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First Pakistani Nobel Prize Winning Scientist

The book ‘Cosmic Anger. Abdus Salam- The First Muslim Nobel Scientist’ was authored by Gordon Fraser in 2008. Here is the review of the book which charts the life of Prof. Abdus Salam.

His school teacher father had dreamt that he would have a first born son, named ‘Abdus Salam’ meaning  ‘Servant of Peace’. He was told his son would have great wisdom and intellect. In Jhang, Punjab on 29.1.1926, Abdus Salam was born. Last week was his 89th  birth anniversary.

A young Abdus Salam


As predicted the young Abdus Salam excelled in academic pursuits from a young age. He gained 1st position in Punjab for his Matric and FA examinations. The foundations of a legend were firmly set. He went onto Government College, Lahore where he continued to set records of academic excellence. He also topped in MA mathematics.

At the age of 20 years he won a prestigious scholarship for St. John’s College, Cambridge University. In 1946 he sailed for England. At Liverpool docks, he was fortunate enough to be welcomed by Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan (Supreme Court Judge,1st Foreign Minister of Pakistan and UN representative). Both were members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. By train they traveled to London, then Cambridge. There he topped the exams in the Mathematics degree course. At that point he became interested in theoretical physics, he switched his course. After being fast tracked to physics, he gained a 1st class degree in just 1 year. He commenced research work at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.  In 1951, he published his first paper on quantum field theory, this made him visible on the international stage. He went onto became a visiting research fellow at Princeton, USA.

In 1951 he returned to Pakistan, as a Professor of Mathematics, Government College, Lahore. He did his PhD from Cambridge University and in 1954 returned there as fellow and lecturer.

At the young age of 31 years, in 1957 he was appointed as a Professor of Applied Mathematics, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. He was the first ever Pakistani to be appointed as a professor of any British university.

In 1960 he became the Professor of Theoretical Physics, a new department at Imperial College.

Prof. Abdus Salam had a very good working relationship with President Ayub Khan. In 1959 he was appointed to Pakistan’s Scientific commission and remained an adviser for many years. He was also a member of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission. In 1965 he helped in launching the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (Pinstech), in Islamabad. He also contributed in expanding Pakistan’s University system. He helped in establishing a strong physics team at Islamabad’s new University, later named Quaid-e- Azam University.

President Ayub Khan was a great supporter of Prof. Abdus Salam’s academic vision for a scientific Pakistan. He accompanied the President on an official visit to China in 1965. He was Pakistan’s delegate at the General Conference of the new International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

In 1964, Prof. Abdus Salam launched the new International Centre for Theoretical Physics, in Trieste, Italy. This was primarily to maintain the scientists from developing countries, giving an opportunity for research. (In 2014 the influential centre celebrated its 50th anniversary, it is now called The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics).

Unfortunately Prof. Abdus Salam’s dream of forming an Islamic Science Foundation never came to fruition. Subsequent Pakistani political regimes were not as supporting towards him as President Ayub Khan was.

On 10.12.1979, Prof. Abdus Salam was awarded with the prestigious Nobel prize for science, by the King of Sweden, in Stockholm. He was the first Pakistani and first Muslim to receive this award. The Nobel prize citation was for ‘Contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interactions between elementary particles’. Prof. Abdus Salam was a proud Pakistani, he accepted the award in traditional dress, a turban, black sherwani, white shalwar, gold khusa shoes.


On 26.6.1989, he was awarded as Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE), at Buckingham Palace, London.

On 21.11.1996, Prof. Abdus Salam passed away in Oxford, after suffering with progressive supra-nuclear palsy. He was buried in Rabwah, Pakistan.


Commemorative stamp 1998
Commemorative stamp 1998

In 2012, the Higgs Boson particle was discovered. Prof. Abdus Salam had contributed significantly towards  this research via the electroweak sector of ‘the Standard Model’ called the Wienberg- Salam theory, as early as 1968.

The author of Prof. Abdus Salam’s biography Gordon Fraser describes him as ‘the greatest Pakistani scientist the world has known’.

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