At a hill station resort, scientists huddle

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on July 4, 2013.

Islamabad – At Nathiagali, the picturesque hill station in the lower Himalayas, summer season tourism is not the only thing thriving in the cool, mountain air this July.

Tucked away from the hordes of tourists, an exchange of scientific knowledge between Pakistani researchers and their foreign counterparts is also prospering.

Over 150 Pakistani students and researchers along with science faculty members and participants from 20 countries around the world are participating in the ongoing International Nathigali Summer College 2013.

The annual event, which provides an forum for international scientific interaction, was the brainchild of Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam, and has been organised every year since 1976 by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC).

“My expectation before attending the conference was that I will get to interact with the community of quantum optics,” said Tasawar Abbas, a participant and a quantum optics researcher at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad. “During the sessions, I got to learn about relevant research taking place in the world in this field.”

Dr Muhammad Faisal, a participant from PAEC, said the INSC is a great opportunity for students to have discussions about scientific research with local and foreign teachers.

Among the foreign scientists who are visiting the two-weeks INSC 2013, Dr Dieter Meschede, a professor at Germany’s Bonn University, delivered a lecture on lasers. Meschede said his audience was very communicative and he had fruitful discussions with Pakistani students about quantum optics.

“It (the INSC) is the best way of introducing young people to a new field of physics,” Meschede said.

Around 200 Pakistani students and researchers who participated in the 2012 International Nathiagali Summer College were able to go abroad for research thanks to the interaction they had with foreign scientists at the college, Dr Hafeez Hoorani, INSC’s Scientific Secretary said.

The INSC organizers believe the 2013 summer college will offer local scientists similar opportunities to expand their research horizons.

“PhDs, who want to go for post doctoral studies abroad, can discuss their research with foreign faculty who are usually not so easily accessible,” Dr Javed Khurshid, INSC’s Executive Secretary said, “They can also talk about scientific problems they are working on.”

For 2013, the college is focusing on Accelerator technology and behaviour of atoms at extremely low temperatures — both topics are relevant to practical applications and theoretical research being conducted in Pakistan.

Khurshid said Accelerators technology is important for Pakistan right away because linear accelerators are used for radiotherapy in cancer treatment. He said Pakistan has around 7 linear accelerators being used for cancer treatment in the public and private sector.

Even though the accelerators are expensive, if Pakistanis develop the expertise to fix the machines themselves, they would bring down the operations and maintenance costs, Khurshid said.

The lowering of running costs could potentially benefit the around 750,000 patients being treated every year, almost free of charge, at 18 PAEC cancer hospitals in the country, he said.

Topics are discussed at the INSC in a yearly progression, Khurshid said. In the first year, a topic is introduced to the participants. During the second year, in-depth knowledge is developed by forming research groups and institutes and finally, in the third year, the participants are exposed to lab-work and technical know-how of the topics.

“We’ve created many institutions through this summer college over the years,” Khurshid said, citing the example of the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, which came about back in 1994 as a follow-up on sessions conducted at the INSC.

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