Sha­heer Ni­azi — teenager who put Pak­istan on sci­ence map

The Miracle - - Pakistan -

LA­HORE: “No one has ever achieved much from stay­ing within the con­fines of a sys­tem...you need to cre­ate your own path.” At the risk of sound­ing a tad af­fected, th­ese sagely words from a sev­en­teenyear-old stu­dent of A-Lev­els are an at­tempt to ex­plain how he had man­aged to achieve a goal most of his co­horts would find un­think­able at their young age, and the mes­sage he wants to give stu­dents as­pir­ing to build a ca­reer in sci­ence. Age, for Muham­mad Sha­heer Ni­azi, is a mere num­ber that should never have to hold any­one back. The be­spec­ta­cled curly-haired stu­dent from the La­hore Col­lege of Arts and Sci­ences (LACAS), Jo­har Town, A-Level Cam­pus, got pub­lished a re­search pa­per in the jour­nal, Royal So­ci­ety Open Sci­ence, based on re­search he had con­ducted for the In­ter­na­tional Young Physi­cists’ Tour­na­ment in Rus­sia last year. Speak­ing to Dawn, Sha­heer re­calls that while pre­par­ing for the tour­na­ment at the lab­o­ra­to­ries at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ences (LUMS), Dr Sa­bieh An­war, who leads the PhysLab ini­tia­tive, handed him a ther­mo­graphic cam­era. Like most 17-year-olds, he be­gan by tak­ing his own pic­tures, but also caught on cam­era tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ences on the sur­face of a layer of oil in an elec­tric field between a pointed elec­trode and a flat one (a hon­ey­comb pat­tern ap­pears on the layer of oil when high volt­age is passed through). He used shad­owg­ra­phy to im­age the ion stream. This had not been done be­fore. The team rep­re­sent­ing Pak­istan at the In­ter­na­tional Young Physi­cists’ Tour­na­ment was given the elec­tric hon­ey­comb phe­nom­e­non to present on and Sha­heer’s twin sis­ter, Khadija Ni­azi, was the team cap­tain. He de­cided to write a pa­per on his find­ings but lit­tle did he re­alise what an ar­du­ous process it would be to make it pub­lish­able. The process of peer re­view, for ex­am­ple, took time. Pro­fes­sor Troy Shin­brot at the Rut­gers Univer­sity says, “I read Mr Ni­azi’s pa­per and thought it was re­ally lovely work, but he needed help writ­ing the man­u­script in a pub­lish­able form. This was I think just a mat­ter that the work was good, but the pre­sen­ta­tion needed pol­ish­ing to strengthen his case. In the end, I re­ferred him to a col­league, Dr Ta­pan Sabuwala, and the Ok­i­nawa In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, who gen­er­ously agreed to spend the time work­ing with Mr Ni­azi do­ing the nec­es­sary pol­ish­ing. I’m very glad to see the work pub­lished.” Sim­i­larly, Dr Sa­bieh was all praise for Sha­heer’s work. His web­site www.physlab. org car­ries the sto­ries of all the team mem­bers who pre­pared for the tour­na­ment over three months and worked on so­lu­tions to “mind-baf­fling phys­i­cal phe­nom­ena” in­clud­ing: elec­tric hon­ey­combs, hot water gey­sers, rollers on rollers, mag­netic trains, ul­tra-hy­dropho­bic water, acous­tic meta­ma­te­ri­als and me­chan­i­cal ma­chines to gen­er­ate ran­dom num­bers. Smil­ing broadly, Sha­heer says it was his mother’s dream for he and his sis­ter to get pa­pers pub­lished in jour­nals. He re­ceived an ac­cep­tance let­ter for his pa­per shortly be­fore his birth­day last month. His sis­ter Khadija Ni­azi got her pa­per pub­lished in the jour­nal, NRC Re­search Press — a di­vi­sion of Cana­dian Sci­ence Pub­lish­ing — last year. Her pa­per — Solv­ing core is­sues of early physics ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan — ad­dresses the prob­lem of paucity of women in­ter­ested in ca­reers in pure physics and sci­ences, while dis­cussing novel ways to reach a wider au­di­ence. “I see both of my chil­dren de­vel­op­ing ca­reers in re­search,” says Aye­sha Ah­mad, their mother. The twins are can­did about how their mother was cen­tral to cul­ti­vat­ing their in­ter­est in sci­ence and in push­ing them to broaden their in­ter­ests. Nei­ther of the two wants to limit them­selves to a sin­gle field. Sha­heer, for ex­am­ple, is plan­ning on con­duct­ing re­search into plant per­cep­tions, which he ad­mits is a con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject, but fits neatly with his in­ter­ests in gar­den­ing and hor­ti­cul­ture. Khad­jia, on the other hand, be­lieves that strict ca­reer lines and spe­cial­i­sa­tions only in­hibit one’s in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity. She is in­ter­ested in bring­ing to­gether seem­ingly im­mis­ci­ble dis­ci­plines (in her case, it is physics and jour­nal­ism) to cre­ate some­thing novel and get an in­creas­ing num­ber of stu­dents in Pak­istan in­ter­ested in sub­jects that aren’t usu­ally taught at schools. The twins are all praise for the help LACAS gave them to pur­sue their re­search in­ter­ests — from pro­vid­ing a por­tion of fund­ing for the tour­na­ment, to al­low­ing Sha­heer to wreak havoc in the labs. “Mother used to tell us to think big and think ahead,” Khadija says. “She made us bril­liant.”

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