In a hybrid meeting on Tuesday, July 12, President of Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), Fr. Bechara Khoury, gathered with Dr. Saku Tsuneta, the Director General of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) dedicated to Research and Academic Collaboration. Fr. Khoury was joined live by the Chairperson of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences (FNAS), Dr. Bassem Sabra, the Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA), Dr. Michel El Hayek, and the Assistant Vice President for Academic Support (AVPAS), Dr. Simon Abou Jaoude.
Tuning in via Zoom in Japan were Dr. Tsuneta, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Lebanese Republic to Japan, H.E. Mr. Nidal Yehya, his son, Mr. Hadi Yehya, Executive Advisor to the NAOJ Director General, Dr. Kaz Sekiguchi, and Ex-Research Engineer, Mr. Yasuo Torri. Meanwhile, joining remotely from Lebanon were the Second Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in Lebanon, Ms. Minami Kunitomo, as well as FNAS Associate Professor, Dr. Roger Hajjar.
The signing was moderated on the Zoom call by the Master of Ceremony, Ms. Mizuho Matsumoto, Office of International Relations at NAOJ. Ms. Matsumoto introduced the first speaker, Dr. Sekiguchi, whose presentation relayed the history between NDU and NAOJ, first formed with the donation of the Geisei Observatory’s 60cm telescope from NAOJ to the Farid & Raphael Moussa Observatory at NDU’s Main Campus in 2013. The team at NAOJ made the trip to Lebanon, where they provided technical support to the professors and students in assembling the telescope at the Faculty of Engineering laboratories (FE). By 2014, the construction of the NDU Observatory was complete and the telescope was up and running.
Dr. Sabra’s presentation followed, detailing the timeline of NDU’s history with NAOJ and the updates since the telescope’s installation. Between 2014 and 2019, prior to the Lebanese economic crisis, there were at least 2,000 visits to the Observatory. In those five years, the telescope became a great attraction and the site of several events for people of all ages to enjoy. With no intentions of limiting the telescope’s appeal to Campus, Dr. Sabra moved on to discuss the eventual movement of the telescope to a new location, an observatory set to be constructed in Bcharre, at an estimated 3,000 meters above sea level. According to Dr. Sabra, this would render the new observatory to be at the highest altitude in the Middle East, and the 15th-highest worldwide. The relocation project aims to increase interest in astronomy and astrophysics in Lebanon, in addition to promoting astro- and eco-tourism as the chosen location is a prime spot for space observation, winter sports, and other outdoor activities.
H.E. Mr. Yehya was then introduced, expressing his enthusiasm for the signing ceremony and its implications for both NDU and NAOJ, as it is a testament to the mutual cultural influences that Lebanon and Japan have had on one another over time. “I am pleased to witness the commitment of NAOJ and NDU to establish this collaboration and strong ties to leverage one another,” said H.E., “This signing is both timely and relevant. I am confident that this partnership will drive a new wave towards world-class development.”
The documents were then signed, in different countries and time zones but with a shared purpose. Afterwards, the NDU President gave his address, describing the long-standing partnership between NDU and NAOJ as impetus for scientific advancement. “The renewal of the MoU is incentive to continue striving for excellence,” said Fr. Khoury, “We are an academic institution, and you are a research entity; we complement each other.” With Lebanon’s current state of affairs, it is necessary not to cease but instead to persist in the development of academics, research, and their intersections, relayed the President: “If we are aware of our history, then we can look to a better future in spite of any crisis.” Upon the MoU signing, Fr. Khoury affirmed, “This morning, we have decided to take a step forward.”
Dr. Tsuneta, in closing the ceremony with his statement, similarly shared his own enthusiasm for the enduring collaboration between the two institutions. He believes that “it is particularly important to maintain our close relationship during these challenging times.”
In this virtual bridge across space and time, the MoU call came to a conclusion. NAOJ is a reputable body, and NDU is eager to yield further results from this partnership, for the mutual benefit of academia, science, and humanity at large, keeping a lens turned skyward for any inspiration passing by.