January 29, 1926
|November 21, 1996 (70)
|Nobel Prize in Physics (1979)
Abdus Salam (Urdu: عبد السلام) (January 29, 1926 at Santokdas, Sahiwal in Punjab – November 21, 1996 in Oxford, England) was a Pakistani theoretical physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 for his work in Electro-Weak Theory which is the mathematical and conceptual synthesis of the Electromagnetic and Weak interactions, the latest stage in the effort to provide a unified description of the four fundamental forces of nature. He holds the unique distinction of being the first Muslim Nobel Laureate as well as the first Pakistani Nobel Laureate. Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg arrived at the theory independently and shared the prize. The validity of the theory was ascertained through experiments carried out at the Super Proton Synchrotron facility at CERN in Geneva, particularly, through the discovery of the W and Z Bosons.
During the early 1960s Salam played a very significant role in establishing the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) - the atomic research agency of Pakistan and Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), the space research agency of Pakistan. He was also instrumental in setting up five Superior Science colleges throughout Pakistan to further the progress in science in the country. He was founder and Director of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy from 1964 to December 1993. Salam was a firm believer that "scientific thought is the common heritage of mankind," and that developing nations needed to help themselves and invest into their own scientists to boost development and fill the gap between the rich and the poor of the planet, thus contributing to a more peaceful world. Salam also founded the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and was instrumental in the creation of a number of international centers dedicated to the advancement of science and technology.
Youth and Education
As Miriam Lewis wrote in a biography submitted to the Nobel Foundation, "Abdus Salam was born in Jhang, a small town in what is now Pakistan. His father was an official in the Department of Education in a poor farming district. His family has a long tradition of piety and learning."
At the age of 14, he secured the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination at the University of the Punjab. He won a scholarship to Government College, University of the Punjab, in Lahore. As a fourth-year student, he published his work on Srinivasa Ramanujan.. He received his MA degree from Government College in 1946.
Though his prime subject of interest was Mathematics, most ambitious young men of India at his time entered Indian Civil Service (ICS) and Salam was expected to do the same. However, as the World War II was taking place at that time, the ICS froze their hiring process for that period, and Salam was allowed to go abroad. That same year, he went abroad on a scholarship, which took him to St. John's College, Cambridge University, where he took a BA (Honors) degree with a double First in Mathematics and Physics in 1949.
In 1950, he received the Smith's Prize from Cambridge University for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to Physics. Salam was offered a fellowship at Trinity College, but rejected the invite only because his current college, Saint John’s, pleased him aesthetically, more than did Trinity College. Salam obtained a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics at Cambridge. His doctoral thesis contained fundamental work in Quantum Electrodynamics. By the time it was published in 1951, it had already gained him an international reputation. He then took a course in advanced physics, following the advice of cosmologist Fred Hoyle, who told him, “Otherwise, you will never be able to look an experimental physicist in the eye.”
Rather than just taking one course in physics, Salam became a research student in experimental physics at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University. But Salam was not one for the laboratory – as Nigel Calder from “A Man of Sciences – Abdus Salam” wrote in his article, “He would get bizarre results in his experiments and explain them by inventing a new theory.” Instead, his strengths lay in mathematics. Thus, his first major research done at Cambridge involved finding mathematical proof for whether or not an electron can have infinite electric charge, something that physicists Julian Schwinger, Richard Feynman, and Freeman Dyson had not provided in their reasoning.
Salam was a devout Muslim, and it was his belief that beauty is finding “new, subtle, yet simplifying patterns in the natural world,” as Calder stated. In his active period (starting late 1940s) Salam greatly helped physicists make theories simpler and finer – during this time, physicists proposed new theories to explain matter.
Salam wanted to spread interest in the sciences in developing nations. To start off, in 1951, he returned to his nation, Pakistan, which had just then been split from India after the India’s independence from the British. His focus was to teach Mathematics at the Government College, Lahore. In 1952, he became the Head of the Mathematics Department of the University of the Punjab. He had wanted to found a school of research, but soon found that this was impossible due to the fact that the academic environment in Pakistan at the time was scathed; scientists as well as bright students failed to even take science and scientific development into serious consideration.
Frustrated by this, in 1954, Abdus Salam left Pakistan for a lecturership at Cambridge rather than keep the professorship in Pakistan, where he felt, in the words of Calder, “intellectually lonely.” However, he continued to visit Pakistan from time to time as an adviser on science policy to the Government of Pakistan. His work for Pakistan was extensive and prominent. In the period of 1961 to 1974, he was a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Scientific Commission of Pakistan, Founder Chairman of Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of Pakistan.
In 1956 he was invited to take the Chair at Imperial College, London, where he and Paul Matthews created a lively Theoretical Physics group. He remained a Professor at Imperial until his retirement. In 1964, he founded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste in the northeast of Italy. In 1959, he became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society (at that time) at the age of 33.
Salam had a prolific research career in theoretical elementary particle physics. For more than forty years, he either pioneered or was associated with all the important developments in this field. He also served on a number of United Nations committees concerning science and technology in developing countries.
Abdus Salam died at age 70 in Oxford in 1996, after a long illness. He was buried (without any official protocol) in Rabwah, Pakistan.
Abdus Salam was a devout member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He saw his religion as integral to his scientific work. He once wrote: "The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah's created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart."
During his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics, Salam quoted the following verses from the Qur'an:
- "Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled, aweary."
He then proceeded to say:
- "This, in effect, is the faith of all physicists; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze." 
- Particle physics
- Subatomic particle
- Unified field theory
- Electroweak interaction
- Standard Model
- Quantum electrodynamics
- Abdus Salam - Biographical NobelPrize.org. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- Abdus Salam, "A Problem of Ramanujam," Math. Student XI, Nos. 1-2 (1943), 50-51.
- Abdus Salam, "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1979 - Banquet Speech" NobelPrize.org. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Ellis, John, et al. (eds.). The Abdus Salam Memorial Meeting: Trieste, Italy, 19-22 November 1997. River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 1999. ISBN 9810236190
- Kidawi, Azim. Abdus Salam. (Greats in Science from the Third World.) Trieste, Italy: Third World Academy of Sciences, 1989. OCLC 35520016
- Salam, Abdus and C. H. Lai. Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam. Singapore: World Scientific, 1987. ISBN 9971503158
All links retrieved June 14, 2023.
- The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics
- Abdus Salam bio on Nobel site
- PBS documentary on strings, contains clip of award ceremony with Abdus Salam
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