PROFILE: LIFE LESSONS FROM A TOP SCIENTIST

Published February 27, 2022
Dr Hussain preparing test samples with a drilling machine in the laboratory
Photos courtesy Iftikhar Ahmed
Dr Hussain preparing test samples with a drilling machine in the laboratory Photos courtesy Iftikhar Ahmed

The contributions of scientists and scientific breakthroughs are often cited as having altered our lives. However, Pakistani scientist Dr Ghulam Hussain, who last December made it to Stanford University’s prestigious list of the top two percent most widely cited scientists in different disciplines, believes that it were his parents’ contributions that transformed his life.

“They are a role model for rural parents,” says Dr Hussain. “My father is not educated, but he cultivated my interest in science. Despite meagre resources, he made tremendous sacrifices to provide me a perfect environment to study in. He encouraged me to explore and always boosted my morale.”

The Stanford University ranking draws from a database of more than 8 million active scientists worldwide.

“I am on both the single year and career list,” Hussain points out, smiling. “The former list might be changed after a year. However, the career list signifies lifelong performance.”

For the last seven years, Hussain has been associated with the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as a professor of mechanical engineering. The son of a retired soldier from Burewala, Punjab, Dr Hussain believes that parents’ interest and guidance are critical in their children’s education, especially in the rural areas, where there is not much of an education culture.

Dr Ghulam Hussain was recently nominated in a Stanford University ranking as among the top two percent of the most cited scientists worldwide. His life story is as inspiring in its own right

“My FSc days were the toughest, but my mother did her best to make things comfortable for me. I would leave at sunrise by the one bus that came to my village, Chak 483/EB, to reach my college in Burewala city. I used to walk two kilometres, then get on the bus. On the way back in the evening, if the bus were late, I would start studying because I didn’t want to waste time.

“Older people would get seats on the bus, so, even when I was standing, I would mentally revise that day’s work. It is impossible to achieve anything without hard work, and time management is crucial for success.”

In 2009, Dr Hussain did his Masters and PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA), China. Prior to this, in 2000, he had graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore.

“When I was doing my FSc, the village elders would ask me what I would do if I didn’t get admission in UET,” shares Dr Hussain, explaining the importance of being totally committed to one’s goal in life. “I would tell them that I would try again and again. Now it’s payback time, and I want to make a welfare centre in Burewala.”

The scientist researching on the flexible manufacturing system
The scientist researching on the flexible manufacturing system

Specialising in advanced manufacturing processes, Dr Hussain has edited three books, and published more than 106 research articles in international journals. A leading researcher in his field since 2014, he was ranked as the sixth top national young researcher in the engineering category by the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology in 2017, and the world’s fourth top researcher in incremental sheet forming in 2022, according to the Scopus database.

“I chose mechanical manufacturing for my PhD,” he says, “because it always intrigued me. A strong and vibrant manufacturing sector is essential for high value-added sectors of the economy. Manufacturing and technological breakthroughs are the main drivers of sustained economic growth in the US, Germany, Japan, UK, Malaysia and China — countries that control global bulk production.”

Dr Hussain wants to infuse a spirit of competitiveness in Pakistan’s manufacturing sector, to bring it at par with international standards.

“I want to push indigenisation and establish a research centre, so that scientific knowledge can be used to provide solutions for local industry problems,” he says.

His work on innovative, emerging processes helps reduce pollution and costs, enables conservation of energy, and the use of natural resources. “My research is useful for the local manufacturing sector, especially in automotive, aircraft and aerospace areas,” explains Dr Hussain.

Talking about how his teachers have influenced his life and work ethics, he shared a couple of endearing stories.

Working on the universal testing machine
Working on the universal testing machine

“I will always remember my ninth class teacher, Mohammed Ayub sahib at the Government High School Chak 455/EB, Burewala, for his unique way of teaching us humility,” shares Dr Hussain.

“We didn’t have desks in our school and we used to sit on a mat. But he would make us sit on the floor or the ground and, when we asked him why he did that, he said he wanted us to be humble. He would say this is the earth, which makes a plant out of a seedling, and it is this earth that we end up going into. When I grew up and thought about it, it made a lot of sense.”

Prof Gao Lin, a Chinese scholar at NUAA also taught Dr Hussain the essential methodology of research. “He motivated me to the core,” he shares. “Lin didn’t approve of people sitting idle and waiting for an opportunity. A scientist never rests, he would say and that, without hard work, you cannot achieve anything.”

Dr Hussain feels that Pakistan lags behind in science and technology because of our insensitivity towards science. “Unfortunately, administrative fields and powerful, bureaucratic positions are glamorised, and appeal more to young people.”

He believes several factors have deterred scientific progress in Pakistan. “A feeble economy, lack of resources, dearth of determination, and a perpetually perturbed environment are serious challenges to our country and scientific progress,” says Hussain.

“Our dilemma is that we give more importance to personal interest instead of the interests of the state.”

Dr Hussain says there is no dearth of talent in Pakistan, but we lack a mechanism to utilise our skilled and talented professionals. “We need a research culture, transparency in the recruitment process, and employment opportunities,” he elaborates.

“Unfortunately, successive governments have utterly failed to create a conducive environment and red-tape has damaged the intellectual prowess of qualified professionals, leading to brain drain, and depriving the country of brilliant intellectuals. The Higher Education Commission should increase funds and support researchers in developing indigenous technology.”

Pakistan needs research that can enable the faculty and students to play their role in its economic growth.

“Quality education and research are keys to unlock many locks,” he says. “If we fail in doing so today, there will be a bleak future ahead.”

The writer is a KP-based journalist. His areas of interest are South Asian affairs and Afghanistan

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 27th, 2022

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