Dr. Abdus Salam: Nobel Laureate in Physics

· Muslim Heritage

In his achievements, Dr. Salam saw a certain special Providence of God. Let me quote from the transcript of one of his interviews. The questi0ns asked by Lewis Wolpert or Alison Richards are in inverted comas:

“But I am not quite sure how you got to Cambridge.”
I got to Cambridge by means of a scholarship from Small Peasants’ welfare fund which was set up by the Prime Minister of the State of Punjab at that time.

“Did you come from a peasant background?”
That’s right. Although my father was a Civil Servant, he had a small parcel of land and he qualified. So I got one of those scholarships and the interesting thing is that only five scholarships were offered, and the other four people who got them could not get university admission that year. Then came the partition of the country and the scholarships disappeared. So the entire purpose of that fund and those scholarships seemed to be to get me to Cambridge.

“Did you really think that fate was playing a hand? After all, each of these events was very much a matter of chance.”
Certainly my father, who was a deeply religious man, always said that this was a result of his prayers. He wanted his son to shine in some field. Of course, in the beginning he was thinking of me as a Civil Servant, but when I decided that I was going to do research, he felt that this was something very appropriate and encouraged me. But the whole sequence of events, my getting a scholarship at the right time, my getting to Cambridge at all at the right time, and then being interested in science, was all, he thought, very much a part of something deeper.

(Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam. Editors: CH Lai and Azim Kidwai, Third Edition. World Scientific, 1989. Pages 465-466.)

Dr. Abdus Salam

A science writer had this to say about Dr. Abdus Salam: “To a Muslim mystic, God is to be sought in eternal beauty. And for Salam, beauty comes thorough finding new, subtle, yet simplifying patterns in the natural world.’[1] This statement summarizes both his religious as well as his scientific life, in his effort of harmonizing and unifying the basic forces of nature.

Once he was asked, do you think your religious views made you think that they (four fundamental forces of nature) could be unified? He replied, “I think perhaps at the back of my mind. I wouldn’t say consciously. But at the back of one’s mind the unity implied by religious thought perhaps plays a role in one’s thinking.”[2]

Zakaria Virk, a prolific writer about the heritage of the Muslims, who has also written extensively about Salam, writes:

Dr Salam did not find religion and science incompatible. For him his religious faith and his scientific work were inextricable intertwined. For his scientific work which spans over 40 years, and 250 scientific papers, he found inspiration in the teachings of Islam, his unswerving faith in God, which was the bedrock of his life.[3]

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia — My additions are in red color:

Mohammad Abdus Salam[2] (Urdu: محمد عبد السلام) (January 29, 1926; Sahiwal, Punjab, British Raj (present-day Pakistan) – November 21, 1996; Oxford, England)[3] was a Pakistani theoretical physicist, astrophysicist and Nobel laureate in Physics for his work in Electro-Weak Theory. Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg shared the prize for this discovery. Salam holds the distinction of being the first Pakistani and the first Muslim Nobel Laureate to receive the prize in the Sciences. Even today, Salam is considered one of the most influential scientists and physicists in his country.




Youth and education

Salam’s father was an officer in the Department of Education in a poor farming district. His family has a long tradition of piety and learning.

At age fourteen, Salam scored the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination at the Punjab University. He won a scholarship to the Government College, Punjab University, in Lahore. As a fourth-year student there, he published his work on Srinivasa Ramanujan.[4] He received his master’s degree from the Government College in 1946. That same year, he was awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge University, where he completed a BA degree with Double First-Class Honours 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.

He obtained a PhD degree 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 and the Adams Prize.[5]

Dr.  Salam receiving the Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden

Later career

He returned to the Government College University, Lahore as a Professor of Mathematics from 1951 to 1954 and then went back to Cambridge as a lecturer in mathematics.

In 1956 he was invited to take a 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.

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, of which he was the founding director. Due to Prof. Salam’s influence President Ayub Khan had the Nuclear Power Plant near Karachi (KANUPP) personally approved, against the wishes of his own Government[6]. Salam was also instrumental in setting up five Superior Science colleges throughout Pakistan to further the progress in science in the country. 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 reduce the gap between the Global South and the Global North, thus contributing to a more peaceful world. Salam also founded the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and was a leading figure in the creation of a number of international centres dedicated to the advancement of science and technology.

In 1964, Salam founded International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, in the North-East of Italy. He was the Director of ICTP from 1964 to December 1993. The Centre has since been renamed to (The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics). In 1959, he became one of the youngest to be named Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 33.

In 1998, the Government of Pakistan issued a stamp carrying his portrait as part of a series entitled “Scientists of Pakistan.”[7]. He was a foreign fellow of Bangladesh Academy of Sciences [8]

Speech at the Nobel Banquet

Delivered on 10 December 1979.

Your Majesties, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of my colleagues, Professors Glashow and Weinberg, I thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Academy of Sciences for the great honor and the courtesies extended to us, including the courtesy to me of being addressed in my language Urdu.

ٻاکستان اس کے لیے آٻ کا بھت مشکور ھے

Pakistan is deeply indebted to you for this.

The creation of physics is the shared heritage of all mankind. East and West, North and South have equally participated in it. In the Holy Book of Islam, Allah says:

مَا تَرٰى فِىْ خَلْقِ الرَّحْمٰنِ مِنْ تَفٰوُتٍ‌ فَارْجِعِ الْبَصَرَۙ هَلْ تَرٰى مِنْ فُطُوْرٍ‏

ثُمَّ ارْجِعِ الْبَصَرَ كَرَّتَيْنِ يَنْقَلِبْ اِلَيْكَ الْبَصَرُ خَاسِئًا وَّهُوَ حَسِيْرٌ‏

‘Thou sees 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.’

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.

I am saying this, not only to remind those here tonight of this, but also for those in the Third World, who feel they have lost out in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, for lack of opportunity and resource.

Alfred Nobel stipulated that no distinction of race or color will determine who received of his generosity. On this occasion, let me say this to those, whom God has given His Bounty. Let us strive to provide equal opportunities to all so that they can engage in the creation of physics and science for the benefit of all mankind. This would exactly be in the spirit of Alfred Nobel. and the ideas which permeated his life. Bless You![4]


Abdus Salam was a devout Muslim, and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community[9], who 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.”[5]

During his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics, Salam quoted the following verses from the Quran:

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 said:

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.[10]

In 1974, when the Parliament of Pakistan declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, he left Pakistan for London in protest.


The defaced grave of Abdus Salam in Rabwah

Salam died on 21st November 1996 at the age of 70 in Oxford, England after a long illness. His body was brought to Pakistan and kept in Darul Ziafat, where some 13,000 men and women visited to pay their last respects. Some 30,000 people attended his funeral prayers.

Salam was buried in the graveyard Bahishti Maqbara in Rabwah next to his parents’ graves. The epitaph on his tomb initially read “First Muslim Nobel Laureate” but, because of Salam’s adherence to the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, the word “Muslim” was later erased on the orders of a local magistrate, leaving the non-sensicalFirst Nobel Laureate“.[11]

Salam was responsible for laying the groundwork for the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, initiating research on problems of waterlogging and salinity, and agricultural research. He played a crucial role in PAEC and SUPARCO, the National Space Agency of Pakistan. He helped Pakistan’s scientists and engineers to be trained in nuclear applications and nuclear science.


Abdus Salam’s work in Pakistan has been far reaching and influential. He has made extraordinary contributions to Pakistan’s nuclear, space and missile programs. Therefore, in 1998, the Government of Pakistan issued a commemorative stamp to honour the services of Abdus Salam as part of its “Scientists of Pakistan” series.

Abdus Salam has been commemorated by Pakistan’s noted and prominent scientists, who were also his students. Many scientists have recalled their college experiences. Ghulam Murtaza, a professor of plasma physics at the Government College University, Lahore has said:

” When Dr. Salam was to deliver a lecture, the hall would be packed and although the subject was Particle Physics, his manner and eloquence was such as if he was talking about literature. When he finished his lectures, listeners would often burst into spontaneous applause and give him a standing ovation. People from all parts of the world would come to Imperial College and seeks Dr. Salam’s help. He would give a patient hearing to everyone including those who were talking nonsense. He treated everyone with respect and compassion and never belittled or offended anyone. Dr. Salam’s strength was that he could “sift jewels from the sand” [12].

In August 1996, former chairman of PAEC and lifelong friend, Munir Ahmad Khan met with Salam in Oxford, United Kingdom along with dr. Ishfaq Ahmad. Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, who is a former professor of nuclear physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University, recalls:

“Dr. Abdus Salam was responsible for sending about 500 physicists, mathematicians and scientists from Pakistan, for PhD’s to the best institutions in UK and USA [1].

The late Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan, a famous Pakistani nuclear engineer and former PAEC chairman said:

“My last meeting with Abdus Salam was only three months ago. His disease had taken its toll and he was unable to talk. Yet he understood what was said. I told him about the celebration held in Pakistan on his seventieth birthday. He kept staring at me. He had risen above praise. As I rose to leave he pressed my hand to express his feelings as if he wanted to thank everyone who had said kind words about him. Dr. Abdus Salam had deep love for Pakistan in spite of the fact that he was treated unfairly and indifferently by his own country. It became more and more difficult for him to come to Pakistan and this hurt him deeply. Now he has returned home finally, to rest in peace for ever in the soil that he loved so much. May be in the years to come we will rise above our prejudice and own him and give him, after his death, what we could not when he was alive. We Pakistanis may choose to ignore Dr. Salam, but the world at large will always remember him[12].”

Documentary Film (Docufilm)

A documentary film on the life and science of Abdus Salam is in the works and will be directed by Sabiha Sumar[1] subject to collection of donations valued to $500,000.

Career in science

The road named after Abdus Salam in CERN, Geneva

Salam returned to Pakistan in 1951 to teach Mathematics at the Government College, Lahore. In 1952, he became the Head of the Mathematics Department of the Punjab University. In 1954, Salam went for a lectureship at Cambridge, although he visited Pakistan from time to time as an adviser on science policy to the Government of Pakistan. His work for Pakistan was far-reaching and influential. He was a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and work their as a chief scientist with his students, a member of the Scientific Commission of Pakistan, Founder Chairman of Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of Pakistan from 1961 to 1974.

From 1957 onwards, he was Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London. From 1964 onwards, has combined this position with that of Director of the International Centre For Theoretical Physics, a research institution in Trieste, Italy.

Salam had a prolific research career in theoretical elementary particle physics. 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.[5]. Many prominent scientists, which includes, Ghulam Murtaza, Riazuddin, Kamaluddin Ahmed, Faheem Hussain, Raziuddin Siddiqui, Munir Ahmad Khan, Ishfaq Ahmad, and I. H. Usmani, considered him as their chief mentor and a teacher. Abdus salam played a important and a crucial role in preparing and teaching of future pakistani engineers and scientists in the field of mathematics and physics.

A moment of trial and disappointment in his career

When we study biography of any successful person, the emphasis is on his or her strengths and achievements.  There is also an element of legend and myth making knowingly and unknowingly.  In this process, often the lesson for the ordinary person, as to how he or she can emulate the successful person is lost.  In view of this the moments of disappointments are sometimes more revealing than the moments of victory, success and glory.  Let me quote, about a phase of life of Salam from Gordon Fraser’s book, Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam – The First Muslim Nobel Scientist:

Now better informed, in December 1949 Salam went to see Kemmer and asked to be taken on as a research student in theoretical physics. He did not know that Kemmer was already trying to resist pressure from his peers to take him on as another research student – Salam’s examination performance could not be ignored. But with his hands already full with eight other research students, Kemmer did not want any more. He did not expect any newcomer to be as easy to manage as Paul Matthews had been. When he eventually met Salam, Kemmer was still not impressed by the subservient young applicant (‘I nearly refused Salam’, he said later), and suggested that he went instead to Rudolf Peierls in Birmingham. Some ten years before, Peierls had guided Fred Hoyle’s first steps in research at Cambridge, and had later played a key role in the development of the wartime atomic bomb, where he had been among the first to realize just how compact a critical mass of fissionable nuclear matter could be. Salam had been living in Britain for more than three years, but was uneasy about moving to a strange, large city. He knew Cambridge well, and felt comfortable in its great machine of learning. He wanted to do research and live in college, not to have to fend for himself in a place he did not know. In Pakistan, his wife was now expecting a child. Above all, he was confused and depressed after his fruitless tryst with experimental work, his sudden plunge into deep theoretical waters, and the cool reception from Kemmer. After having followed the advice of his colleagues who had told him to move into research, Salam was now angry and frustrated. His Indian contemporary Ram Prakash Bambah recalls Salam alleging that they had ‘misguided’ him, and using ‘very strong Punjabi expressions’ in his disappointments. Salam pleaded with the haughty Kemmer, asking to be taken on ‘peripherally’, and this time was told to go and talk to Matthews.[5]

Salam’s meeting with Paul Taunton Matthews opened a new chapter of friendship and collaboration in the life of both

Read more about Paul Matthews.

Pakistan’s Space Program

It was Salam’s advice to the President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, that led to the establishment of the national space agency of Pakistan. In 16 September 1961, Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission was established by an executive order. Salam was appointed its first chairman[13]. Salam also appointed Air Comm. Wladyslaw Turowicz, a noted Pakistani-Polish military scientist and an engineer, as Pakistan’s rocket firing head.

Involvement in Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme

Abdus Salam knew the importance of nuclear technology in Pakistan. Salam was a central figure in Pakistan’s nuclear program. Abdus Salam was responsible for establishing the nuclear research institutes in Pakistan. In 1972, Government of Pakistan learned about the India’s nuclear weapon program. The then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, formed a group of nuclear scientists and engineers, initially headed by Salam. He closely collaborated with his noted colleague and long-associated friend, Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan, in the field of nuclear technology in Pakistan.

In December 1972, two theoretical physicists working at the ICTP were asked by Salam to report to noted Pakistani nuclear scientist, Munir Ahmad Khan (late), then-PAEC chairman[14]. This marked the beginning of the “Theoretical Physics Group” or TPG. The TPG, in PAEC, was assigned to develop the theoretical designs Pakistan’s nuclear weapon devices. The TPG team under the leadership of Riazuddin, who is also Salam’s distinguished student, completed the work on the theoretical design of the Nuclear weapon device by 1977[15].


Salam’s primary focus was research on the physics of elementary particles. His particular contributions included:


  • Hopkins Prize (Cambridge University) for “the most outstanding contribution to Physics during 1957-1958″
  • Adams Prize (Cambridge University) (1958)
  • Sitara-e-Pakistan for contribution to science in Pakistan (1959).
  • First recipient of Maxwell Medal and Award (Physical Society, London) (1961)
  • Hughes Medal (Royal Society, London) (1964)
  • Atoms for Peace Award (Atoms for Peace Foundation) (1968)
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Medal and Prize (University of Miami) (1971)
  • Guthrie Medal and Prize (1976)
  • Matteuci Medal (Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome) (1978)
  • John Torrence Tate Medal (American Institute of Physics) (1978)
  • Royal Medal (Royal Society, London) (1978)
  • Nishan-e-Imtiaz for outstanding performance in Scientific projects in Pakistan (1979)
  • Einstein Medal (UNESCO, Paris) (1979)
  • Nobel Prize in Physics (Stockholm, Sweden)(1979)
  • Shri R.D. Birla Award (India Physics Association) (1979)
  • Josef Stefan Medal (Josef Stefan Institute, Ljublijana) (1980)
  • Gold Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Physics (Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Prague) (1981)
  • Lomonosov Gold Medal (USSR Academy of Sciences) (1983)
  • Copley Medal (Royal Society, London) (1990)

Institutes Named After Abdus Salam

See also


  1. ^ a b http://www.chowk.com/articles/8387 -Dr Abdus Salam – The ’Mystic’ scientist
  2. ^ This is the standard transliteration (e.g. see the ICTP Website and Nobel Bio). Other transliterations include Abdus Salam; see Abd as-Salam for more details.
  3. ^ Kibble, T.W.B. (November 1998). “Muhammad Abdus Salam, K. B. E.. 29 January 1926-21 November 1996″. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 44: 386–401. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1998.0025. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0080-4606%28199811%2944%3C386%3AMASKBE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-K&size=LARGE&origin=JSTOR-enlargePage. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
  4. ^ Abdus Salam, A Problem of Ramanujam, Publ. in: Math. Student XI, Nos.1–2, 50–51 (1943)
  5. ^ a b c Abdus Salam Nobel Prize in Physics Biography
  6. ^ Contributions of Professor Abdus Salam as member of PAEC
  7. ^ Philately (1998-11-21). “Scientists of Pakistan”. Pakistan Post Office Department. http://www.pakpost.gov.pk/philately/stamps98/scientists_of_pakistan.html. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  8. ^ List of Fellows of Bangladesh Academy of Sciences
  9. ^ http://www.alislam.org/library/salam-5.htm
  10. ^ The Nobel Prize in Physics 1979 – Banquet Speech
  11. ^ Isambard Wilkinson (2007-12-25). “Pakistan clerics persecute ‘non Muslims’”. Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/12/25/wpakistan125.xml.
  12. ^ a b http://www.chowk.com/articles/8387
  13. ^ http://www.suparco.gov.pk/pages/history.asp
  14. ^ “Shahid-ur-Rahman Khan, Long Road to Chaghi(Islamabad: Print Wise Publications, 1999),pp. 37–39.
  15. ^ “Shahid-ur-Rahman Khan, Long Road to Chaghi(Islamabad: Print Wise Publications, 1999),pp. 37–39.
  16. ^ “The Nobel Prize in Physics 1979″. Nobel Foundation. http://www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/1979. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  17. ^ Hélein, Frédéric (2008), “A representation formula for maps on supermanifolds”, Journal of Mathematical Physics 49 (023506): 1 & 19, doi:10.1063/1.2840464
  18. ^ Lauren Caston and Rita Fioresi (October 30, 2007). “Mathematical Foundations of Supersymmetry” (PDF). arXiv. http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0710/0710.5742v1.pdf. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  19. ^ A. Salam (1966). “Magnetic monopole and two photon theories of C-violation”. Physics Letters 22: 683–684. doi:10.1016/0031-9163(66)90704-9.
  20. ^ Abdus Salam – Curriculum Vitae

External links

Search Wikiquote Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Abdus Salam


  1. Azim Kidwai, The Greats in Science from Third World, 1989, Trieste, p20.
  2. Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam. Editors: CH Lai and Azim Kidwai, Third Edition. World Scientific, 1989. p 468.
  3. http://www.chowk.com/articles/dr-abdus-salam-his-faith-and-his-science-zakaria-virk.htm
  4. Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam. Editors: CH Lai and Azim Kidwai, Third Edition. World Scientific, 1989. Pages 373-374.
  5. Gordon Fraser. Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam – The First Muslim Nobel Scientist. Oxford University Press, 2008. Page 93.
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