Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam, is a role model not only for young Pakistani scientists but also for youth around the world. His immense contribution towards the development of the Theory of Unification of Forces is just one of several remarkable achievements he made in the world of scientific knowledge and institutional development. His contribution is cherished worldwide by scientists and non-scientists alike. Being a Pakistani, and a student of science, I regret not knowing much about this real hero of Pakistan until last year when I attended an event organised by Imperial College London to commemorate his birthday and his contribution. On this occasion, I had the chance to know about this legendary figure from the mouth of world renowned physicists who paid rich tributes to his contributions and revealed various facets of his personality. This made me think about how we need to remember and share the contributions made by this great scientist in order to keep our younger generation motivated.
Abdus Salam is still counted among the world’s most influential physicists and, as the founder of the Theoretical Physics Group at the Imperial College London and International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste, he is revered and remembered by a large community of scientists. His name resurfaced in 2012 after the discovery of a subatomic particle known as the Higgs-Boson. This discovery, the biggest in the world of physics in the last 30 years, vindicated Salam’s major theories and predictions. His work provided a crucial link between the pioneering work of Peter Higgs and the physical proof of the particle.
Dr Salam’s legacy is rich both on the side of scientific knowledge and in the form of the institutions he established, having a strong impact on the world of science. Realising the need for the uplift of young scientists in developing countries, he established the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy in 1964. Salam was its director from 1964 to 1993. The centre is credited with training over 100,000 scientists. In recognition of his services, it has been named the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics.
Gordon Fraser, Salam’s biographer, writes in his book The Cosmic Anger: “He was not just an envoy simply relying on his government’s wishes. He was also his own ambassador.” The ICTP has been ensuring that scientists from the developing world have access to the same resources and opportunities enjoyed by their counterparts in wealthier parts of the world.
Dr Robert Walgate described Salam as “A passionate advocate for the third world who has the heart of a poet and the mind of a scientist. Who shared his enormous intellectual energy between the pursuit of quarks and a passionate advocacy of needs of the third world.”
In the capacity of scientific adviser to the government of Pakistan between 1960 and 1974, Salam played a key role in Pakistan’s science infrastructure and became the guiding spirit and founder of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as well as the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). He concentrated on harnessing human resources in Pakistan and helped more than 500 Pakistani physicists and mathematicians study and research in British and US universities on scholarships. In 1958 he established the vibrant Theoretical Physics Group at Imperial College, London. During the 1960s Salam helped many Pakistanis study at Imperial College and involved many of them in founding a Theoretical Physics Group at the Quaid-e-Azam University (then Islamabad University) in the late 1960s. The Theoretical Physics Group at the Imperial College is still considered one of the leading groups on theoretical physics and maintains its position at the forefront of a number of different areas of theoretical physics. Salam’s especial significance has been recognised there with the creation of an Abdus Salam Professorship.
Salam’s life offers the best role model to young Pakistanis who, by knowing about his hard work and love for his country, can aspire to achieve excellence.
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