Fatima and the Hidden Patterns

Fatima Al-Zahraa Al Atraktchi is often described as ambitious, focused and disciplined. Besides from being an immigrant, woman, mother, author and Muslim she also is one of the most intelligent people in the Scandinavian world of research. Her resume makes you breathless; besides from writing novels she also holds a PhD physics and nanotechnology and is a self-taught molecular biologist.

Don’t be a Zombie

You are often described as being very intelligent, are you?

“I am aware of what I am good at just as well as my weaker sides. To be gifted is not only about being good at something – it’s also about not behaving like a Zombie: Not knowing where you are headed with your life. Wake up in the morning, eat, go to work – and then repeat day after day”, says Fatima Al-Zahraa Al Atraktchi

“It is important to step up and take charge. People might have another opinion of what you should do but you must believe in yourself. Feeling sorry for yourself is a dangerous path to take” Photo: Lundbeck Fonden

To Fatima Al-Zahraa intelligence also is about being socially wise. Observing what goes on around you; the motivations of the people you hang out with; their needs just as well as your own. Intelligence, she says, also is the ability not to be controlled by all the commercial junk that surrounds us all the time.

To be gifted is not only about being good at something – it’s also about not behaving like a Zombie

Knowing your weak sides is also very important. “You must understand that you are not an expert at everything. Know yourself and the people close to you. The same principle is true in science; learn to recognize what is besides the obvious”, Fatima Al-Zahraa explains.

Seeing hidden patterns

Fatima Al-Zahraa is exceptionally good at recognizing structure where others see only disorder. “I find patters in chaos but I do not always identify details”. For example, if she enters a room she might miss completely that you just redecorated it. However she will immediately decode the behavior of the people who is in there; what is being said just as much as what is not being said. She calls it ‘to see what is hidden between the lines’.

Fatima Al-Zahraa’s discovery has the potential of saving many lives.

“Typically, I can reveal a person’s entire life story by just listening to them”, says Fatima Al-Zahraa. “I am very good at observing people and it is the same technique I use when analyzing data in my research. I guess finding patters is my greatest strength.”

A revolutionizing discovery

During her studies she developed a revolutionizing method to reveal bacterial infections. By using this new method she has proved that patients that used to be declared free of infections actually still have the infection in them. Photo: Private

What she discovered during her PhD is called revolutionizing. She developed a method to reveal very diminutive amounts of bacteria. This is especially useful for hospitals because patients that has been cleared for bacteria and are ready to leave might actually still be infected. However up to Fatima Al-Zahraa came along there was no way of finding out.  Often these patients return to the hospital in a condition that is worse than before. By preventing this Fatima Al-Zahraa’s discovery has the potential of saving many lives.

At the moment she is working on getting a patent on her work and hopes her method will be in use in hospitals within a few years.

Getting the results out to the world

It is important to me getting my results out to the world. The scientists at the universities do some really amazing stuff. Most of the time however it tragically ends up in an article that nobody reads, forgotten in a library.  That is such a waste of money and research. I want to change that. ”Fatima Al-Zahraa emphasizes.

Recently she established her company, PreDiagnose where she plans to sell her technique and equipment to hospitals. ”What I do is finding the bacteria very early when it still is possible to use antibiotic to fight it. The window to do this is very small. As soon as the bacteria have gotten a strong hold of the body there is little left to do,” she points out.

Her Purpose

“The purpose of my company is to give the healthcare system access to my research. It is such a tragedy how most scientist experience that it is too complicated to do this. Even though what they have discovered potentially could be really helpful for the society it often never leaves the campus,” says Fatima Al-Zahraa.

When it comes to things I find boring I am so lazy that I tend not to do it

She explains: “I did not put down all this years of work just to see the result ending on a bookshelf, forgotten. That is why I started PreDiagnose. I want to build a bridge between the knowledge and results I have attained and hopefully get it out to the public”.

Family, Research and Writing Novels

Photo: Jesper Scheel, DTU Nanotech

Just as Fatima is aware of her strong sides she admits that a weakness is her tendency to be very, very lazy. “When it comes to things I find boring I am so lazy that I tend not to do it even though I know I should”. But off course being so disciplined as she is Fatima has a clear strategy to handle this.

“If I have a task in front of me that is boring, like if it was up to me I would never do it, then I try to be smart about it. I schedule this boring activity early in the morning when I am most productive. Then I allocate a lot of time to do it. For example if it is something that should not take me more than 15 minutes I set aside one hour. When it is done I make sure to reward myself”.

Fatima has three guidelines in her life; Family, research and novel writing.

“Everything that is important to me belongs in one of these categories. If something comes up and it does not fit in one of the categories I ask myself if I have the time for it. Whenever I do something I do it because it is aligned with my purpose in life. If a task will help me achieve my goal, I will do it. If not, well then I typically don’t. These guidelines help me to make sure I do not side track and end up never doing the things I actually want to do”. Says Fatima Al-Zahraa.

Facing a challenge

Fatima’s focus and discipline also shows in her way of meeting challenges, because running your head against the wall happens all the time in science.

“When this happens I slowly and patiently pick everything apart. I take a large piece of paper and write everything down. But first of all I remind myself of my purpose. Is this problem relevant or not? Does this get me closer to my end goal or am I getting sidetracked? It is very normal for scientist to get lost and sidetracked. A problem might be very interesting but not at all relevant for the research you are doing.”

She sticks notes on the wall in her office to give her a different view of the problem. “Suddenly I see all these different patters popping up everywhere. The moment I ssee a new pattern is crazy and fascinating. I get this amazing rush. The insight of WOW this was hidden in all the data noise. It is the wildest thing to experience. So no, I do not worry when I face a challenge or when I run into a wall. I know I will solve it”, Fatima Al-Zahraa says with a smile.

Three things to learn from Fatima AL Zahraa

  1. Don’t be a Zombie.
    Do not walk through life with your head up in the dark. Pay attention to your dreams.
  2. Know what’s most important to you in life and make sure this is your priority. Every day.
    As a young teenager Fatima Al Zahraa was about to get her first book published. In the very last moment the publisher wanted to change the entire setup. But Fatima knew what was important to her, stood her ground and convinced the publisher to keep the book as it was. Her book later became a part of the curriculum in several Danish schools
  3. Step up and take charge.
    People might have another opinion of what you should do but you must believe in yourself. Feeling sorry for yourself is a dangerous path to take


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1 Response

  1. X says:

    Salam alakium Fatima

    I think you are an astonishing personality! It really warms my heart to see such a dedicated person who wants to make a change, especially one who understand the importance of the family. I wish you and your family the best.

    Wa salam alakium

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