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Salam’s Spirit Lives On

Four awardees honored for dedication to Abdus Salam’s vision

29/08/2017 - Trieste

Although they hail from different corners of the world and have diverse backgrounds, one characteristic that all four of this year’s Spirit of Abdus Salam Award recipients share is their dedication to Salam’s vision for the cooperation,  promotion and development of science and technology in the developing  world.

ICTP honored the four winners--Imrana Ashraf Zahid, Daniel Gómez, Giancarlo Ghirardi and Muhammad Iqbal--at a ceremony attended by Salam’s son Ahmad Salam, whose family established the award in 2014 to honor those who reflect the spirit of his late father.

Spirit 4Winners
The four winners of the 2017 Spirit of Abdus Salam Award pose with their framed certificated. From left: ICTP Director Fernando Quevedo, Daniel Gómez, Muhammad Iqbal, Giancarlo Ghirardi, Imrana Ashraf Zahid, and Ahmad Salam

“Father’s legacy was not science, but ICTP,” explained Ahmad Salam, recalling the senior Salam’s hard work and dedication toward making his dream a reality. That dream began when the 34-year-old, Cambridge-educated Pakistani scientist, frustrated at the lack of research opportunities in his native country, proposed that the United Nations help support an international theoretical physics institute.  Four years later, the charismatic Salam, who would later share the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, marked the official opening of ICTP in Trieste.

“The spirit of Salam is the spirit of self sacrifice for a greater cause; it’s the passion and commitment to do something about injustice in the world,” Ahmad Salam said, referring to his father’s drive to provide scientists from developing countries with first-class research facilities and networking opportunities.

During the award ceremony, the four 2017 Spirit of Salam award winners shared their personal accounts of Salam’s influence on their lives. Professor Giancarlo Ghirardi met Salam in the early 1960s, at the first-ever international seminar in theoretical physics in Trieste that was organized by ICTP co-founders Paolo Budinich and Salam. He has been a steady presence at the center ever since, as a researcher, a professor, and as the head of its Associate and Federation Schemes. On receiving the Spirit of Salam award, Ghirardi said, “I consider this as a remarkable achievement in my life.” He added that Salam was proud of ICTP’s reputation as a high-level research institute, a success that boosted the level of science in Trieste.

Professor Imrana Ashraf Zahid, a Pakistani scientist who was the first woman in that country to earn a doctoral degree in quantum optics, said that it was a big honor for her to receive the Spirit award, given the vital role of ICTP in her life. Zahid met Salam in the 1980s at an ICTP activity, an experience that “defined a path for me to follow.” She cited the learning and encouragement she received during her visits to ICTP, and found mentors in the late ICTP scientist Gallieno Denardo as well as in Joseph Niemela, who coordinates ICTP’s annual optics school and college. “Science is a gift to be shared for development for all,” she said, adding that in particular she hopes to do more for women in science. “I believe that when you educate a man, you educate an individual; educate a woman and you educate a family,” she stated.

Long-time ICTP Associate Daniel Gómez expressed his gratitude to Salam’s family and to ICTP for the award. “I always professed an immense admiration for Abdus Salam, not just the scientist but also the human being. Besides his ground-breaking contributions to theoretical physics, Professor Salam was also heavily involved in another task in which he tirelessly worked throughout his life: the promotion of science in Third World countries,” said Gómez. He added, “ICTP is living proof of Salam’s worthy cause.” Professor Gomez actively promotes learning and scientific collaboration in his home country, Argentina, including the recording of physics lectures at the University of Buenos Aires for dissemination to Spanish-speaking countries throughout the world. He explained that the Spirit of Salam award instilled in him “a huge responsibility of being able to convey Salam’s spirit, as if it were a torch, to be passed to the next generation.”

Dressed in traditional clothing from his native Pakistan, Spirit of Salam Award winner Muhammad Iqbal, who first came to ICTP in 1993 to help take care of an ailing Abdus Salam, expressed his gratitude to ICTP and Salam’s family for the honor. “For me, this is like winning the Nobel Prize!” he exclaimed. AT ICTP, Iqbal went on to become a multimedia assistant in the Center’s Budinich Lecture Hall, ensuring that ICTP’s presentation equipment—including microphones and overhead projections—functioned smoothly during ICTP’s numerous conferences.

Read more details about the four winners, and see photos from the ceremony.

A recording of the ceremony is here.

--Mary Ann Williams