Friday, March 30, 2012

Abdus Salam

Abdus Salam is one of the most important figures in the development of theoretical physics. He is remembered for his work on the electroweak theory of particle physics and for his lifelong commitment to scientific scholarship and development in countries like Pakistan.

Abdus Salam was born on January 29, 1926. Salam grew up in the rural farming community of Jhang in the region that is now Pakistan. He belonged to a Muslim family in the western part of predominantly Hindu India. His father was a civil servant with the Department of Education, and encouraged his son's intellectual talents. Salam's exceptional schoolwork was demonstrated during his last year of primary school when, at the age of fourteen, he earned the highest marks in history on the matriculation exam to enter Punjab University. Reportedly, the town of Jhang turned out to greet him when cycled home from school after the exams.

Salam took only three years to earn a bachelor's degree with honors in mathematics and physics at St. John's College at Cambridge University. A year later, in 1950, he won Cambridge's Smith's Prize for making "the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics." In 1952, he formally received his doctorate from Cambridge in theoretical physics, though his thesis had been published the year before.

By the time his Ph.D. was ceremonially delivered, Salam was back in Punjab. He had taken a job teaching mathematics at Government College, Lahore, and Panjab University in 1951, and was promoted to head of the Mathematics Department the following year. Salam wished to continue the work in theoretical physics that he had begun at Cambridge. Salam intended to start a research department at Punjab for that purpose. However, his research initiatives never got off the ground. In 1954, Salam returned to Cambridge University as a lecturer.

For more than thirty years, Salam remained a productive scientist, advancing the field of particle physics to its current sophisticated level. He is equally recognized, however, for the persistence and enthusiasm with which he made advanced science an issue of international importance. His extensive work with the United Nations included an assignment as scientific secretary for the Geneva Conferences for Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy (1955–1958), membership on the U.N. Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (1971–1972), membership on the U.N. Panel and Foundation Committee for the U.N. University (1970-1973), and membership on the Scientific Council of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (1970). He was also chairman of the U.N. Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (1971-1972), and vice-president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (1972-1978).

Salam continued as the active Director of the ICTP until 1993. He died in Oxford, England on November 21, 1996.

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