Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


A leaf from history: Pioneers in science

Published Nov 19, 2011 11:20pm

The last decades of the 19th and the early 20th centuries witnessed an awakening in the subcontinent in different spheres of creative activity. This renaissance also produced outstanding scientists. Fired by nationalism and disregarding comforts, these men dedicated their lives to science and achieved some landmark breathroughs in their respective fields. There are many more than those that can be counted.

An eminent educationist, mathematician and scholar, Sir Ziauddin Ahmed (1878-1947) was a long serving Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and moved to Karachi at Independence. Then there was Sir Sultan Muhammad Sulaiman (1886-1941) whom the late R.S. Pathak, former Chief Justice of India, described as a man of science and a man of law, as one who “achieved a versatile excellence and an intellectual brilliance which dazzled the generation in which he lived…”

A medical contribution of immense benefit was made by Sir U.N. Brahmachari (1973-1946) in developing a cure for Kala azar (a dreaded killer disease in Bihar, Bengal and Assam) through the discovery of an organic compound of antimony. It was administered to patients with great success and lakhs of lives were saved.

As the years progressed, the realisation steadily grew that organised scientific effort was critical to promote the development of industry in India. Matters reached a decisive stage upon the outbreak of World War II with Sir Arcot Ramasamy Mudaliar, Member of Commerce in the Viceroy’s Executive Council arguing that “… in war time... no expenditure can be too high which mobilises the scientific and industrial talents… for research and production of war materials.” His recommendations met with the approval of the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, and an autonomous organisational structure, eventually in the form of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), came into being.

A doyen of the science fraternity in Pakistan, Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui (1897–1994) was one of the first to enter this new body which was headed by Dr Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar who, up till 1939, was Director of the University Chemical Laboratories at Lahore.

Bhatnagar was born in 1894 in Bhera, district Shahpur (now Sargodha) in Punjab and attended the Dyal Singh High School and the Forman Christian College, Lahore. On his mother’s side, he was closely related to Munshi Hargopal Tufta (a favourite shagird of Mirza Ghalib) of Sikandarabad, district Bulandshahr, United Provinces. He was knighted in 1941 in recognition of work pertaining to the war effort and emerged in independent India as the most influential figure in the organisation of science.

By the time he died in January, 1955, Bhatnagar had created a chain of twelve national laboratories which addressed different disciplines ranging from physics and chemistry to leather and pharmaceuticals. The National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi (with the establishment of which, pre-1947, Pakistan’s third Governor-General, Sir Ghulam Muhammad, was associated), was fortunate in having a physicist of the eminence of Dr K S Krishnan as its first director.

Before joining the CSIR in 1940, Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui had worked with Hakim Ajmal Khan and started the Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbi Research Institute at the Tibbia College, Delhi. He left for Pakistan in 1951 at the behest of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and, alongside Dr Bashir Ahmed, was instrumental in the setting up of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR).

The Pakistan Academy of Sciences (whose founder-members included Mian Afzal Hussain and Dr Qudrat-e-Khuda) was established in 1953. A leading scientist in natural product chemistry, Siddiqui pioneered the isolation of unique chemical compounds from Neem and other flora. Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman and Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui are probably the only two brothers to have been awarded the Hilal-i-Pakistan.

Bhatnagar and Siddiqui had much in common. Both were chemists, both were at University College, London; both were Fellows of the Royal Society, both were institution–builders; both were passionately devoted to the cause of scientific research and both were men attracted to literature and the arts. Bhatnagar was a poet of merit in Urdu and Siddiqui an accomplished painter and a lover of music.

An experimental physicist, Dr Nazir Ahmed (1898-1973) was supervised by Lord Rutherford at Cambridge. In 1944, as director of the Technological Laboratories of the Central Cotton Committee, he travelled with Bhatnagar, Meghnad Saha, J C Ghosh, J N Mukherjee and S K Mitra on the Delegation of Indian Scientists visiting the UK and the US.

In 1956, Nazir Ahmed who had moved to Pakistan was appointed by the then Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, as the first Chairman of the newly constituted Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC); Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and Dr Raziuddin Siddiqui, a mathematical physicist, were its members.

The Fifth Pakistan Science Conference took place in 1953 at which Dr Bashir Ahmed (a Formanite) and Vice-Chancellor, Punjab University, presided and which was attended by Dr Homi Bhabha, the first Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission. Bhatnagar was the Indian delegate to the Science Conference the following year when Dr Raziuddin Siddiqui spoke glowingly of the scientific work being done in India.

It was under the auspices of the Forman Christian College, Lahore, that Prof Arthur Compton (1882-1962) conducted much of his research on cosmic rays. His discovery known as the “Compton Effect” or “Compton Scattering” demonstrates the particle concept of electromagnetic radiation; it also earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927.

In Pakistan and India, contacts between leading scientists largely endured through the 1950s and, perhaps, up to the early ‘60s. By then, a new generation of leaders in science was emerging. While the scientific community has received strong political backing in India, especially from Prime Ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi, there were men in Pakistan like the celebrated historian, Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi (originally of the Delhi University, he became Education Minister in Pakistan), who supported scientists and their research in an effective way.

A pinnacle of achievement was attained in Pakistan in 1959 when the famous theoretical physicist, Dr Abdus Salam, an alumnus of the Government College, Lahore, and St John’s College, Cambridge, was elected to the Royal Society at the age of just 33, and, again, in 1979 when he became a Nobel laureate. Dr Riazuddin, an eminent scientist specialising in high energy physics and nuclear physics and closely associated with Dr Abdus Salam became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1970.

More recently, in 2006, Prof Atta-ur-Rahman of the University of Karachi and King’s College, Cambridge, an organic chemist, was elected to the Royal Society. It is interesting to note that the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1983 went to the renowned astro-physicist, Dr S Chandrasekhar, who was born in Lahore in 1910.

The potential of the numerous applications of modern science and technology to tackle the issues of poverty and malnutrition is immense and continues to expand. This should, therefore, be strengthened as an area of joint endeavour for the countries of the subcontinent to gainfully explore and pursue research and opportunities for the welfare of the people of South Asia.