Cosmic Anger

Abdus Salam – The First Muslim Nobel Scientist

Here are some wonderful excerpts from the biography of Dr Abdus Salam, Cosmic Anger by Gordon Fraser, for your perusal… I would encourage all to buy the book. Gordon Fraser has done a great service to us for providing us this well research biography of a man we all love and admire.

“Even when brothers and a sister arrived in rapid succession, Abdus Salam was given his own corner of the tiny house. His younger sister, Hamida Begum, helped with household chores and later became his personal handmaid, cleaning and folding his clothes, and following local custom, smearing black kohl around his eyes. The infant Abdus Salam was a bonny child and at the age of two was judged the town’s most healthy baby, the first of many awards in his lifetime.” [pg 48]

“Soon after Abdus Salam’s birth, his father asked a visiting community representative, Maulvi Ghulam Rasool Rajiki, respected as a pious and religious man, to pray for the young boy. The Maulvi foretold that the boy would one day speak so loudly that the world would listen. Muhammad Hussain was impressed. This was now the second time that a remarkable career had been prophesied for his son.” [pg 48]

“With four lecturers, St.John’s [College, Cambridge] was well suited to mathematics students. Salam also discovered the delights of its well-stocked library. ‘Specialization in one area is the sterilization of one’s intelligence,’ he said later. As well as his mathematics studies, he read all he could find on religion, and learned much about history studying for up to sixteen hours a day.” [pg 76]

“Salam talked physics the way other people might tell a joke or describe a football match. Wherever he was working, in Cambridge, London or Trieste, it was always easy to monitor when he arrived for work. He would invariably greet his working colleagues with a hearty professional joke, at which he was the first to chuckle. He had a soft, husky voice, except when he was trying to develop an idea. An intense research collaboration discussion could have been mistaken for an argument. This was his way of doing things. For Salam, physics was sheer delight.” [pg 109]

“Shaw relates… ‘Salam’s tendency was at the other extreme from Kemmer’s: Salam was buzzing with research projects, often involving nuclear physics of which I was woefully ignorant. Consequently, I tried to keep away from Salam as much as possible, and to carry on following up my own ideas.'” [pg 117]

“Unlike the highly principled Pauli, who went to great pains no to commit himself to ideas of which he was unsure, Salam decided it was better to publish somewhere and be wrong than not to publish at all and run the risk of losing credit.” [pg 118]

“In his 1957 inaugural lecture, after summarizing the current status of elementary particles and the problems still to be solved, Salam had added ‘how deeply privileged our generation is to have been presented with this fascinating challenge… stepping stones to an inner harmony, a deep pervading symmetry which we shall discover’. Symmetry was to be the keyword for the next step.” [pg139]

“The years 1964-66 were very busy for Salam. Robert Delbourgo says ‘Often we wouldn’t see [Salam] for a week or two while he was away politicking; the result was when we finally did see him during the brief spells in Trieste, the activity was heightened, even feverish. He wanted rapid progress, which wasn’t always feasible, and got impatient, even tetchy, when things stalled. We knew that he was desperately distracted with the various international organizations and committees he had to deal with, not to mention his obligations to Imperial College. He would work non-stop and quite often carry out his research on planes, or else would want to consult John and I about some finer detail on our research, just before taking off or just after landing. Its miraculous he was so productive, given the other burdens he had to carry.” [pg 152]

“He [Salam] poignantly described it by quoting a fifteenth-century astronomer, Saif-ud-din-Salman, who had left his home to live in the famous observatory of Ulugh Bed at Samarkand. He had written to his father, ‘Admonish me not, beloved father, for asking you thus in your old age and sojourning here in Samarkand… I love my native Kandhar and its tree-lined avenues and I pine to return. But forgive me, my exalted father, for my passion for knowledge. In Kandhar there are no libraries, no qaudrants, no astrolabes, My star-gazing excites nothing but ridicule and scorn. My countrymen care more or the glitter of the sword than for the quill of the scholar. In my own town, i am sad pathetic misfit.’ Salam had seen that science cannot grow flourish in an intellectual desert. ‘If Einstein had been born in Burkino Faso, he would never have become what he was,’ he pointed out.” [163]

“…the meeting in Triest had produced ashower of sparks… Salam’s ten-minute speech on 22 September was one of the most eloquent of his life. ‘What is needed at this stage,’ he exhorted, ‘is an active international centre, sponsored by an international body like this Agency. Only then can first-rate men from less privileged countries come periodically as of right to relive with their peers- the pioneers and thinkers of the international world – and thus give of their best.’ Salam concluded, ‘Let us project ourselves twenty years  from now. The world is moving closer, economically, intellectually , scientifically. In twenty years, there will international research centres no only for theoretical physics but for most fundamental sciences. The world trend is in this direction and nothing can stop it. It is possible for us in this agency to take the initiative in forwarding this movement… I commend to you the resolution in front of us.’ Afterwards Salam admitted that during that meeting he had smoked some fifty cigarettes (he seldom smoked) and consumed about a kilo of grapes to sustain his blood sugar level.” [174]

“The British physicist John Ziman…described Salam’s highly developed power of persuasion. The idea was to count on friends and colleagues that he had known for some time. There was no bullying or threats. Ziman said ‘He would take you by the arm and say… “I want you to go Valparaiso tomorrow, on mission.”… I discovered that for that request from Abdus Salam there were only three answers. One was “Well, it’s against my religion to go to Valparaiso.” You had to have a really strong view. He being a deeply religious and sincere man, that would have been enough. The other answer might have been “I’m very sorry but that day I must be in Singapore.” The third answer was “Yes ill do it. What do we do? How do we start? What’s to be done?”’” [175]

“After his close encounter with Nobel Prize reserach after his neutrino research in 1956, Salam had told his father that his ultimate goal was now a Nobel science prize. The now-ailing Muhammad Hussian replied, ‘I know you are more keen on prizes for science , and do not care so much for [this one] for peace, but tell me what power was it that told me to give you the name Abdus Salam (Servant of Peace).’” [225]

“Salam was in London when he heard the news, almost simultaneousl from Stockholm and from IAEA Director General Sigvard Eklund… His immmediate reaction was to go to the London Mosque at Southfields to say a traditional prayer of gratitude for blessings bestowed. In these prayers, he remembered his father and prayed for him.” [226]

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