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Pakistan’s unsung genius

Pakistan’s unsung genius

The picture was taken on my visit to CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland a couple of years ago. CERN is home to the world’s highest energy particle accelerator and has been the subject of considerable media attention as it collides particles travelling at very nearly the speed of light to recreate the very early moments of the Big Bang. Imminent scientific discoveries are expected and with them, a significant development in our understanding of the laws of nature.

Perhaps the last major breakthrough in the world of particle physics came in the 1960s when Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani physicist, proposed a mathematical model that unified two of the four fundamental forces in nature and described them as different aspects of a single force. The unification of two forces into a single theory, known as the electroweak theory, was a major stepping stone and earned Dr Abdus Salam, Sheldon Lee Glashow and Steven Weinberg the Nobel Prize in 1979.

Decades later, when studying particle physics at Oxford University, I came across Dr Salam’s name for the first time. I may not have fully appreciated the consequences of the theory he proposed and the reason why he was awarded the Nobel Prize, but I knew it was important and it gave me immense pride. I wanted to tell everyone and anyone that the Salam in the Glashow-Weinberg-Salam Theory was Pakistani. That Pakistan, a third-world country was capable of producing great scientists and contributing to the advancement of science on an international level. I knew this was a rare and special moment. It isn’t often that Pakistanis are awarded the Nobel Prize.

It was not until I started my PhD that I realised the significance of Dr Salam’s contribution. Since the theoretical model he postulated was central to my research, almost an entire chapter of my thesis is dedicated to it. Dr Salam’s electroweak theory predicted the existence of a set of particles called the W and Z bosons (subatomic particles). Indeed, the subsequent discovery of these particles in 1982 was a great triumph for the theory! I earned my PhD thesis by measuring with utmost precision the properties of the W bosons predicted by Dr Salam’s theory. In the course of communicating my research to people, it was impossible to omit his name. For a country that doesn’t have a long list of notable figures to celebrate, I found it surprising that Dr Salam was not a household name. For a man who put Pakistan on the world map and etched his country’s name into scientific history, he was astonishingly downplayed.

Hailing from a very mediocre background in a village near Jhang, Salam represented the average Pakistani. He attended an ordinary Urdu medium school but his intellectual ability was not ordinary. He completed his matriculation exam at the age of fourteen and went on to win a scholarship to study mathematics and physics at Cambridge University, a course he completed in just a year with a first class degree. Dr Salam returned to Pakistan in 1951 and became head of the mathematics department at the Punjab University. However, when his intention of setting up a research institute to encourage the pursuit of knowledge in his country did not look feasible, he returned to England. He channeled his disappointment in not being able to pursue his research career in Pakistan by setting up an International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. The aim was to provide deserving young physicists from all over the world, in particular the developing nations, with an international scientific platform to meet and interact with one another and prevent them from being professionally isolated in their respective countries. Dr Salam wanted young scientists from developing countries to have opportunities to contribute to the forefront of research without becoming part of the brain drain. His devotion and commitment to the advancement of science in his homeland was exemplary, yet puzzling, given the treatment he received in his later years.

The growing religious intolerance in the country has served to shed light on a number of issues, particularly our ability as a country to shoot ourselves in the foot time and time again. However, no amount of name-calling or religious blacklisting can take away from the genius that was Dr Salam. He is regarded the world over as an outstanding physicist who played an instrumental role in furthering our understanding of the most fundamental area of science. Our inability to capitalise on his success or indeed give him his due regard represents a dismal failure. Had Dr Salam been born in another country, things may have been different.

As a young particle physicist or indeed as a scientist, I am all too conscious of the complete dearth of eminent role models to have emerged from Pakistan or the Muslim world at large and as such, I for one will wholeheartedly endorse the recognition and status bestowed on Dr Abdus Salam by the rest of the world; an honour he rightfully deserved, especially in the country to which he showed such zealous commitment.


Dr Sarah Alam Malik is a postdoctoral associate in Experimental Particle Physics. Her research interests can be found at

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308 Responses to “Pakistan’s unsung genius”

  1. Bilal ZM says:

    As student of cosmology, Dr. Salam’s contributions to the “unification theory” are immense and undeniable. It is rather an incongruous fact that most Pakistani’s do not know much about him; his religious affiliation being beside the point. He was the Maxwell of the 20th century.

  2. M Khan says:

    I had to write again to correct Mr Fahim who has a zero knowledge and have hate in his heart. Read about Mr Qadeer on YouTube and let me tell the whole Pakistani nation that Mr Qadeer do not have a clue about Uranium and its properties. He is a Met-allergist and that is all. Dr Samar Mubarak and is the real Nuclear scientist and therefore he was at the forefront of the nuclear test. Mr Fahim, Mr Khan does not have any knowledge of Physics and he does not know how to build an atom bomb.

    • Shumail says:

      Do you still believe that nucleur bomb can be produced by a single person. That was an experimental project which became successful by the untiring efforts of a number of scientists including Dr AQ Khan And Dr Samar. What Dr Salam did was an addition to global knowledge and contribution to unification theory.He was simply superb and does not have any comparision in Pakistan

  3. Mohammad A Dar says:

    david says:
    June 26, 2010 at 16:30

    you should also highlight his unforgettable contribution to Pakistan and Islam…….What contributions to Islam, Denying the truth?

  4. Janjua says:

    Dr. Malik,

    Thanks Indeed for reminding us of the Greatest Scientist our country has produced. Why he’s been an unsung hero is another matter of concern for our nation. His contribution was not mentioned due to his religious beliefs. What a pity and a shame for us as nation. I can only pray for the current state of affairs and mindset of our elite. May ALLAH Help Us in Recognizing any fellow Pakistani’s contribution without considering his religious, enthnic or provincial background! Aameen

  5. Aftab says:

    In my opinion Dr Abdus Salam was a great Pakistani scientist. I do not care about his personal life and so I do for other people’s opinion about him too.

  6. Mohammed Ali Hanif says:

    First of all, Dr. Sarah, I would like to commend your effort at bringing to light one of the greatest scientists of not only Pakistan but also the entire Muslim population. The article has a far greater impact coming from an authority in physics such as yourself. However, with all due respect if I may, I would like to suggest that you not refer to Pakistan as a third world nation as it is a term coined upon us by the so-called developed nations based on irrational and irrelevant numbers calculated on no qualitative information whatsoever. In fact, your article proves my very point by assuring that if, as a nation, we are capable of producing such influential personalities on the global front, then by no means are we third world. Nevertheless, your article is no less than a brilliant eye-opener for many around the world not aware of the works of Dr. Salam.

  7. Mehmood says:

    Last month I get a chance to visit Abdus Salam research institute in Trieste Italy, it is wonderful place to see. I advice to every Pakistani to visit this place. In all over the world Pakistan is known as failed and terrorist state but when you just enter into this institute there you see Salam everywhere. People start looking at you as you belong to the Salam’s land. There were a lot of people who worked with Salam and they told us such a imaging stories about this great Pakistani scientist. Even on some point I just cannot control my tears. There is no doubt that he was a great Muslim (Pakistani) scientist. Why I put Pakistan in bracket because Pakistan never accepts him as Pakistani or Muslim while in all over the world he is known as Muslim Pakistani Scientist. May be someone will urge with me about this issue but reality is that I saw the verses of Holy Quran all over his room and he also said in his speech that he get all his knowledge from Quran. This was an imaging feeling as a Muslim, that I never saw Quran in this kind of research institute. Other Muslim also read the same Quran but they get only a message to divide and killing and hatred. Shame on those who claim to be Muslim but their practice is just like an ignorant people.
    Sorry Salam your own people rejected you….
    And thanks Dr Sarah to raise your pen on this issue.

  8. Hisham Mazhar Qureshi says:

    Dr. Abdus Salam was a treasure trove of Pakistan. But unfortunately or fortunately, he had to leave his motherland when motherland’s people behaved like step-mother with him. This is common that ‘talent’ is like a ‘fluid’ which makes its way through wherever it gets space to pass. He found that space and moved to the place where nurtured his knowledge and whettened his skills for the greater good for his subject that he was passionately in love with. It is the duty of every citizen in general and every student in particular to rise from above our communal thoughts and dedicate our energy for the best of mankind rather every kind of this world.

  9. S M Shah says:

    Thank you for an interesting article, I think that he was an Ahmedi had something to do with the fact he is little recognised in Pakistan.

    Can I just say Miss Malik, I think you are a wonderful example to all of us. I wish you the very best of luck in your research and I am very proud to know that a Pakistani, is part of the most ground breaking work in Science Today. Wonderful stuff…

    I hope through your example and that of all the others engaged in this field Pakistan and Muslims in General will get back to basics of our religion and start learning, just for the sake of learning…

  10. Saadi Rahman says:

    Dr. Abdus Salam was no doubt a supreme scientist of 20th century who revealed this Electoweak theory. Unfortunately, Pakistan hasn’t much utilized his experience and discarded him on Religious basis.

  11. Sachin says:

    Dear Dr Sarah Alam Malik,
    As a particle physicist you might be well aware that the Bosons you refer to in your article derive their name from an Indian scientist – Dr Satyendra Nath Bose. As a continuation to this article, you might want to contrast the treatment given to Dr Abdus Salam in Pakistan to the treatment given to Dr Bose in India.

    Even today, Dr Bose (who did most of his research in united British India) is considered a national hero in India which confered on him the Padma Vibhushan. Other scientists of international repute from India have received similar treatment – and so have the Nobel prize winners from India – Dr C V Raman, Dr Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Dr Amarthya Sen, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mother Teresa etc.

    This isn’t to say that Pakistan doesn’t honor its heroes, but just to draw a contrast.

    • Murali says:

      Well said…..literally like a holding a mirror at Pakistan and Pakistanis.

      Murali, USA

  12. Bilal Soomro says:

    liked the blog. God has blessed Pakistan with a lot of talent.

  13. Faheem Younas says:

    Well all the fellows here are presenting the face of the coin, while the other face is very disturbing for most of the Salam’s lover. First of all, we have to look at the achievements of Salam for his motherland. Just to get the Noble prize is not achievement, as being the Chief Scientist, he did nothing towards the nuclear program of Pakistan. Infact, Mr. Salam and Munir Ahmed Khan, both bitrayed the Pakistan by saying to Ayub that “there is no plotonium in Pakistan” that’s why we can’t start the nuclear advancement. Unless Bhutto requested Dr. Khan to come and restart the nuclear program. Its hard hitting fact that Mr. Khan is the true and patriot hero of muslim ummah and pakistani people, who gave his entire life not for getting NOBLE prize but to make his motherland unbeatable. Unfortunately, he was not treated as he deserve but he lives in the hearts of entire muslim ummah.

    • Muzaffar Ahmad says:

      Mr. Fahim,

      Please educate your mind, and try to do some research before you portray them as fact. I think you need to educate your mind and make a start by learning actual spellings of Nobel Prize, its “Nobel” not “Noble”. The other persons who are replying to Mr. Faheem, I suggest, don’t waste your time, the person who does not know the right spellings of Nobel, how can he understand the significance of the prize.

    • Salim Shah says:

      Faheem, if Dr Khan’s engineering achievement makes him a hero in your eyes, please celebrate his accomplishments. I will not try to belittle Dr. Khan’s work and let you and readers make up their own mind based on Dr. Khan’s personal admission/conduct/under_duress_or_normal. I will also refrain from passing my judgment in Dr. Khan’s role in proliferation of nukes and half-truth-lies in selling technology to Muslim ummah and the world. If Dr. Khan is a bigger hero in your mind, Great! This is not about my dad is stronger than your dad.

      Dr Malik’s article is more about “UNSUNG” hero in Pakistan. The ensuing discussion is shedding light on why was/is Dr. Salam unsung? After all he was born and raised in Pakistan. Rest of the world, recognized his achievements, while in Pakistan they are ignored. It has little to do with accomplishments and more to do with the bigotry of the nation.

    • Sofian Ansarie says:

      Mr. Younas,

      I feel extremely sorry to read your comments. Dr. Salam’s achievements are priceless and any Pakistani who denies that is a “Bud Naseeb” in my opinion because this kind of mentality has brought Pakistan to where it stands right now. Dr. Salam proudly represented Pakistan while receiving this award that brought laurels to our beloved country, but unfortunately that religious extremism and bigotry of the ’80s and the narrow mindedness of some could only look at this gentleman with one angle only. If he opposed the nukes for Pakistan that was based on some arguments, not to say that Pakistan shouldn’t have gone nuclear but that doesn’t make him or his credentials any inferior or meaningless. There are many scientists and intellectuals in US who oppose the nukes but no one considers them any less patriot or denies their achievements. He offered to provide his expertise in Pakistan after winning the Nobel prize but was overlooked intentionally and neglected by the narrow minded illiterates in Pakistani establishment.

      • Faheem Younas says:

        Sofian: Correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Salam wasn’t through out from this country by anybody. He himself left the country by saying such a abusive words for his motherland, which only a bitrator can say. After the consitutional ammendments in 1974 by declaring the Qadianees as “non-muslim”, Mr. Salam left the Pakistan by his own consent and during International Science Conference, Mr. Bhutto invited him as a guest, he refused and sent back the invitation by saying “I will not put step on this CURSED LAND, unless constitutional amendments against ahmadies were taken back”. Since then, he never came back to Pakistan and did nothing for Pakistan. All the minorities are living in Pakistan, who even being declared non-muslim had served with their full integrity and devotion (e.g. Baghwan Das, I.I. Chandrigar etc). Patriot pakistani always live for Pakistan not for their personal faith or objectives.

    • Janjua says:


      You are just blaming Dr. Salam on the basis of biased information and your personal dislike of his great services. His love for Pakistan was clearly evident when he went to receive the Nobel Prize wearing the traditional Pakistani dress and turban. Dr. Salam wanted to contribute a lot towards the development of science and technology in Pakistan by establishing an institution of international repute but he was not given the permission by the then president Ayub Khan. Then he established that institute in Italy and he encouraged Pakistani’s to get admission in that insitution on priority basis. He was a true lover of Pakistan unlike the nutorious Dr. A.Q. Khan who have sold the technology and information to other nations for his personal gains.

    • Mubashir says:

      You are right in presenting Dr Khan as a Hero. It due to our media which portrays him as a hero but many learned Scholars like Dr. Samar Mubarak Mand did not accept your claim. Your allegations against Dr. Salam and Dr Munir need to be proved but it is fact that due to Pakistani Government’s negative behavior on Dr. Salam’s proposals Pakistan last a great scope of scientific promotion.

    • Omar says:

      “Just to get Noble prize is not achievement” ????? are you for real? how ignorant can you possibly be? Do you even know what it takes to get a Noble Prize?

      Also for your information there really is no Plutonium in Pakistan. Plutonium is actually extracted from reprocessing of nuclear fuel a technology that was denied to Pakistan which is why it pursued Uranium enrichment technology.

      Please go and do some research, learn, and open your mind. Its self righteous ill informed people like you that are dragging this country down.

    • Deepak says:

      I do not know much about Dr Salam. By all accounts, he seems to be a genius. But why do you have this feeling that, if you are scientist or a genius, they have to help in the country’s nuclear programe. It seems Pakistanis cannot think anything better than war and armaments.

  14. Muhammad Yousuf Bugti says:

    We need to face the near future reality, that he is not only Pakistani hero or a genius, he belong to humanity and soon we will be free from country passports. International taxis could be hired to travel from Karachi to Luxemburg. People like Dr.Abdus Salam would be owned and respected by every one. Please realize their true size and contribution. Respect to all the humans who contributed in making life easy on this planet.

  15. Tariq saeed Birmani says:

    I am proud of Dr. Abdus Salam as he is icon of our brilliance. Secular mode of thinking and talking have been killed in Pakistan. It is most dangerous level of our society as no one is ready to rise to defend the best human values against theocratic mode of thinking and talking. Dr. Abdus Salam is icon of democratic and progressive Pakistan and neglected hero our theocratic society.

  16. Dr.M.V.Rama Rao says:

    Nice article. I am very happy know about the contribution of Prof Salam to scientific progress. There are perhaps many such great people like him in India and Pakistan who left their home countries because their contribution was neither recognized nor appreciated. As a result, our countries are losing the benefit of their great wisdom and inspiration. India and Pakistan have no dearth of talented people. Only sad thing is that neither people nor governments care for their feelings.
    We are only lucky that a towering personality like our ex-president Abdul Kalam stayed in India. He too faced a lot of hardship in his childhood but overcame all the difficulties by his sheer grit and determination.

    It is also a sad fact that scientists of India and Pakistan do not have a chance to collaborate in scientific progress. If this is done, several problems facing the subcontinent like hunger, disease and malnutrition can be eliminated by our own people. When is this going to happen?
    Why should we remain fighting for ever? Why can’t we collaborate and progress together?
    I pray God that this should happen..

    • Mehmood says:

      Please visit Abdus Salam research institute in Italy, he had made this platform for developing countries, I had seen a lot of Indians there..

  17. Farukh Sarwar says:

    Dr. Abdus Salam was pride of the nation, but it is so sad that due to the extremist mindset he was not allowed to pursue his ambitions here in Pakistan. perhaps it was bad luck for all of us and we lost this opportunity with our own hands.

    • Jameel Hussain says:

      There are other Pakistani who are serving the nation under difficult environment . Dr. Salam is no doubt a great scientist but remember for pakistani people their religion is more important than there life as it is the base of their belief. If Salam has unconditional love for Pakistan he could serve bettter like Dr.Khan , Imran Khan and many more. It is the love which bound .However Dr. Salam did good job for third world. But see Nationalism a curse and causes much damage to huminity. so dont worry if man is serving anywhere in the world he is serving all the people of the world.

  18. Rafiq Hasan says:

    It is indeed very unfortunate that neither the government of Pakistan nor the people of this country have given a befitting treatment to a very distinguished scientist and a proud son of this country. But it is incorrect to relate this to his being an Ahmadi. Another Pakistani scientist who received a prestigious international award for his work in scientific research, Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, has received the same treatment although he was not an Ahmadi. His name and work remains almost entirely unknown to the present generation in Pakistan. Dr.Salimuizzaman Siddiqui had migrated from India to Pakistan. Had he remained there, he too could have become the President of India like the Muslim scientist from South India, Dr. Abdul Kalam.

    Rafiq Hasan

  19. Imran says:

    I wish we could understand the reality and fit it in our hearts, but NO, it cannot be and I can say for next 10 years. We have to change our thoughts and have to move out the curtains on our eyes. THE ONLY problem in Pakistan, we do not have tolerance and we are not educated as well. The reason we lost the diamond and could not realized that he was the one who could make this country one of the modern civilized and better nation then all among all better nations.

    I am sure we will continue the hatred against our dislikes and keep on pushing till be look like evils. This is our mission ? NO. We have to change our believes and should not listen to what we haven’t seen or understand. So wake up Pakistan and learn how to respect others.

    I Know this paragraph doesn’t have any sense but I want to convey it to every one that we should wake up and stop following extremism and hatred learning from Mullahs !!!

  20. nmalik says:

    Dr. Salam was the founding father of atomic energy commission in Pakistan, thus without his initial ground breaking work (of as chief scientist to President Ayub khan) there would have been no progress in nuclear technology in Pakistan

  21. Ali Malik says:

    Great to know Dr Salam, sure its very sad, that our country is going down the drain. Dr Malik, thank you for bringing him to our attention. Hope you get a Nobel one day, and do let us know.

  22. rajasekhar says:

    Whole world thinks Dr. Salam as a greatest scientist of twentieth century but sadly he was neglected in his own country which he was so proud. It is a tragic loss.

  23. buddy says:

    Pakistanis should seriously think and ask themselves, why is it that their country instead of pursuing to create harvard’s and MIT’s of education in Pakistan. It(flawed Govt. priorities) has created more harvard’s and MIT’s of terrorism and fundamentalism. If your true role models like Dr. Abdus Salam and Dr. Mahbub ul Haq are not promoted and hailed as real heros , mullah’s who preached hatred become their role models and that is very dangerous for your country.

  24. Akhtar says:

    Dr Abdus Salam was a true hero of our land.Thank you Dr Malik for writing such a good article for A GREAT MAN.May GOD BLESS HIS SOUL.

  25. Ali from Karachi says:

    I wonder what Dr. Salam (being an Ahmedi himself) would think of the latest Ahmedi massacre in Lahore or indeed the astounding Ahmedi-hatred that prevails in much of our country?

    Thank you for highlighting the work of Dr. Salam

  26. Ayub Bangash says:

    Please don’t compare Dr. Salam to Dr.Qadir. One became famous for his brilliant scientist work whereas the other became famous for amassing wealth and world notoriety for illegally selling nuclear components.

  27. S.P.Chakravarty says:

    The moral of the story is that there is an internal contradiction in the ideology that conflates religious and national identities, as Jinnah had attempted to do in 1947 in Pakistan and as the Hindutva mob in is now attempting to do in India, and that contradiction can come to destroy the nation. If religion is to mean anything, there must be a core doctrine which compromise can only “maim and destroy”, to borrow a phrase from the historian Joseph Schumpeter. Abdus Salam considered himself to be a Muslim. There are those who consider themselves to be Muslims who could not continue to subscribe to their core religious doctrines if they also believed that Abdus Salam was a Muslim. Notwithstanding all his protestations about the desire to protect minorities, Jinnah let out of the bag the |Frankenstein monster that religion can form a national identity. It has now come to destroy the country he had created in his imagination.

  28. Sheikh Ladoo says:

    Why should we celebrate science? On the Day we will all rise again, God will not ask us about our scientific achievement, but about how much death and destruction and disorder we caused in His name. Until everyone becomes a Muslim, we must unleash the destruction God has commanded us. As a Muslim (especially one who hails from the land of the Pure), I have no use for scientific discoveries because I am deaf, dumb, and blind.

    • Analytical Engine says:

      Muslims are also human beings and are supposed to lead a humane life. In human life, we need to develop science and technology (scientific achievements are extra reward, a gift from Allah). Only ungrateful people reject the gifts of Allah. A true Muslim will never do the same. I would rather say that those completely neglecting such gifts deserve to be called deaf, dumb and blind. Nor has Allah commanded us to convert all non-Muslims. The strings (of converting or letting them remain as they are) are in the hands of Allah. The greatest\bravest and strongest of Muslims can’t do anything about this and are expected to accept all this. All this is mention in the Holy Qur’an. The above comments (by LAdoo) can only come from a pseudo-Muslim, a pretender.

      • Sabih Zafar Ullah says:

        I think that was satire. One fails to understand why our nation fails to understand satire

  29. shumaila rais says:

    Great job Sarah Alam. He is precious for all Pakistanis.

    • Shaukat Hameed Khan says:

      Lovely article.

      I had the pleasure of meeting him several times in Pakistan and at ICTP Italy. Might mention that one of these meetings started at 09.00 hours in the Quetta Club and continued until after dinner. This meeting was called in early 1972, to discuss the growing unease in the Pak Atomic Energy Commission about the priorities of its programme. I was one of only two young / working scientists at the meeting, others being Directors etc led by dr IH Usmani, the Chairman. Z A Bhutto was supposed to join, but he was busy , so the meeting was shifted to Multan.

      The Multan meeting has been written about extensively. I was there, so let me state that Bhutto NEVER said that we will go for the bomb! This a story created by the late Khalid Hassan, a journalist.

      A Dr BHUTTA had shouted from the back that forget nuclear power and other peaceful applications of the atom, and only the bomb matters. Perhaps that explains the confusion.

      By the way, the only Pakistani designed-and-manufactured component at the LHC in CERN Geneva is the laser based position monitoring system. I had some contribution towards this!

  30. Fakhar Jaffery says:

    Enough has been said about the greatness of the man.. notwithstanding the technical side of his Nobel lecture, the start of it is simply fascinating even to a layman like me.

    I do encourage everybody to download his lecture from Nobel’s website and read it.

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