine,” says Zaher.

However, the Coquitlam resident admits his nerves were put to the test when he faced political uncertainty upon graduating from Lester B. Pearson College in Victoria five years ago.

The college is one of 10 worldwide that offers enriched high school training to academically promising international students through the United World Colleges program.

A Palestinian refugee from Baalbeck, just east of Beirut, Zaher, at age 15, was chosen from among a thousand Palestinian applicants.

New laws in war torn Lebanon prevented him from returning home after graduating from Pearson at 17.

Zaher's family, still in Lebanon, urged him to apply for refugee status in Canada, even though a job or university entrance seemed unlikely despite his solid academic record.

“I couldn't afford the fees to go to university as an international student,” remembers Zaher. “I was pretty scared because I didn't have a working visa or any job experience.”

However, his academic promise caught the eye of a Pearson College adviser and a SFU student recruiter.

Zaher couldn't have been more overjoyed when then-SFU president John Stubbs came to Pearson to tell him and a fellow student that SFU was offering them entrance scholarships.

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