How I became a scientist
Pakistani physicist who worked on the discovery of Higgs Boson.
Speech delivered on March 1, in Bensheim Germany by Dr Mansoora Shamim, a scientist at CERN (European center for nuclear research) Geneva Switzerland. Dr Mansoora was one of the thousands of scientists who worked on the multi-billion dollar project for discovery of Higgs boson in July 2012.
Quoting the words of late Prof. Abdus Salam from an address that he delivered on the occasion of the award of the First Edinburgh medal and prize:
“The Holy Prophet of Islam taught us to “thank men and women whenever they do good for you” – for “whosoever does not thank people, does not thank Allah”.
In keeping with this teaching I express my gratitude to you for kindly inviting me to speak at this occasion. I feel deeply honored.
How and when did I come to know about Prof. Salam? I remember being a child in early eighties, when my father brought me a short story book in Urdu, written by Mahmood Mjueeb Asghar. The title of the book was “Pehla Ahmadi Musalaman Sciencedan (The first Ahmadi Muslim Scientist): Abdus Salam”. I read the book, but don`t remember now if I understood anything about his work at that time. But what I still remember and feel inside me is the inspiration of words “first scientist”. That must have stuck into my mind. It lead me, consciously or unconsciously, to pursue a career in physics. On the way I have been blessed with many opportunities, which I was able to avail at the right time following the guidance from highly motivated and competent teachers as well as support from my parents.
I never had a chance to personally meet Prof. Salam. But I was fortunate enough to be able to complete a one year diploma course in theoretical high energy physics at the Abdus Salam ICTP (Aug 1999-Aug 2000. )- the center he founded in 1964 in Trieste, Italy. While being at ICTP, I could see new horizons were opening up for me. Being surrounded by the eminent scientists, pondering over the secrets of universe and trying to unveil them, gave me the confidence that I could also become the part of this community. Studying at ICTP, not only provided me the opportunities to pursue a Ph.D in physics but also prepared me for the upcoming challenges that one faces in graduate school. The moments I miss the most are the ones that I spent in the library of the ICTP. The exceptionally quiet and comfortable ambiance, where one could focus without any disturbance. The beautiful scenery one could look through the windows was very relaxing when I got tired of solving the equations for my thesis. Without the center being there, or without having a chance to study there, I am not sure which path I would have followed. It is this center founded by Prof Abdus Salam that has helped many young people in pursuing and building their careers by providing the necessary support and infrastructure.
In a soon to be published book titled “The Inspiring Life of Abdus Salam”, its author Prof. Mujahid Kamran of University of the Punjab (where Salam once taught) writes:
Salam remained helpful to people, regardless of race, color or religion, throughout his life. He always helped people in a quiet way. One of Salam’s most outstanding virtues was his fondness for the younger generation. He encouraged younger people and if he saw any spark in them he encouraged and projected them immediately and whole-heartedly. This he did without asking for, or expecting anything in return.
Even after passing away, Prof Abdus Salam`s outstanding virtue continues through the existence of ICTP.
I would like to mention that it was my thesis supervisor at the ICTP, Prof. Antonio Masiero, who advised me to go into experimental particle physics when I started graduate school in 2001. His words were: ”By the time you finish your Ph.D, LHC will be ready to take data.” He was very much right. In 2008, I graduated from K-State, joined the University of Oregon as a post-doc and moved to CERN in August to be a part of the ATLAS collaboration.
In his Edinburgh address, Prof Abdus Salam says:
“The next big occasion when Edinburgh was very much in my thoughts was during 1963-1964 when I learned about the Higgs mechanism proposed by Professor Peter Higgs. I learned it from Professor Thomas Kibble who is also an Edinburgh graduate. Kibble taught me Higgs mechanism, which both Weinberg and I used to bring about spontaneous symmetry breaking in the unified electroweak theory. It was the spontaneous symmetry breaking mechanism, which got us the Nobel Prize”.
I felt very fortunate to be a part of the historic moment when the discovery of a Higgs-like boson was announced on the 4th of July by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at CERN. It was a breakthrough and a milestone achieved after many years of painstaking hard work and tireless efforts of thousands of scientists. Every single person contributed to the preparation of results through the building of accelerator, detectors, triggers, collection of good quality data for analysis, and monitoring of each and every aspect of the machinery to produce such high quality results. I myself was a part of the trigger and data acquisition team in ATLAS. My job was to make sure that the decisions made to select events were the right ones and the collected data were of the highest possible quality and useful for later
When I look back now, the journey seems very long. I was born in a small town in the south of Punjab, Pakistan. I graduated with a Masters in Physics from the University of the Punjab Lahore. Having spent a year in Italy, five years in Kansas, two years at Fermilab, I have been based at CERN for past four and a half years. There have been many tiring as well as rewarding moments during this time. Working for 12-14 hours a day, being in the control room to monitor data over the weekends, answering student`s questions and preparing reports for the meetings, are all very demanding jobs. I had to be on top of everything related to my job, in order to be able to find any problems, fixing them and adding improvements for future data taking. But this is all very satisfying in the end because I know that I am fulfilling the purpose for which God has sent me into this world. My efforts have been successful due to the prayers of promised Massiaha and Khilfa-e- waqt. I feel very honored that I belong to a community that has produced the one and the only Muslim Nobel laureate in physics. The feelings of being able to work so closely to find out and understand the hidden secrets of the universe are unbelievable. In my view, the scientists are the people who truly and so directly follow the teachings of The Holy Quran. At every moment of their lives, they are thinking about the mysteries of universe, trying to solve the complex problems and continue doing that without a break. Being a part of the collaboration and of the scientific community, I feel that I have been more closely and deeply following the teachings of Quran at every single moment.
In one of his articles on this subject, Prof Salam writes:
‘According to Dr. Mohammed Aijazul Khatib of Damascus University, nothing could emphasize the importance of sciences more than the remark that “in contrast to 250 verses which are legislative, some 750 verses of the Holy Quran—almost one-eighth of it—exhort the believers to study Nature—to reflect, to make the best use of reason and to make the scientific enterprise an integral part of the community’s life”. The Holy Prophet of Islam—peace be upon him—said that it was the “bounden duty of every Muslim—man and woman—to acquire knowledge”.
“Can they not look up to the clouds, how they are created; and to the Heaven how it is upraised; and the mountains how they are rooted, and to the earth how it is outspread?” (88: 19-21)
Prof. Abdus Salam further writes:
I am both a believer as well as a practicing Muslim. I am a Muslim because I believe in the spiritual message of the Holy Quran. As a scientist, the Quran speaks to me in that it emphasizes reflection on the Laws of Nature, with examples drawn from cosmology, physics, biology and medicine, as signs for all men.”
“Verily in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and in the alternation of the night and of the day, are there signs for men of understanding. ” (3: 191)
At the end, I would like to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to speak at this occasion and finish my speech with the following revelation of the Promised Massiah, may peace be on him: “The people of my community will excel in knowledge and overcome others with logical argument and clear evidence. Every other nation will benefit from this and the process will continue to spread all over the world.”
Prof Abdus Salam was clearly the one of those through whom this prophecy has been fulfilled. May Allah enable us to be the next ones. Aameen.
To view pictures of Salam seminar held in Bensheim, Germany, use the following link