By Matin Durrani
I have always felt a bit uncomfortable about the “heroic” view of science – the idea that the most significant progress depends on the work of individual geniuses. Unfortunately, this is the way in which many people view scientific history, with the contributions of lesser mortals dismissed and swept aside.
However, it is fair to say that some physicists do stand head and shoulders above all others – none more so than Abdus Salam, who was (and still is) Pakistan’s only Nobel prize-winner.
Now two Pakistani film producers, Omar Vandal and Zakir Thaver, are creating a feature-length documentary about Salam’s scientific contributions – but they need your help to finish the job.
A child mathematical prodigy from a humble background who studied at Government College in Lahore, Salam went on to share the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg for developing the “electroweak” theory.
Yet despite the fact that Salam helped to get several hundred Pakistani scientists and engineers trained at the world’s top universities – and served for a time as chief science adviser to the Pakistani president – he has received scant official recognition beyond the scientific community.
The problem is that Salam was a member of the unorthodox minority “Ahmadi” sect of Islam, which the Pakistani government declared in 1974 as “non-Muslims”. Effectively he was excommunicated as a heretic.
Vandal and Thaver met in college in the US back in 1996 – the year Salam died – and it was there that they first realized just how much Salam is lionized outside their country, even if back in Pakistan his achievements remain largely ignored outside scientific circles.
The pair have already finished researching and producing the film but now are raising money for the all-important “post-production” – the lengthy business of crafting footage into a final film. The pair are after $150,000 so if you feel you can help the cause, please do visit the film’s website, or at the very least watch the six-minute “teaser” above.
It includes interviews with, among others, Weinberg, Salam’s son, as well as Michael Duff from Imperial College London, where Salam spent the bulk of his career. If the rest of the footage matches these clips – and if funds are raised to complete the project – it should end up as a fascinating tribute to one of Pakistan’s most famous sons.