Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, the late Dr Abdus Salam, had a dream to create an international platform for scientists from the developing world to be at par, technologically, with their peers in the developed world.
This wish was partially fulfilled during his lifetime when in 1964, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) opened in Trieste, Italy, through hectic efforts. The centre, now called the Abdus Salam ICTP, continues to support scientists from developing countries.
Another effort to promote research in physics, along the lines envisioned by Salam, began in Islamabad in 2000 and has gradually picked up during the past five years.
On the eastern end of the Quaid-e-Azam University campus is the National Centre for Physics (NCP) — an autonomous but government-funded body — that conducts research in theoretical physics and allied disciplines.
The centre provides its facilities to local researchers and also collaborates with international organisations to bring scientific knowledge and skills to Pakistan.
NCP Director General Hamid Saleem said their aim is to become a centre that produces high quality research that promotes the spread of expertise by collaborating with Pakistani universities.
Saleem stated that “we don’t strive for excellence in research,” adding that “the centre’s emphasis is on developing strong research departments that can produce excellent scientists”.
The centre has three main research departments that deal with theoretical physics, nano-sciences and laser plasma physics. Affiliated departments are conducting research work in the fields of vacuum science, earthquake studies and experimental physics.
The past few years have been fruitful for the centre, Saleem said. The number of research papers, including in-house research and collaborative work, published in international journals has jumped to 192 in 2012 from only 12 in 2007 — a 1,500 per cent increase in six years, he informed.
Similarly, the number of external Pakistani researchers hosted by NCP has increased to 148 in 2012 from just two in 2007.
The NCP is also collaborating with international organisations such as the Abdus Salam ICTP and, most importantly, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) through the help of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Located in Geneva, CERN is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, famous for its particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Data from CERN’s Compact Muon Solenoid detector — part of the LHC — is received at a 500-computer grid at the NCP where Pakistani researchers are using them for research that can be published with permission from CERN.
NCP scientists are actively involved in conducting the International Nathiagali Summer College — an annual summer camp has continued since 1974 — where scientists from the world over gather for scientific discussions each year.
Since 2009, the centre has also held International Scientific Spring (ISS) events where hundreds of Pakistani researchers and students get a chance to listen to talks by foreign and local eminent scientists.
Saleem said the 2012 and 2013 ISS conferences were held in collaboration with the Abdus Salam ICTP while another joint conference on Plasma Physics is planned for November 2013.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2013.