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Tribute to Abdus Salam

by Asghar Qadir January 11, 1998 00:00

To him Evil flourished through ignorance, and was to be fought to the bitter end by knowledge.

-Servant of . That was his name and that was

his life. He dedicated it to the improvement of the Third World. His

vision -a new paradigm for development -that and its

concomitant will alleviate the lot of the under-privileged

nations by allowing them to leap-frog straight from the nineteenth to the

twenty-first century. Not that he was a dreamer who expected there to be

development without competition. He realised the importance of competition

in pushing development forward at a more rapid pace. He encouraged

competition -not in the sense of conflict, but in the context of

cooperation. To him Evil flourished through ignorance and was to be fought

to the bitter end by knowledge. was to dispel th is Evil from the

world. To him the development of was a responsibility of the whole

world, not only of the Third World. According to him, we were not pulling

our load. He took on the responsibility of trying to help the Third World

to struggle out of the darkness of ignorance and shed the light of

to dispel its problems.

Salam knew that he could not achieve his goal alone. He was

perfectly ready to commandeer any and all people he could, to help him in

his mission. He knew whom to request, whom to flatter into helping, whom

to coax and cajole, whom to order and whom (like me) he could bully and

brow-beat into doing what was needed. He demanded the impossible from his

helpers in the enterprise of developing in the Third World, but

invariably still more from himself. His successes, like the Centre, are

truly amazing, but he remained dissatisfied. There was always more to be

done. His focus was not on what he had achieved, but on what remained to

be done. I remember telling him very proudly of the development of my

Department and his immediate response to that: "But what are you doing

for the rest of the country?" He realised that there can be no stable

equilibrium in development. If one does not go up one must come down. Now

that he is no more I myself can feel his sense of urgency about getting

things done.

Though Salam's vision was for the Third World in general, he had a

special soft corner for the Islamic World -and within that most of all

for his homeland, . He did what he could to motivate us Pakistanis

to work for scientific development in . I met him for the first

time in 1964, when I went to the Physics Department of the Imperial

College of and (as it was then called) as an

undergraduate freshman, and my was greatly influenced by him and

his advice. He was aware of the major problem of faced by

scientists in the Third World, and the enormous paucity of manpower there.

He regarded it as imperative that Third World scientists diversify and

cover more than one field, so as to reduce the problems of manpower

shortage and . This led to my pursuing research in Physics,

Mathematics and Economics, and in various areas in each of them. When I

came to the ICTP for the first time in 1972 as a nearly fresh Ph.D. and a

new faculty member at the Is lamabad University (as it was then called),

he told me that it was my duty to see to it that other Pakistanis could

benefit from it. I felt that it was unfair of him to ask that of me. How

could someone so junior as I manage to make much of a difference?

Following the usual plea of people in , I said that he did not

know how difficult it was to get anything done there, particularly for a

nonentity like me. His answer was typical: "Do you think it was easy to

build this Centre? Where do you think the money to run it comes from? Do

you suppose it runs itself?" When I thought about it, I could see that it

must have been well nigh impossible to convince the developed countries to

support the Third World in developing basic at the frontiers. It

would be nearly as difficult to keep the funds flowing that enabled us to

benefit from it. We did indeed have a responsibility to him to ensure

adequate utilisation of the Centre to provide him with the basis to

continue to extract support from elsewhere . I still felt that too much

was being asked of a mere nonentity like me. Of course, Salam did not

leave me to manage it all on my own. He provided the support to make me

less of a non-entity. I later went on to work actively for proper

participation in ICTP activities by Pakistani scientists. From there, it

was a short step to getting involved with working for the development of

in (to what extent I could).

When he received the Nobel Prize in 1979, he felt that he had won it, not

for himself, but for the Third World. As such, he felt that he had no

right to use the Prize money for personal purposes but that it must be

used to further his mission of developme nt of in the Third World.

He specially put aside money to help and Pakistani students. In

1980 he asked Prof. Fayyazuddin, with my assistance, to formulate the

rules and procedures for a Prize to be awarded to young Pakistani

scientists for their research in the basic sciences. Our suggestion was

that the Prize should be awarded annually by rotation for Physics,

Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology to Pakistani nationals, normally

resident in , below 35 years of age on the 31st of December of

the year for which the Prize was to be awarded. It was to consist of a

certificate giving a citation and a cash award of US$1,000. It was to be

awarded on the basis of the collected research and/or a technical essay

written specially for the Prize. (My idea, in making the latter

provision, was to allow for some thing like the Adams Prize as well.) To

manage the Prize a committee was proposed, consisting of the two of us and

Prof. Riazuddin. This proposal was approved by Prof. Salam. Unfortunately,

Riaz and Fayyaz both left the country and I was left to manage it on

my own. I took to myself the title of Secretary of the Salam Prize

Committee and proceeded to "manage" it. The first Prize was for Physics

for the year 1981. It was to be awarded at the end of the year and

fortunately Prof. Salam himself was available to present the Prize to the

winner. I had dubbed the Prize "the Prize for Young Pakistani

Scientists". As could have been anticipated, Prof. Salam protested against

the name for the Prize. (This was at the ceremony to award the Prize.) I was

prepared for that, and put it to him that it enhanced the value of the

Prize to be associated with his name. The matter was put to the House,

which gave overwhelming support for my name for it. As such it acquired

that name then and has retained it since. The Salam Prize has acquired a

very high reputation. We have had some very notable Prize winners. Among

them is one of the speakers at this Meeting today, Prof. Pervez Amirali

Hoodbhoy of the Department of Physics, Quaid-i-Azam University, Prof.

Suhail Zuberi (for his work in Quantum Optics), Chairman of the

Department of Electronics, Quaid-i-Azam University and the recent Prize

winner in Mathematics, Dr. Naseer Shahzad, who shows immense promise.

There have been many other Salam Prize winners who have also demonstrated

their worth since receiving the Prize. In fact, the Prize acquired an

international reputation and has been emulated outside . I

remember Prof. Salam telling me about it one day with great pleasure. His

appreciation of my efforts displayed at the time will always be one of my

most cherished memories.

Prof. Gordon Feldman mentioned that some time before he received the Nobel

Prize he had been referred to as "the next Einstein". This was not an

exaggeration. A scientist does not enter that special category to which

Einstein belonged just on account of h is contributions to his special

field, but because he has had a greater impact -- he has become a

household word for people outside his own field. Of course, he must have

made a major impact in his own field. No one can that in Salam's

case. We have been hearing of the many contributions he has made to High

Physics. They started with his work on renormalization. Then he

missed getting the Nobel Prize for his idea of parity non-conservation. He

went on to the pioneering work on SU(3) for which he could easily have

got the Nobel Prize. Though his early attempt at unification of internal

and external symmetries (SU(6,6)) was not successful, it led to the idea

of supersymmetry, which is one of the main driving ideas of modern High

Physics. After Wess and Zumino presented their paper on

Supersymmetry, he and Strathdee wrote it in more easily usable terms. Many

workers continue to use the formalism set up by Salam and Strathdee. His

work on electro-weak unification needs no comments. However, it is worth

pointing out that the first published idea of Grand Unification is in the

paper of Pati and Salam in 1972, as is the original suggestion of proton

decay. Regardless of the outcome of the suggestions, it cannot be denied

that these ideas have guided the development of High Physics in

recent times. In fact, I remember a talk by him on the morning of the 29th

of January , just before my Ph.D. viva voce examination in the

afternoon, in which he mentioned the of unifying the strong with the

weak and electromagnetic forces and finally incorporating gravity. Though

he was thinking of SU(3) flavour instead of colour, the basic idea was

already there at that time, and has driven developments in fundamental

Physics ever since. All this, however, would not have made his name a

household word. The impact of Einstein was felt through the philosophical

implications of his work, and was later felt at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That is not the impact of the Servant of . Due to him, a number of

scientists have been able to continue to work in the Third World and to

maintain their contact with the latest developments in . This has

enabled those countries to bring up a new generation of much better

educated scientists, who can maintain a of trying to catch up with

the rest of the world. It is in this sense that he was the next Einstein.

We, of the Third World, must re-dedicate ourselves to carry on the mission

of Salam, to return to our home countries and with a fresh commitment

pursue the dream of development through the development of . We, of

, have lagged far behind in our attempts. We did not give enough

recognition to Salam -but worse, we let him down in his mission. Now we

need to work all the harder to bring a more measurable success to his

attempts for the betterment of his home country.

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#2 qubit November 10, 2008 23:46
I grew up with the same image of Abdus Salam and always regarded him as a towering figure of Pakistani science and that of all the Muslim countries.

However, I always looked for opportunities to know more about Abdus Salam, especially from the people who come from the Western world and had interacted with him closely.

During the last few years I have lived in the UK and had two such occasions:

a) I happened to come to know a person who submitted his PhD thesis under Salam's supervision to the Cambridge University in mid 1950's. He is now a retired professor of theoretical physics.

When I displayed my interest in how he saw Salam 'as a person' he wrote back to me:

"------- I tried to keep away from Salam as much as possible, and to carry on following up my own ideas."

In the same email message he wrote:

"One amusing story which I recall was that Salam was sitting next to X and asked him about his research interests. X said Soil Physics, but Salam misheard this as Solar Physics and asked X to apply to set up a project at Trieste. When Salam received the project details, and realised his mistake, he nevertheless gave his support to the project, and I think that there are now regular Soil Physics events at ICTP."

b) The second occasion happened when I was travelling to the Bradford University in a train in the company of a professor of theoretical physics, who is also a leading expert in the quantum theory of measurement. At some point we talked about ICTP and I mentioned Salam in

the context of his contributions towards establishing the Physics department at the University of Islamabad (QAU). His reacted, to my great surprise, by making rather a loud laugh. I could never figure out what his laughter was meant to imply. Being rather embarrassed, I swiftly changed the topic and never could gather courage to talk to him again on that topic.

Based on these events, I now think that perhaps Salam's European colleagues see him quite differently as compared to we Pakistanis. But I have not been able to make a link between my image of Salam and what his European colleagues said or implied about him.

#1 wasiq February 09, 1998 19:47
Dear Omer,

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