Optics and optimism: An inventor in Okara

Published: August 28, 2011
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Asad with his telescope

Asad with his telescope

Here’s looking at you kid A view of the moon’s craters Asad with his telescope

Al Battani would be proud. The 9th Century astronomer, who determined the length of the solar year, was also a skilled maker of astronomical instruments and gave us a blueprint of the sundial. The same ingenuity is reflected in Asad Mehmood, an unlikely inventor who has made the sixth most powerful telescope in Pakistan – all from items available in his native town of Okara.

Asad Mehmood’s story is one of ingenuity and improvisation. A pre-engineering student in the District Public School and College Okara, Mehmood has been fascinated with optics ever since he was introduced to the subject in Class 6. “I used to play with convex and concave lenses and perform a lot of experiments, just for fun,” he reminisces. “At that time, I didn’t even know about telescopes, their working or their internal structures.”

While many of us grow out of our childhood fancies, Mehmood’s interest in optics only grew with time, and he started doing some serious reverse engineering. “I not only bought lenses from optics shops but more frequently I got magnifying glasses from bookstores. Then I bought a toy telescope, checked out its internals and made another one identical to it.”

The success of this first invention spurred him on. Not content with toy telescopes, he says, “that was when there rose in me the ambition to build a telescope to view the sky and the moon, the stars and planets.”

But dreaming was one thing, actually building a working telescope quite another. Mehmood had never seen a real telescope in his entire life. There was no astronomy society in Okara that he could turn to; he didn’t even have an internet connection that he could use for research. Still, though he loathed reading, he pored over the books in his school library, reading every scrap of information he could find on astronomy, lenses and optics.

“Fortunately I found a book that dealt with the topic ‘light’, which was exactly what I wanted. I gathered a lot of information about telescopes.”

After a year of failed prototypes, he made a Galilean Telescope, consisting of two convex lenses placed at a specific distance to each other. At that time, he was in Class 8.

Holed up in his room for days on end, he toyed with the magnification and resolution of his telescope, taking great pains to bring small improvements to his design. The same year he also built a low-cost microscope that had the magnifying power of a lab microscope, despite never having seen a lab microscope in his life.

Soon, he found himself fascinated with Newtonian telescopes that consist of a primary parabolic mirror, a plane mirror strip and an eyepiece — all in his head, of course, since there was no question of gaining access to an actual Newtonian telescope in Okara. These reflecting telescopes offer the possibility of high quality images with very little blurring. And Mehmood was already raring to make one — now the challenge was to get a parabolic mirror. Mehmood was ready to do anything to get such a mirror, but parabolic mirrors for Newtonian telescopes were not to be had in Okara.

Finally, he got his lucky break. The Khwarizmi Science Society, a Lahore-based astronomical society, arranged a space observing event at Mehmood’s school. For the first time in his life, Mehmood saw a reflecting telescope, and observed the heavenly bodies. Wonderstruck by that experience and freshly inspired, his resolve to build a similar telescope only grew stronger. This was also the time when he met Ali Khan, a member of the Khwarizmi Science Society. After a barrage of questions from the fledgling astronomer, Khan was impressed by the boy’s zeal but told him that to build his telescope he would have to make his own optics and the task seemed impossible to him. Still, Khan was obliging enough to rake the markets of Lahore for the material required to make the telescope.

In his first year of F.Sc pre engineering part 1, Mehmood started work on the Newtonian Telescope.

First, he had to grind a thick glass and convert it into a concave lens. This was tricky and laborious business but he kept at it day and night, grinding the glass with his own hands, YouTubing videos (he now had an internet connection), making mistakes, and starting over. The failures he faced during this time would have discouraged anyone, but at no point did Mehmood even consider the possibility of failure. His family encouraged him, particularly his father, who would try to provide Mehmood any materials he needed for his experiments. Six months later, he was done with the first phase of his telescope.

Now the next step was to polish the mirror. The concave lens that he had ground and refined had to be converted into a smooth and polished surface. This was a delicate task but finally, a year and 9 months after he first embarked on the project, the glass had gained a fine parabolic concave curve.

He then fashioned the body of his Newtonian telescope with a PVC pipe: installing the mirror, adjusting the plane mirror strip and installing an eyepiece. He designed a stand on which to mount his creation, one which would not only bear the weight of the telescope but would also allow for up-down and left-right movement. Then he lovingly painted it. Asad Mehmood, FSC student from Okara, had just made the 6th most powerful telescope in the country!

Mehmood’s telescope is capable of viewing clear, magnified images of the moon’s craters, Jupiter, (along with its four moons), Saturn and Venus. This telescope magnifies images to 300 times the size visible to the naked eye. Incidentally, Mehmood is the first to build a telescope of this kind in Pakistan.

So is he now basking in his glory? No, the ‘Junior Scientist’ — as he has affectionately been nicknamed by his teachers and classmates — already has his eyes set on his next project: building Pakistan’s largest telescope and he is quite confident that he can do it. And so are we!

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 28th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (75)

  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:55PM

    Very nice explanation. I am worried why I am called here with my sir name i.e “Mehmood” instead of my actual name i.e “Asad”….:-)

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  • Adeel759
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:58PM

    This is wonderful to find out such a brilliant guy from small town like Okara, instead of Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi. Astronomy is fascinating field of study, Pakistanis should be introduced to this since its not a very high cost study. Well done, little scientist.Recommend

  • stone age
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:59PM

    Well Done BOY..

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  • Dr. Adnan
    Aug 28, 2011 - 2:06PM

    I would kinda shaddily agree about the 6th most powerful for Pakistan but definitely not for world :P anyho’ congrats.

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  • HAMMAD ALI HASSAN
    Aug 28, 2011 - 2:59PM

    we never encourage people, n when west take their advantage then we say o he was from PAKISTAN, he was great…etc… we can’t be a progressive nation until we give value to our own people..

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  • Mian Adnan Ali
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:17PM

    Asad , Being a okaraian , we feel proud on you .. Keep it up!!

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  • White Russian
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:37PM

    Well done Assad, we are all proud of you. With due time you shall have access to better materials, labs, and facilities. I am looking forward for wonderful news from you in future.

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  • Fakhir
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:39PM

    @Asad Mehmood. It is because in Europe the second name is the actually name and first name is always the family name, its bit different with your case :) so dont worry its still you :) But very well done yaar. I put this news link on my Facebook wall to support you & good luck.

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  • White Russian
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:47PM

    And a piece of advice:
    Never fall for the traps like “Pakistan’s 6th biggest”, and “first time in world”, etc. These things may kill your creativity and soon you may find yourself burned out by a pointless race to “make records” instead of doing original science or engineering”. Good science comes out of creativity and ingeniousness. Records are made as a result of lucky accidents (a side-product).

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  • anonymous
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:51PM

    Asad, you rock!!!

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  • A REHMAN
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:02PM

    YEAH COMMON OKARIANS!!! ITS TYM FOR US TO SHINE !! :d

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  • FZH
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:04PM

    Very impressed with this young scientist/astronomer in making. He should be encouraged at all levels. I can see this young man going far provided he is supported. He can go for further studies to the world’s best institutions and become a great astronomer.
    Coming from no where and knowing Okara myself, this is really heartening!
    Best wishes !!!

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 4:04PM

    I think Passion is what drives people. Asad you sure do have that .so good luck and i am seeing you as the next head of Suparco

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  • Well Done!
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:06PM

    @Asad Mehmood:
    Well done, brilliant stuff! This country definitely needs people like you!
    Ah, in english writing, people are usually called by their surnames as a form of respect. Calling someone by there first names is less formal. Nothing personal :)

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  • IST Student
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:07PM

    Asad Mehmood,
    You should apply to Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad.

    http://www.ist.edu.pk

    There are programs in Aerospace, Materials and Electrical (formerly Comm Systems)

    You will like this place.

    Stratetigic organizations like SUPARCO, NESCOM regularly sponsor young gifted students like yourself so that you get paid to study and have a job with them once you graduate.Recommend

  • Aadersh
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:37PM

    We r proud of you…Serve the nation & Nation will love you!! :)

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  • Seeda
    Aug 28, 2011 - 4:52PM

    @Asad Mehmood:
    Well done Asad. We are proud of you. The article has used your last name because that is a formal way to address. You will be called Mr. Mehmood formally and Asad informally. So so proud of you and all the best with your project. Make us all more proud and spread your enthusiasm with the rest of the nation.

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  • M M Shah
    Aug 28, 2011 - 5:06PM

    Good job young boy, keep it up for the future.

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  • Mariam b
    Aug 28, 2011 - 5:26PM

    Now this is Pakistan

    Bravo Boy Bravo

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  • Asim
    Aug 28, 2011 - 5:35PM

    great … we should also do something.

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  • Saud Ahmad
    Aug 28, 2011 - 5:51PM

    Asad ! Okara is proud of you.

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 6:14PM

    Well Done Brother!!
    We are all proud of you. May Allah bless you and give you effort to do even more.

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  • Zafar Kiani
    Aug 28, 2011 - 7:37PM

    My Dear Asad…..
    Very Well Done and Keep it up. May Allah bless you more wisdom and health.

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  • S M Zia
    Aug 28, 2011 - 9:04PM

    Finally a heart warming story. Well done Boy we are proud of you. Now if we can throw out the thugs and bring PTI to power.

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 28, 2011 - 9:14PM

    Thanks to all of you for your complements. :)

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  • hasna loulida
    Aug 28, 2011 - 9:19PM

    i really liked your project because it shows that you are very smart and genious

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 10:03PM

    I, some how know this guy. No doubt he can made largest telescope of Pakistan.
    May God help “Junior Scientist”

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  • Bilal
    Aug 28, 2011 - 11:39PM

    Well done asad, good luck with your future projects.

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 29, 2011 - 3:59AM

    This was just a nice experiment. I did nothing extra ordinary. I want to tell you all that I am anxiously looking for a glass factory which can prepare a glass blank of 25″ diameter and 3″ thickness for me. To build this 25″ telescope is my current dream. In my city, there is no question for a glass factory. And in other cities, I’ve no Idea. So I would be thankful if someone helps me regarding this matter. Thanks.

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  • Hafiz Ahmed
    Aug 29, 2011 - 5:35AM

    Brilliant work Asad. Keep it up boy!!

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  • Tahir Malik
    Aug 29, 2011 - 5:56AM

    Welldone,and best wishes for your future hard work.Its a joy to read some thing like this.

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  • Ali Khan
    Aug 29, 2011 - 7:45AM

    Mash Allah very well done Asad brother. May Allah succeed you in making your other projects Ameen!

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 29, 2011 - 9:02AM

    @ Sir Ali Khan, I could never complete this project without you constant encouragement and guidance, Thanks a lot.

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  • Iqbal
    Aug 29, 2011 - 9:08AM

    Asad, don’t worry if They have written your surname instead of your first name. After all it is you who is being acknowledged. I am proud of you.

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  • Uzair Javaid
    Aug 29, 2011 - 9:44AM

    @Asad Mehmood: Well done and Congratulations Asad. You would be introduced to the world inshaAllah by your Surname that is Mehmood which is carrying and glorifying your Father’s name.

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  • Aug 29, 2011 - 9:49AM

    Asad, click on my name as it appears adjacent to this comment. It would point you to my profile where i can guide you a bit about glass factories and where you get certain stuff made!

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  • Aug 29, 2011 - 10:06AM

    Seriously impressed. MashaAllah. well done.

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  • Adil Mulki
    Aug 29, 2011 - 10:19AM

    Dear Asad Mehmood,
    Congratulations. May the Almighty guide and help you in your future endevours. People like you are the real hope for Pakistan.
    Reading the newspaper piece was a kind of window into my own past where I experimented a lot with lenses and mirrors. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the moral support of my family on these issues, neither did I have the funds to buy the equipement that I wanted to.. but in the end, I guess I just did not have the resolve that you certainly have.
    Keep it up and never quit.
    regards,
    Adil Mulki

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  • Wasim
    Aug 29, 2011 - 12:24PM

    @Asad Mehmood: I would like to keep in touch with you regarding your work in optics. What is your email address?

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 29, 2011 - 2:05PM

    @Wasim: my e
    mail address is [email protected]

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  • Waqas
    Aug 29, 2011 - 4:08PM

    Asad, keep going and never give up! Also, I hope we get to hear about everything in the heavens that you will be observing with your self-built telescope. Please ask Ali Khan to get you added to some of the Astronomy Groups email lists.

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  • Ali Khan
    Aug 29, 2011 - 4:09PM

    @Asad Mehmood, you are always welcome. Brilliant work. You make us proud. Pakistan Zindabad. I hope others follow you and wish you success in all future projects.
    I suppose credit also goes to [email protected] experts Mark, Jerry , Bethold and many others who helped freely at every step particularly during the tricky parabolizing stages, to stellafane.org for diagrams etc, to Irshad Sahib who also guided you in polishing and to Zafar Sahib of Islamabad who gave a reflective aluminum coating to your mirror and secondary free of cost and also to your Dad and your family for their constant monetary and moral support and your College Principal and Umair Asim sahib who each donated a powerful microscope eyepiece for your project.
    I also think that this a a very doable project and each young individual must take it up and thus gain respect for accuracy, be proud of his or her efforts and finally enjoy the views of our beautiful and grand universe.

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  • Ali Khan
    Aug 29, 2011 - 4:44PM

    The article was very well written too. The moon picture is super great. I bet it was taken with that Phillips Tou Cam web cam provided to you so graciously by Mr. Umair Asim of Khwarizimi Science Society and Lahore Astronomical Socitey and owner of 14″ reflecting telescope, currently the second largest in Pakistan after Mr. Khalid Marwat’s 18″ Obsession in Karachi.

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 29, 2011 - 8:48PM

    @ Sir Ali Khan: you are exactly right. My special thanks to all who helped me very much, mentioned by you.

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  • Aug 29, 2011 - 11:44PM

    Congratulations dear Asad. Indeed this is a great achievement. Grinding a mirror is labourious but parabolising and polishing is loads of patience. In my youth I was frustrated by the lack of optical material and technical assistance, yet was able to ground a mirror but could not get it aluminised. My advice is to go for a 12″ Dobsonian now. You will get tons of experience with it. Moreover it would be portable enough to carry around. Congratulations are also due to Ali Khan, whose motivation, experience and guidance made it possible.

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  • Humayun
    Aug 30, 2011 - 3:04AM

    Well done Asad,May you excel in the field and do something positive for the nation and yourself too.I am very glad to know such a positive news in the middle of all the chaos around.

    Luck is your last name and Good is your first :)

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  • Raheel
    Aug 30, 2011 - 3:08AM

    well done Asad, in this pressure time of pakistan such news are giving us hope that v r not gonna end bt inshallah vl grow grow & grow

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  • jayson
    Aug 30, 2011 - 9:56AM

    this is exeptional!!!!

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  • Aug 30, 2011 - 11:48AM

    @Ali Khan: Where can we see your telescopes, please mention your contact/address details (both Ali Khan and Asad)

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Aug 30, 2011 - 7:46PM

    @Muhammad Ali: You: I think you are talking about Sir Umair Asim’s Telescope. That is !4″ Cassegrain Telescope and is in Lahore in his observatory at the rooftop of his house. For further details, follow his website:http://www.umairasim.com/Index/Welcome.html

    And my telescope is in my home.

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  • Hassan Javed
    Aug 30, 2011 - 8:17PM

    I wish you more successes in your future.God Bless you!!
    If I can be of any help let me know.

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  • suneel
    Aug 30, 2011 - 8:31PM

    well done………………………..

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  • Adam kahn
    Aug 31, 2011 - 8:00PM

    Please put your astronomical pics on a website like Flicker or make a Facebook page.

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Sep 1, 2011 - 3:16PM

    Here are some pics of moon’s craters and Saturn on facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.192393027470610.43040.100000997437676

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  • iqra zahid
    Sep 1, 2011 - 3:49PM

    wowwww gud job we r proud of u may God give u more nd more success………….AMEEN………….

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  • Aamir Chohan
    Sep 1, 2011 - 6:45PM

    Very Well Done Brother,May Allah bless you….

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  • Sep 2, 2011 - 2:17AM

    @Asad Mehmood:
    Actually it is a tradition in English to use the last name in addressing a person. So nothing to worry about. It actually refers to you. We are really proud of you, and pray for your success in future plans. Best of Luck!!

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  • Muhammad Sajid Iqbal
    Sep 2, 2011 - 2:25AM

    @Asad Mehmood:

    I want to acknowledge your work and appreciate you for your future planning. I suggest please visit the home pages of international professors who are working in your fields and discuss your ideas with them. Keep it up. appreciated.

    Note: At international Erina mostly people (Scientist) are called by their family name (surname). That is the reason they have narrated in that manner. you must not care about these small things rather you have a great brain to be proud of.

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  • Sep 2, 2011 - 3:28AM

    Hey congratulations Asad. I feel really proud of you because you have done something that even we Engineering students are reluctant to do. Now, I really hope that you get good marks in F.SC pre-engineering so that you can pursue your education in Engineering field properly.

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  • khanman
    Sep 2, 2011 - 7:51AM

    That’s a good news. The bad news is that you will get a scholarship from US/UK/AUS and may never come back to serve your nation.

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Sep 2, 2011 - 11:04AM

    @khanman: I don’t think I’ll get a scholarship from your mentioned countries. And I only want to serve my country and expect the same thing from all of you too. :-)

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  • Ali
    Sep 2, 2011 - 1:24PM

    @Asad Mehmood:
    because surnames are used in formal discussions to give respect to the person under discussion.. cheers mate and well done

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Sep 2, 2011 - 5:45PM

    My field of Interest is Physics. I’ll go for Bachelors of Physics, then M.Phil and later Ph.D in Physics.

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  • sami
    Sep 3, 2011 - 12:29AM

    @Asad Mehmood: well done dude – this article is written with a western-style form of address – they use the last name to address the person e.g. andrew flintoff is referred to as flintoff and not andrew… best wishes for the future – do apply to US based undergraduate programs (both directly and through the Fulbright program) and mention this article for reference and your experience with grinding your own glass and making your own telescope – i think there is a ~100% chance for you to get a fully funded scholarship

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Sep 3, 2011 - 9:16AM

    @sami: can you send me the links to apply to US boards for undergraduate programs?

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  • Mashab
    Sep 3, 2011 - 11:09AM

    Mashallah very well done. May Allah help you in future too. Brother, keep it up

    @White Russian..
    With due respect, we Pakistani are way beyond in compare to rest of the world due to your type of people. You can never understand the meaning of APPRECIATION Mr. White Russian, GO n bring something new in your surrounding and feel the pain when no body will be appreciating your work.

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  • Hamid Masood
    Sep 4, 2011 - 11:37PM

    i am most impressed with the fact that the guy himself ground and polished the lens. really amazing to do it without modern grinding equipment………….

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  • Ali Khan
    Sep 5, 2011 - 9:07AM

    Thanks for your interest. 03467465550. I can guide. I have not completed a telescope yet. And mirror making is not tough and requires no special machine.Recommend

  • Ahmed Bilal
    Sep 5, 2011 - 7:20PM

    @Asad Mehmood:

    How can i get in touch with you Asad??

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  • Asad Mehmood
    Sep 5, 2011 - 7:56PM

    @Ahmed Bilal: 0321-6957218. You can always ask for any type of help regarding Telescope Making or Optics.

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  • Wasim akram
    Sep 5, 2011 - 10:19PM

    U r puoud ov Okar¡anx..
    Prayng 4 ur success!

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  • kamil mustafa
    Sep 8, 2011 - 4:52AM

    welldone yar asad i still remember your first small invention and now you have done it im proud of you my friend

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  • ijaz hussain
    Sep 12, 2011 - 7:07PM

    Congrats brother for this great effort.
    keep it up you can do any thing as u have potential and courage.

    God Bless you

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  • Waqar Nawaz
    Sep 16, 2011 - 7:20PM

    Well done, Asad. Massallah a very good effort. I think Asad should be supported by SPARCO. Mr Owais Jafri also did a good job in introducing the Asad project and efforts. Mr Jafri should have mentioned some technical specs as well. There are lots of such Asad’s around, what they need is determination and hard work inspite of difficulties they will achieve their object one day.

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  • Xam Xaffa
    Sep 26, 2011 - 9:16PM

    Wow.

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