Dr. Riazuddin is an eminent scientist of Pakistan

Dr. Riazuddin
Dr. Riazuddin
Dr. Riazuddin is an eminent scientist of Pakistan

Dr. Riazuddin is an eminent scientist specializing in high-energy physics & nuclear physics. He established a first rate Institute of Physics (now called the Department of Physics) at the University of Islamabad (now called Quaid-i-Azam University), which within a short span of four years was on the international map. He is one of the pioneers of Pakistan’s atomic deterrence programme as he was the Member Technical of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission from 1973 to 1976 and established the Directorate of Technical Development. He was a student of Nobel laureate in Physics Prof. Abdus Salam both at Lahore and at Cambridge. He carried out his leading-edge research at various places including International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Daresbury Laboratory and various universities in the USA, where he got published important research papers in the field of High Energy Physics. However, his primary places of work were Quaid-i-Azam University and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia. He has co-authored three books one of which is considered a classic in the field of weak interactions. The other two are graduate level books which are taught in various universities all over the world and received very good reviews from experts in the field. He is a Fellow of Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Academy of Developing World (TWAS), Islamic Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society. Among his many awards is UNESCO Albert Einstein Gold Medal for fundamental research, 13th Khwarizmi International Award, ECO Award, COMSTECH Prize in Physics, Agha Hasan Abedi Prize and civil awards: Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Sitar-e-Imtiaz and Hilal-i-Imtiaz.

Technology Times: Tell us about Dr. Abdus Salam’s vision about science and technology?

Dr. Riazuddin: There is a direct relationship between science and economic development. Dr. Abdus Salam realized the need for the development of the science and technology in the developing countries for the betterment of the society. His thesis was that the situation of the developing world, both with respect to their intellectual development and material benefits, can be improved in the long run through an assisted and massive importation of modern science and technology, the possession of which is the basic difference between the North and the South. To help to put this thesis in practice he founded and subsequently developed the International Centre for Theoretical Physics which has touched the lives of thousands of physicists from the developing countries, giving them opportunities to “relive with their peers – the pioneers and thinkers of the international world – and thus give of their best of creative research”. He was also instrumental in founding TWAS which is, “now viewed as one of the world’s foremost organizations for scientific capacity building in the South and one of the leading voices for science – based on sustainable development in the developing world”.

Why Pakistan lags behind in science and technology even as compared to its neighbors?

It is because of lack of political will at the highest level. To give example of India, even before partition the India National Congress as a political party had two sub-committees, one on education and other on science and technology, which were assisted by the experts in their respective fields. Therefore, at the time of independence, India was ready to implement the policies in the field of education and science and technology formulated by those sub-committees. It is how they established several Indian Institutes of Technologies, which maintained highest standard in education and scientific research. Even after sixty five years of the establishment of Pakistan, no political party in my opinion has ever established the sub-committees on education and science and technology, showing that these fields have never been their priorities. This in my opinion is the main reason why Pakistan lags behind in science and technology as compared to its neighbors. In Pakistan I can give you the example of Institute of Physics which was established in Quaid-i-Azam University in 1966. In this case the political will at the highest level helped to establish a first rate institute. This was established at the time when Pakistan had by and large no tradition of graduate school training. The premier university of Pakistan the Punjab University, in its hundred years of existence (1882 – 1982) had not produced a single PhD in Maths and only three in Physics. In that sort of environment and in spite of the fact that this university was established in the public sector – which has its own handicaps – the Institute of Physics succeeded in its mission, at least in its earlier years. What were the fundamental conditions which led to its success?

1.  Patronage at highest level: President Muhammad Ayub Khan, took personal interest in the development of this University.

2.  A competent Vice Chancellor: Dr. Raziduddin Siddiqui, had  a lot of experience in university building and had gone through higher education abroad in UK and Germany and rubbed shoulders with the top most physicists and mathematicians of that era.

3.  A new concept of structuring the university: this was done in the form of institutes rather than departments.

4.  Critical size: Efforts were made to bring young scientists at one place to form a critical group. Once a critical number is reached, a chain reaction starts and the group becomes self sustained. Fortunately, we could do it.

5.  Mobility and International Contacts: This was ensured by the Ford Foundation Grant and the support of ICTP, Italy.

6.  Idealism of the youth: It was the idealism of the youth which not only enabled many of us, who could have stayed abroad, to return, but also infused a great enthusiasm in the pioneering role of establishing a new institution from scratch. At its inception none of us were more than 35 years of age.

The results were spectacular. Within four years the Institute of Physics was at the international map. The PhDs produced were of international standard.

What happened next?

In 1970 I went to the University of Maryland, USA on sabbatical leave, as a Visiting Professor. I stayed there for one and half years and in February 1972, I joined the Daresbury Nuclear Physics Lab, near Manchester, UK and stayed there for nine months. On my way back to Pakistan in September or October 1972, I visited ICTP and met Dr. Abdus Salam there. He asked me to see Munir Ahmad Khan, the then Chairman of PAEC. It was very crucial period in our history. We had lost half of our country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made a good decision to go for the nuclear option as we could not face the much larger India in a conventional war. I met Munir Khan and it was decided to have a theoretical physics group in PAEC to be headed by me. The assignment of this group was clearly defined, namely to prepare a conceptual design of the nuclear device and develop the triggering mechanism. Every successive government supported this program.

How did you change from Mathematics to Physics?

There is a very intimate relationship between mathematics and theoretical physics. Prof. Abdus Salam also changed from mathematics to physics, and being inspired by his example, I did the same.

What is difference between an international research organization and the one in Pakistan?

The main difference is quality and availability of competent people. Further what we lack is the creative milieu, some aspects of which are lack of high density of trained individuals, diversity of competence, lack of communication, including informal meeting places, lack of mobility between creative milieu, lack of competitiveness i.e. pressure, lack of resources, lack of freedom to travel around.

Are the current students up to the mark?

Generally the students who come to Quaid-e-Azam University are good and some of them are very good. Majority of our students do not opt for HEC sponsored scholarships, as they can get scholarships from US and other universities. They go on their own and don’t want to get bound to HEC.

What kind of challenge do you see for setting up an institute in Pakistan?

As many erroneously believe, money is not the main issue; it is the competent manpower which we lack. Our educational and scientific base is too small and it is challenging to find appropriate manpower. We need to enhance it quantitatively as well as qualitatively. We need to:

1.  Revamp the high school education system

2.  Change the technical education system to produce a skilled and educated workforce

3.  Change the higher education system to produce talented and competitive engineers and scientists

Are you satisfied with the existing research institutes in Pakistan?

We have a large number of scientific councils but they have not been successful to create an impact because the applied research must be market oriented. Apart from budget constraints there is a basic reason for their failure. They could not establish themselves as customers to prospective contractors in industry, utilities, the government departments and defense. Unless a customer – contractor relationship with a built-in accountability process and research support is not established, such councils are not going to succeed. Contractual research is an alien word in Pakistani science.

Why the Muslim world lags behind in science?

Greek tradition was totally theocratic: for ancient Greeks pure thought was much superior than the work with hands, not withstanding Archemede’s laws on floating bodies. The creation of experimental spirit was primarily due to the Muslims down to the 1th century. Around 1000 CE, Ibn-i-Sina, Al-Biruni (973 – 1040 CE), Ibn-al-Haitham (965 – 1039 CE) were empirical scientists, using methods of experiment. Although they were better experimentalists than Greeks, they did not go beyond observations. They were more interested in practical applications than building a scientific edifice. Another thing which they missed was the role of Mathematics in science: “the laws of nature are written in the language of Mathematics (Galileo)”. In short, they did not integrate theory which supplies concepts and experiment, which needs tools and missed the language of Mathematics in stating expressing abstract concepts of science.

Do you think that you have achieved what you had planned?

To some extent. I succeeded in establishing a first rate Institute of Physics which was the first of its kind in Pakistan. It played an important role in the creation of a critical mass of some excellent physicists who did well abroad and within the country and also played a major role in national security. Later I founded the Directorate of Technical Development in PAEC which played a crucial role in Pakistan’s nuclear program, wrote some influential books, wrote some research papers on the frontiers of Particle Physics which are internationally acknowledged by having large citations. In 1999 I founded the National Centre for Physics on the pattern of ICTP, Trieste, Italy. This centre has now become a vibrant centre of research in various disciplines of physics and is helping the universities and industries in Pakistan, in complementing their research programs. I was Co-director of Nathiagali Summer College which was started in 1976 at the suggestion of Prof. Abdus Salam.

Should we focus more on design and development instead of research and development?

Yes we should. According to the Chinese Medium-to-Long-term plan for the Development of Science and Technology, there are three stages of innovation:

1.  A genuinely original innovation

2.  Integrated innovation, i.e. the fusing together of existing technologies in new ways

3.  Re-innovation which involves the assimilation and improvement of imported technologies

We are at stage 3 and to some extent at stage 2. But we are still far from stage1. 2 and 3 mentioned above, require fixing of our technical education system for the creation of skilled employable manpower capable of building a modern society and a competitive economy. For 1, to which a developing country must make a transition in due course time, requires a large research oriented scientific base. Here we need academic science because high technology depends on the knowledge, training and culture provided by it. Science develops new tools and softwares in laboratories for its progress, and train students and technicians to build them. These tools find uses outside, and some young people become entrepreneurs and launch their own craft industries. In turn these craft industries grow into big enterprises. This cycle is repeated again and again and it is the rapid progress in science, which makes it possible. This is how high tech industrialization grows. However, such companies grow around big centers of research, for example, Silicon Valley around Stanford University. But the Third World countries do not have big centers of science. So do they have a chance, or have they lost forever? I think the answer lies in linkages with big science centers in industrially advanced countries. The linkages are not limited to the centers in industrialized countries but also within a country or in the region where there might be some centers of excellence in selected fields. Such linkages are now easier to establish through networking. Other steps which can be taken to promote research and development are:

1.  To have commercially viable ventures in collaboration with companies in the West, which are known for outsourcing &

2.  Working with multinationals. When our government issues contracts for its IT and telecommunication needs, it should stipulate that multinationals should establish research and development facilities in Pakistan as part of the contract.

Why has our nuclear programme failed to impact technological development in the country?

Actually what has been done in this field was reverse engineering, which may be necessary in the beginning but must transcend to genuine research and development. This in my opinion is a reason that there was no civilian spin off and impact on the technology sector.

Can we solve the energy crisis in Pakistan?

Yes, we can do it, provided we approach the problem in a scientific manner. We should focus more on hydel power projects and renewable energy sources, particularly the solar energy which is abundant in Pakistan. Thar Coal is another possibility but this needs careful planning. Since experts are not readily available in this area in Pakistan. We should get expert advice from abroad to approach this problem without any major impact on environment.

Do you see spark in young scientists?

Yes, of course. I am not a pessimist. Some of my students are very brilliant. Some of them are abroad and may not return to Pakistan but some will come back to serve their country, whereas, some of my students have already returned to Pakistan and are serving their motherland with full zeal and devotion.

Tell us about Nathiagali Summer College?

In 1974 Prof. Abdus Salam visualized the need of an institution where experts from the industrialize nations and learners from the developing countries could get together for a couple of weeks once a year to exchange views on various subjects of current interest in Physics and allied sciences. He rightly comprehended the ever widening information gap between the North and the South. He suggested to PAEC to organize such a forum. The-then Chairman of PAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan not only accepted this suggestion but put his heart into it. It was the year 1976 when the first college inaugurated at Nathiagali in the Pakistani Himalayas. Since then it has been regularly held without break and it is a great credit to PAEC to have continued its generous support for this college. It has acquired an important status in the calendar of scientific activities throughout the world. Thirty six extremely successful colleges have been held so far and the 37th one is underway. Over 500 renowned scientists, including six Novel Laureates, shared their knowledge and experience with nearly 900 foreign scientists from as many as 72 countries. About 7000 participants drawn from universities and colleges (nearly 15% of them graduate students) and R&D institutes from Pakistan have also benefited from this scientific discourse. The Nathiagali Colleges have provided an effective forum for scientists from developing countries and those from the developed ones to exchange information and ideas on a series of topics of current interest in physics and related fields, in which recent advances have been made and breakthrough achieved. These colleges have also served as a vehicle for initiating collaborative research between scientists working in various regions of the world. Many collaborative projects have thus been initiated through discussions held during the Colleges. Moreover, a number of young scientists, as well as students, have benefited by seeking guidance for their future plans. When the Nathiagali College was started, it was Prof. Abdus Salam’s wish that in time it would develop into a full fledged Centre for Physics on the pattern of ICTP, Trieste, Italy. It took almost thirty years for his vision to be translated into reality in the form of National Centre for Physics, which got its Charter from the Government of Pakistan in April 2004. Thirty years is a long time for this to occur, but there is a lesson it: patience, persistence and above all sincerity of purpose do ultimately pay.


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