Abdus Salam

Jonathan Faust
March 15, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: A photo of Abdus Salam (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Abdus Salam (Fig. 1) was a Pakistani physicist and professor who was born in the town of Jhang in 1926. [1] At the age of 14, Salam left his hometown to attend the Government College in Lahore, where he scored higher on the entrance exam than any candidate in the school's history. [1] He completed his undergraduate studies at Punjab University and subsequently received a doctorate from Cambridge University in 1952. [1] He then taught mathematics at the Government College and Punjab University until he returned to England in 1957 to become a professor of theoretical physics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, where he remained for much of the rest of his career and life. [1] In 1979, Salam became the first Muslim physicist to scientist to win a Nobel Prize, which he shared with two American physicists, Dr. Steven Weinberg and Dr. Sheldon Glashow. [1] They won the prize for their work on the electroweak theory. [1]

The Electroweak Theory

Salam worked independently from the two American recipients to devise equations that indicated the symmetry between the weak nuclear force, which is responsible for certain types of radioactive decay and exists within atomic nuclei, and the electromagnetic force, the force transmitted by light and other types of radiation. [1] The electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force represent two of the four known forces of nature. The other two are the strong nuclear force and gravity. [1] Salam, along with the other two physicists, eventually concluded that the weak force must have been created by previously undiscovered particles, W+, W-, and Z0 particles. [1] Once these particles were detected by another group of physicists, Salam's electroweak theory was confirmed. [1]

Third-World Scholarship

In addition to his work as a physicist, Salam led global efforts to make the discipline of physics accessible to students in developing countries. [1] He founded the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, which has sought to support physicists from developing countries since its inception in 1964. [1]


Although Salam was an extremely accomplished physicist and Pakistan's only Nobel laureate until Malala Yousafzai won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, Salam's achievements were not honored in Pakistan until 2016, 37 years after he won the Nobel. [2] This is due to the fact that Salam belonged to a religious minority known as the Ahmadiyya Community. [2] Although Ahmadis identify as Muslims, orthodox Muslims in Pakistan consider them to be heretics because they do not believe that Mohammad was the final prophet sent by God to guide mankind. [3] The Ahamdis number 4 million in Pakistan today. [2] Although Salam maintained contact with the Pakistani scientific community, he left Pakistan in 1974 when the Pakistani legislature enacted a constitutional amendment declaring the Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. [3] The Ahmadis are still persecuted to this day. In 2010, more than 94 were killed and 120 injured when suicide attackers struck two Ahmadi community centers in Lahore. [2]


37 years after receiving his Nobel prize and 20 years after his death, the Prime Minister of Pakistan chose to honor Salam by naming the physics department of the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad the Dr. Abdus Salam Centre for Physics. [3] The Prime Minister also approved five annual scholarships for Pakistani students pursuing doctoral studies in physics at universities around the world. [3]

© Jonathan Faust. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. W. Browne, "Abdus Salam is Dead at 90; Physicist Shared Nobel Prize," New York Times, 23 Nov 96.

[2] P. Constable, "Pakistan Honors Nobel Winner in Physics 37 years Late. But His Religion Still Stirs Anger," Washington Post, 6 Nov 16.

[3] M. Khan, "Why Has This Nobel Winner Been Ignored for 30 Years?," BBC News, 8 Dec 16.