A man of substance

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By Faryal Najeeb

Dr Viqar Uddin Ahmad is a Professor at the HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry, International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi.  Amongst several other top awards, he has also received the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 1996 and the civil award Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2006. He was also awarded the Kharazmi Prize by the President of Iran in 1998 in Tehran. Prof. Ahmad has published over 460 research papers in various national and international journals of repute. He is also the author of eight published books and has supervised research of fifty-two PhD students and four M.Phil students who have received their degrees. 

You are currently ranked as the third most productive scientist of Pakistan in your field. How does that feel?
Dr Viqar Uddin Ahmad: It is not a new thing. At one time I was at the number one position. See, a productive scientist means one that continues to publish his work. Many scientists dont publish their work. There is a saying in our field: publish or perish. I publish.
In your opinion what has been the most satisfying work that you have done?
We have done a lot of work on plants. We have isolated new compounds and identified various classifications. I have also published eight of books with several volumes to each of them.
What are you working on at present?
We are working on many things right now. I am a fellow of Pakistan Academy of Science and we are conducting some researches there. I have also applied for three projects with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for which results are awaited. My students also keep me very involved as for a PhD degree, now you need to work very hard, and I give my undivided attention to my students. I also teach a course here at the HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry.
It has been noted that the youth of Pakistan seems to be losing interest in the field of science. What have you got to say about that?
Students always look for rewards when they choose a career. In recent times, HEC has set up some good science universities, which are paying some very good salaries to their teachers, but in Pakistan, there are always phases of preferred careers. It changes with time.
There was a phase of doctors and engineers, but engineers arent paid that highly anymore. Then came the time when everyone was getting a degree in business administration. Nowadays, chartered accountancy is the rage. Personally, I encourage students to do their PhD regardless of discipline, as we need more of them in our nation.
Moreover, the countrys financial situation is pivotal. If the economic condition of the country is good, then people will spend more on education; and consequently they will also be able to get better jobs.
Is the government doing enough funding for scientific projects?
There should be more funding. The intermediate science colleges are not at all satisfactory and the equipments provided to them are very poor. So the government needs to improve that.
Furthermore, I strongly believe that there should be compulsory and free primary education to give our youth a strong foundation. This can only happen when our country is in a strong financial condition. Education has always been ignored and not given priority. Funding for education needs to be enhanced and literacy rate increased.
It has been seen that the government makes a lot of plans but implementation is not done on these projects. How can we resolve this issue?
Our institute was made on a PC-1 so its not that the government does not do any work or is not willing. There is a trust deficit. The most important thing is to follow up on the projects. The government usually does not have the trust on projects, so you need to give the government the trust and then you will get the grants and projects which will be implemented. There are many other research institutes here within the University of Karachi and they all get grants and work is being done in those institutes.
Industries claim that they dont benefit from academic researches. How can we improve on the industry-academic liaison?
The industrialists in Pakistan dont want to utilise our research. They prefer to buy from foreign nations. I dont think the local industries have any interest in our research. If they are so keen on improving local research and utilizing it, then they should fund our work, start industrial projects with us etc. We do solve industry problems but its limited. Furthermore, when making a new innovative discovery, it takes time of course. The industrialists and firms need to have patience.
Where is Pakistan ranked in the global scientific world? How lucrative is our future?
We are very low on the scale but the potential and scope is very high. Efforts are being made and we can hope to improve our rank.
During President Pervaiz Musharraf and Mr. Atta ur Rehmans time, a lot of money was given to do scientific research, which has been reduced now, but nonetheless, is still there.
Yet again, education needs to be improved. Science is a later issue, first comes education. When there is no education, how can there be science? When students come here to study, I realise how little they are taught in colleges and how poor our youths knowledge is.
Once upon a time, science was ruled over by the Islamic world, which we have lost now. Do you think we can regain that strong position?
Yes we can as there is a lot of scope. I repeat we need to improve our education. We also need to send our students for foreign education as foreign educated graduates are very different from the local ones.
We also need to improve our relationship with the west and European nations and carry out exchange of ideas with them. But all this wont happen any time soon. It will take many, many years. If our people strive to be one of the best in the world- it is possible to gain lost glory.
How we can control brain-drain from Pakistan?
The brain-drain can be controlled by providing well-paid jobs to the graduates and Ph.Ds of Pakistani Universities.
What do you have to say on the subject that the art of research has been dying out since the internet has arrived?
Copying from the internet is outright plagiarism. Here in our institute, we have a system to check out plagiarism which instantly points out if large chunks of information that may have been copy/pasted. HEC has zero tolerance policy in this matter.
What else do you want to do that you feel you havent achieved as yet?
I am working on a book on Tetracyclic triterpene. Half of work on it has been done and I am aiming to bring it out in several volumes. Moreover, my students are my responsibility too. So I like to see them settled and doing jobs. I also aim to isolate a compound from medical plants that would help in medicines.
What are your comments about Technology Times?
Technology Time is a good newspaper which provides latest information about science and technology in our country and abroad.


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