Dr. Delbourgo recollects that Dr. Salam gave up smoking for snacks and preferred to “dine with us plebs” instead of university staff.


Dr. Robert Delbourgo is a distinguished physicist and recipient of the Walter Boas Medal from the Australian Institute of Physics. He participated in a webinar last week, held by the Pakistan alumni of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, to commemorate First Nobel laureate Dr. Abdus Salam’s 97th birthday.

During his time at the college, he had the opportunity to study under Dr. Abdus Salam, a Pakistani professor who was hired straight out of Cambridge University and was the country’s first Nobel laureate.

During the webinar, Dr. Delbourgo reflected on his interactions with Dr. Salam and shared stories from his time working with Pakistan’s most well-known and celebrated scientist. He remembered that in 1961, he was required to write a research paper as part of his diploma studies.

Dr. Abdus Salam and Paul Taunton Matthews, another renowned theoretical physicist, ended up supervising Dr. Robert Delbourgo’s research paper.
“I didn’t fully comprehend when he talked about parity violations at the time. But it was clear that he was motivated and enthusiastic. I decided to focus my research on theoretical physics as a result.” He was a teacher “who stood by his students through thick and thin,” according to Dr. Delbourgo, who also noted that he never neglected his duties as a staff member. Dr. Delbourgo also stated that he was in awe when he first met Dr. Salam, who was a Nobel Prize winner.

Dr. Robert Delbourgo spoke about the history of the founding of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). He said that Dr. Abdus Salam often discussed how the Middle East maintained science during the Middle Ages and transmitted that knowledge to Europe through Spain.

This vision drove Dr. Salam to pursue his goal of encouraging the developing world to engage in intentional scientific research.

Dr. Salam reportedly felt “intellectually isolated” in Pakistan while working as a professor at the Government College, Lahore, according to a report. “It became quite obvious to me that I had to give up physics or leave my country.” Delbourgo was lucky enough to have Dr. Salam as his PhD supervisor and collaborate on several research publications.

Dr. Robert Delbourgo also remembered that First Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam was a chain smoker while he was at the university, but later quit that habit and replaced cigarettes with snacks. After completing his PhD, Delbourgo was recommended by Dr. Salam for a post-doc opportunity at the University of Wisconsin and later offered his first job at the ICTP in Trieste, Italy.

Dr. Delbourgo described Dr. Salam as a humble and dedicated mentor, who took his supervisory responsibilities seriously. He would take his lunch at the cafeteria instead of the staff club and was always willing to share his thoughts and ideas with colleagues and students to inspire further research.

He was known to walk around the study rooms, asking his students how they were doing and showing genuine concern for their progress.

He also lectured on physics everywhere, even when he was in pain due to appendicitis. “He was a busy man but never forgot to do the right thing, receiving flowers on his wedding day and a beautiful plate inscribed with Arabic upon the birth of his son.”

The former student remembered Salam being extremely depressed about leaving his family behind and moving to Australia. He said it was very upsetting to see Salam’s health deteriorating after their last meeting, even though his mentor was by that point very old.

“I had a heartbreaking experience when I witnessed him pass away from neurological issues in the early 1990s at a conference in Trieste. That day, I believe he recognized me or it might be merely conjecture on my part.” On October 21, 1996, Dr. Abdus Salam passed away at the age of 70. He had suffered from a disabling neurological disorder for years. He had endured years of crippling neurological illnesses.

Ahmad Salam, Dr. Salam’s son, expressed regret that none of his offspring appear to want to carry on the great man’s legacy during the webinar. He now has a large number of grandchildren, but sadly none of them are interested in physics, for reasons I cannot fathom.