Homage: Our own Einstein

Published August 15, 2010

If you are thinking a year ahead, sow seed. If you are thinking 10 years ahead, plant a tree. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, make people aware. By sowing seed once, you harvest once. By planting a tree, you will harvest tenfold. By opening the minds of people, you will harvest a hundredfold.

— Chinese proverb

Indeed, people who look 100 years ahead build institutions and spread awareness. Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui played a pivotal role in the promotion and propagation of scientific education and research in Pakistan. One of the famous students of Albert Einstein, Dr Raziuddin Siddiqui, while paying tribute to Dr Siddiqui, observed, “There are not many instances in the history of science where great research workers are also great organisers and promoters of the subject. But, as with other such rules, there are honourable exceptions in this one also, ... Dr Siddiqui belongs to this category of exceptions.”

He made significant contributions in developing the science and technology infrastructure in Pakistan. He laid the foundations of research and development work in Pakistan by establishing PCSIR research labs in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Dhaka, Rajshahi, and Chittagong. Dr Siddiqui was the founder of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Chairman of the drafting committee of the Pakistan Science Commission, Chairman of the Pakistan Council of Science and Technology, Director of the Institute of Chemistry, and founder of Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (H.E.J.) Research Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1961. He published over 400 research papers and was granted 50 patents. Dr Siddiqui, in recognition of his contributions to research, received many national and international academic honours.

The eminent scientist was born on October 19, 1897, to Chaudri Muhammad Zaman. His elder brother, Chaudhri Kaliquzzaman, a prominent Muslim League leader, was one of the founding fathers of Pakistan. After graduating from Aligarh in 1919, Dr Siddiqui attended the University of Frankfurt am Main from 1921-27. After completing his doctoral degree, he returned home and was asked by Hakim Ajmal Khan to establish the drug research institute in Tibbi College, Delhi. During his 10-year tenure as the director of the institute, he carried out extensive research studies on the isolation and chemical structure of alkaloids and other physiologically active constituents of a number of plants used for medicinal purposes by the Hukaa'mah.

He believed that a scientist must study history, literature and philosophy, in order to become a sophisticated thinker or acquire high language proficiency. Dr Siddiqui conducted extensive research on Neem (Melia azadirachata) and other bitter plants. In the 1990s he was still isolating new compounds from Neem. When asked about his perseverance, he humbly recited Faiz

Kai bar iss key khatir zurreh ka jegar cheerah / Magar chash-may-haran key haraney nahein jahtee (Many times I have sliced the core of the particle / But the curiosity of my curious eyes never vanishes).

Then he recited Ghalib

Kaya khoob hay ka sub koo milay aik sa jawab / aa'oh kay hum bhi sair karain koh-e-toor key. (It is not necessary that everyone finds the same answer / come let's visit Mount Toor (Sinai).

Dr Siddiqui believed in the application of science for the service of mankind. In an article titled, Contribution of science in the context of human value systems and peace in modern times, he observed, “At the end I would like to cite a verse from the great poet-sage of Shiraz—Sheikh Saadi 'Bani Adam A'azai yak Digarand (the children of Adam are like limbs of one another)'. If there is any place for the simple wisdom of this verse in modern times, it may serve to keep to the irrational component of the human psyche under control, allowing the peaceful operations of science to overcome the baneful influences of material and ideology on mankind.”

In Pakistan, the state of science and technology education and research is stagnant, even deteriorating. Many scientists in Pakistan claim to have published hundreds of research papers, but yet their contribution towards the advancement of knowledge remains insignificant. Academia in Pakistan needs to acknowledge the great services rendered by Dr Siddiqui by educating the young generation and by establishing scholarships, science projects and chairs in his name. Nowadays, Islamabad needs a visionary and pioneer like him, who can revive the declining state of science and technology education and research, and bring them to a par with international standards.

Dr Ahmed S. Khan is a professor in the College of Engineering & Information Sciences, DeVry University, Addison, IL,US.

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