Abdus Salam was born in Jhang, a small town in what is now Pakistan, in 1926. His father was an official in the Department of Education in a poor farming district. His family has a long tradition of piety and learning.
When he cycled home from Lahore, at the age of 14, after gaining the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination at the University of the Punjab, the whole town turned out to welcome him. He won a scholarship to Government College, University of the Punjab, and took his MA in 1946. In the same year he was awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took a BA (honours) with a double First in mathematics and physics in 1949. In 1950 he received the Smith’s Prize from Cambridge University for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics. He also obtained a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge; his thesis, published in 1951, contained fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics which had already gained him an international reputation.
Salam returned to Pakistan in 1951 to teach mathematics at Government College, Lahore, and in 1952 became head of the Mathematics Department of the Punjab University. He had come back with the intention of founding a school of research, but it soon became clear that this was impossible. To pursue a career of research in theoretical physics he had no alternative at that time but to leave his own country and work abroad. Many years later he succeeded in finding a way to solve the heartbreaking dilemma faced by many young and gifted theoretical physicists from developing countries. At the ICTP, Trieste, which he created, he instituted the famous “Associateships” which allowed deserving young physicists to spend their vacations there in an invigorating atmosphere, in close touch with their peers in research and with the leaders in their own field, losing their sense of isolation and returning to their own country for nine months of the academic year refreshed and recharged.
Early in his career, Salam made an important and significant contribution in quantum electrodynamics, quantum field theory, quantum chromodynamics, and including its extension into particle and nuclear physics. In his early career in Pakistan, Salam was highly interested in mathematical series in mathematics, and their possible relations with physics. Salam had played an influential role in the advancement of nuclear physics, but he maintained and dedicated himself to mathematics and theoretical physics and focused Pakistan to do more research in theoretical physics. Though, he regarded nuclear physics (nuclear fission and nuclear power) as non pioneering part of physics as it had already “happened”. Even in Pakistan, Salam was the leading driving force in theoretical physics in Pakistan, with many scientists he continued to influence and encourage to keep their work on theoretical physics. Salam had a prolific research career in Theoretical and High-energy physics, and either he pioneered or was associated with all the important developments in this field. Salam had work on theory of the neutrino —an elusive particle that was first postulated by Wolfgang Pauli in 1930s. Salam introduced Chiral symmetry in the theory of neutrinos. The introduction of Chiral symmetry played crucial role in subsequent development of the theory of electroweak interactions. Salam later passed his work to Riazuddin, who made pioneering contributions in neutrinos. In 1960, Salam carried the work on nuclear physics, where he had pioneered the work on proton decay. Salam introduced the induction of the massive Higgs bosons in the theory of the Standard Model, where he predicted the hypothetical form of radioactive decay emitted by Protons, thus he theorised the existence of proton decay. In 1963, Salam published his theoretical work on the vector meson. The paper introduced the interaction of vector meson, photon (vector electrodynamics), and the renormalization of vector meson’s known mass after the interaction. In 1962, Salam began to work with John Clive Ward on symmetries and Electroweak unification. In 1964, Salam and Ward worked on a Gauge theory for the weak and electromagnetic interaction, subsequently obtaining SU(2) × U(1) model. Even though, the work in this was continued in 1959, Salam had deeply convinced that all the elementary particle interactions are actually the Gauge interactions.In 1968, together with Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, Salam formulated the mathematical concept of their work. While in Imperial College, Salam, along with Glashow and Jeffrey Goldstone, mathematically proved the Goldstone’s theorem, that a massless spin-zero object must appear in a theory as a result of spontaneous breaking of a continuous global symmetry.In 1960, Salam and Weinberg incorporated the Higgs mechanism, into Glashow’s discovery, giving a it a modern form in electroweak theory, thus theorised the Standard Model. In 1968, together with Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, Salam finally formulated the mathematical concept of their work.
In 1966, Salam carried out the pioneering work on a hypothetical particle. Salam showed the possible electromagnetic interaction between the Magnetic monopole and the C-violation, thus he formulated the magnetic photon.
Following the publication of PRL Symmetry Breaking papers in 1964, Steven Weinberg and Salam were the first to apply the Higgs mechanism to electroweak symmetry breaking. Salam provided a mathematical postulation while observing the interaction between the Higgs boson and the electroweak symmetry theory.
In 1954 Salam left his native country for a lectureship at Cambridge, and since then has visited Pakistan as adviser on science policy. His work for Pakistan has, however, been far-reaching and influential. He was a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, a member of the Scientific Commission of Pakistan and was Chief Scientific Adviser to the President from 1961 to 1974.
Since 1957 he has been Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London, and since 1964 has combined this position with that of Director of the ICTP, Trieste.
The road named after Salam in CERN, Geneva
Salam immediately returned to Pakistan in 1960 to take charge of a government post that was given to him by President Field Marshal Ayub Khan. From her independence, Pakistan has never had a coherent Science policy, and the total expenditure on research and development represent ~1.0% of Pakistan’s GDP. Even the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) headquarter was located in a small room, and less than 10 scientists were working on a fundamental concepts of physics. Salam replaced Salimuzzaman Siddiqui as Science Advisor, became first Member (technical) of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Salam expanded the web of physics research and development in Pakistan by sending more than 500 scientists abroad.In September 1961, Salam approached President Ayub Khan to set up the country’s first national space agency.On 16 September 1961, through an executive order, Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission was established, in which Salam served as the first director.Before 1960, very little work on scientific development was done, and scientific activities in Pakistan were almost diminished. Salam called Ishfaq Ahmad, a nuclear physicist, who had left the country for Switzerland where he joined CERN, to Pakistan. With the support of Salam, PAEC established PAEC Lahore Center-6, with Ishfaq Ahmad as its first director. In 1967, Salam became a central and administrative figure to lead the research in both Theoretical and Particle physics. With the establishment of Institute of Physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, the research in theoretical and particle physics was engaged. Under Salam’s direction, physicists tackled the greatest outstanding problems in physics and mathematics. Another physicist, Raziuddin Siddiqui, established numerous physics research group and supervised research activities in the academic institutions of Pakistan. Under the direction of Salam, research in physics reached a point that prompted worldwide recognition of Pakistani physicists.
For more than forty years he has been a prolific researcher in theoretical elementary particle physics. He has either pioneered or been associated with all the important developments in this field, maintaining a constant and fertile flow of brilliant ideas. For the past thirty years he has used his academic reputation to add weight to his active and influential participation in international scientific affairs. He has served on a number of United Nations committees concerned with the advancement of science and technology in developing countries.
To accommodate the astonishing volume of activity that he undertakes, Professor Salam cuts out such inessentials as holidays, parties and entertainments. Faced with such an example, the staff of the Centre find it very difficult to complain that they are overworked.
He has a way of keeping his administrative staff at the ICTP fully alive to the real aim of the Centre – the fostering through training and research of the advancement of theoretical physics, with special regard to the needs of developing countries. Inspired by their personal regard for him and encouraged by the fact that he works harder than any of them, the staff cheerfully submit to working conditions that would be unthinkable here at the (International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (IAEA). The money he received from the Atoms for Peace Medal and Award he spent on setting up a fund for young Pakistani physicists to visit the ICTP. He uses his share of the Nobel Prize entirely for the benefit of physicists from developing countries and does not spend a penny of it on himself or his family.
Abdus Salam is known to be a devout Muslim, whose religion does not occupy a separate compartment of his life; it is inseparable from his work and family life. He once wrote: “The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.”
Nuclear weapons programme
Salam knew the importance of nuclear technology in Pakistan. From the start, Salam was a central figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. In 1965, Salam led the establishing of the nuclear research institute—Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology. In 1965, the plutonium reactor Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor went critical under the leadership of Salam. In 1973, Salam proposed the idea of establishing the annual college in order to promote the scientific activities in the country to the Chairman of PAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan, who wholeheartedly accepted and fully supported this idea. This led to the establishment of the International Nathiagali Summer College on Physics and Contemporary Needs (INSC), where each year since 1976 scientists from all over the world come to Pakistan to interact with Pakistani scientists. The first annual INSC conference was held on advanced particle and nuclear physics.
Abdus Salam is approaching Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to shake his hand. In the middle, Munir Ahmad Khan is shown.
In November 1971, Salam met with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his residence, and according to Bhutto’s advice, Salam went to United States to evade the 1971 Indo-Pak winter war. In 1971, Salam had travelled to the United States and returned to Pakistan with literature about the Manhattan Project. In 1972, the Government of Pakistan learned about the development status of the first atomic bomb completed under the Indian nuclear programme. In 20 January 1972, at the Multan meeting, Bhutto orchestrated to develop the deterrence programme.Former Prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, formed a group of scientists and engineers, which was headed by Salam. In 1972, Salam, as Science advisor to the President, had managed and participated in a secret meeting of nuclear scientists with Bhutto in Multan, which came to be known as the “Multan Meeting”. At this meeting, only dr. I.H. Usmani protested whose believed was that the country had no facilities nor talent to carry out such ambitious and technologically giant project at that time, whilst Salam remained quiet Here, Bhutto entrusted Salam and appointed Munir Ahmad Khan as Chairman of the PAEC and head of the atomic bomb program, as Salam had supported Khan. Few months after the meeting, Salam, along with Khan and Riazuddin, met with Bhutto in his residence where the scientists briefed Bhutto about the nuclear weapons program. After the meeting, Salam established the “Theoretical Physics Group (TPG)” in PAEC. Abdus had led groundbreaking work at the TPG and was initially headed by Salam until 1974.[