African Women Scientist: Meet Morocco’s Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli: The Incredible Physicist Whose Career Almost Didn’t Happen

by Joseph Omoniyi
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In the early 1980s, things were quite different for women in Morocco. Society believed that getting married was more important for women than having a career. Given the political repression of the period, they were not in a position to be very active. Moroccan women were expected to prioritize marriage over pursuing a career. This was the period Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli who would later become a physics phenomenon, decided to swim against the tide. Her journey in science almost didn’t happen. Driven by an unwavering passion for curiosity and education. she convinced her father to let her pursue a graduate degree in France.

However, as time went on, Moroccan women started challenging these stereotypes and breaking free from societal expectations. One of the key factors that contributed to this change was the increasing emphasis on education. More girls were given the opportunity to attend school and pursue higher education.

Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli, who has become a brilliant nuclear physicist from Morocco, with global recognitions for her incredible scientific contributions, has been instrumental in proving the existence of the Higgs Boson, a particle responsible for the creation of mass. She was recently featured on Forbes’ 50 Over 50 list for the Middle East and Africa (MENA).

After earning her Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from the University of Joseph Fourier in France, El Moursli returned to Morocco in 1982. She joined the Faculty of Sciences at the University Mohammed V in Rabat.

Early in her career, El Moursli became the head of the Laboratory of Nuclear Physics in Rabat. Her research focuses on nuclear physics, medical physics, and high-energy physics.

In 1996, El Moursli became an integral part of Morocco’s participation in the international ATLAS collaboration at CERN, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific research centers located in Geneva.

El Moursli’s contributions extend beyond the laboratory. She has been a member of international organizations such as ATLAS, KM3NET, and ANTARES. She has also played a vital role in creating and implementing master’s degree programs, including Morocco’s first master’s program in medical physics.

In 2015, El Moursli became the first Moroccan to receive the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for Women in Science, representing Africa and the Arab States. She has also received honors from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for her outstanding contributions to science and technology in the Islamic world.

As of 2024, El Moursli continues to play a pivotal role in shaping the global scientific landscape and showcasing Moroccan achievements to the world.

Ayden, El Moursli’s grandson, is proud of his grandmother’s accomplishments. He admires her journey and the recognition she has received for her work.

Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli is a pacesetting Moroccan physicist who has made significant contributions to the field of nuclear physics. Her achievements and dedication to science have earned her numerous accolades and recognition both nationally and internationally.

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