The Giant that Dwarfs All Others: Dr. Abdus Salaam

oie_2872139cWpjHHRmmorris_salam_lgHe was our only Nobel laureate until Malala won the honour in 2014 and he continues to be one of the most famous people in Pakistan. But the truth is that a majority of people don’t know what his contributions to science were or how important they continue to be.


Dr. Salaam and his colleagues observing the Rehbar rocket launch

Dr. Salaam was the founder and first administrator of SUPARCO, Pakistan’s own space agency (est. September 16, 1961). It was specifically set up by Ayub Khan on the advice and request of Abdus Salaam shortly after the U.S. announced it’s own Space Programme. Under Abdus Salaam, Pakistan launched Rehbar-I, its first rocket within a year on 7th June, 1962.

Dr. Salaam with Rehbar-I
Dr. Salaam with Rehbar-I

Four days later on 11th June, 1962, Rehbar-II was launched. Rehbar I & II, measured the wind shear and velocities and the structure of the upper atmosphere beyond the stratosphere. In the decade of the 60s, SUPARCO launched approximately 200 rockets in to space.

International Centre for Theoretical Physics

ICTPDr. Abdus Salam also established the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy in 1964. It especially seeks to offer opportunities to the world’s developing nations and hundreds of students from Pakistan have been sent their for research purposes. The ICTP works with the NCP in Pakistan.


Dr. Abdus Salaam’s Nobel Prize was awarded for uniting two of the four fundamental forces in the universe. Now what are the four forces?

  1. Gravity: the force that holds you to the ground and keeps the planets and stars in motion around each other.
  2. Electromagnetism: the force responsible for light, electricity and magnetism around the universe.
  3. Strong Nuclear Force: the force that holds the nucleus of the atom together
  4. Weak Nuclear Force: the force that causes radioactive decay

Dr. Salaam united Electromagnetism and the Weak Nuclear Force.

Why is that important?

It’s important because scientists have been trying for over a hundred years to discover one simple equation (like F=ma or E=mc2) to explain everything in the universe. And that requires a link between the four fundamental forces. So far no one has succeeded at all…except Dr. Abdus Salaam (and his colleagues).

Let me put it this way, because Abdus Salaam joined two forces, it is proof that ALL of them can be joined together.


In 1979, Dr. Abdus Salam, Sheldon Lee Glashow and Steven Weinberg were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Left to right: Sheldon Lee Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg
Left to right: Sheldon Lee Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg

Abdus Salaam, dressed in traditional attire, walked up to the stage and addressed the hall in Urdu. abdus salamHe also quoted the Holy Quran as a motivation and spiritual calling for his interest in science:

“[And] who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks? Then return [your] vision twice again. [Your] vision will return to you humbled while it is fatigued.” Surah Al-Mulk, Quran (67:3-4)


Many people don’t know this but Dr. Salaam worked with Indian Scientist, Dr. Jogesh Pati, to come up with a model to unify those four forces we talked about.

Dr. Jogesh Pati
Dr. Jogesh Pati

They published their work in 1974, at a time when India and Pakistan were definitely not on good relations.


Dr. Abdus Salaam was saddened when the people of his sect, the Ahmadis, were declared non-Muslims in 1974 and he departed Pakistan after. But even after that he didn’t stop his contributions to Pakistan.


Dr. Abdus Salaam’s contributions have left a lasting impression on the minds of his students and his work continues to benefit Pakistan. GroupThe International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy still accepts many students from Pakistan and other developing countries and hones their talents. It also works with the National Centre of Physics (NCP) in Pakistan.


Through the 1960s, SUPARCO launched 200 rockets in to space.

His association with CERN and the international community of scientists has led to collaboration between Pakistan and the world in the pursuit of knowledge.

Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad among others at the NCP
Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad (second from left) among others at the NCP

His students such as Ishfaq Ahmed have been inspired to carry on his work and have strengthened relations with CERN and carry out International Scientific Conferences in Pakistan every year.

image_largeAlso, Dr. Abdus Salaam has a route named after him at CERN.

His work with Dr. Jogesh Pati is a lesson for all Pakistanis that the pursuit of knowledge dissolves boundaries.

teachingDr. Abdus Salaam remains the greatest scientist Pakistan ever produced. And we all owe him a debt to break through the boundary between what is known and what is not and more importantly, to honour the pursuit of knowledge in Pakistan.

By Yousuf Mehmood

NSS-Director Publications

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