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Account Of A Pakistani Scientist’s Journey From Humble Beginnings To Cambridge

After the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) launched a moon landing mission to kick-start its space programme, many observers have asked whether Pakistan will be able to conduct its first manned space mission any time soon. Dr Yarjan Abdul Samad, a Pakistani scientist, believes the country is capable of achieving this feat.

Speaking at a series of talks held in Quetta recently, Dr Samad, who is the first Pakistani space scientist to be working at the University of Cambridge, said that Pakistan can initiate space missions with the right kind of motivation, he said during an interview with Dawn.

Dr Samad hails from Buleda, a small town in Balochistan’s Kech region, and he chose to become a satellite and space scientist after starting his journey from humble beginnings.

The scientist received his early education from an Urdu medium school in Karachi’s Lyari area and graduated from Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute (GIKI) by winning two gold medals. He was also nominated by the university for the Pakistan Engineering Council Best Graduate Engineer of the Year award in 2009.

Dr Samad then started working at Cambridge University as a postdoctoral research associate and was later hired by the varsity as a senior research scientist and teaching fellow.

In 2016, he joined the Cambridge Graphene Centre as a research associate and has focused his energies on space-based technologies. His career peaked when he was hired by the European Space Agency (ESA) to find a solution to a problem they were facing with their spacecrafts.

It merits mention here that Dr Samad and his team were the first scientists to perform an experiment with graphene (a form of carbon) under zero gravity conditions.

Narrating his childhood journey, Dr Samad said that his father worked on his agricultural land at Hub in Balochistan. He said his family later moved to Karachi’s Lyari area where he continued his studies in an Urdu medium school.

The now promising scientist said that he realised the importance of English language in 6th grade and decided to make progress by learning the language. I was rejected by many reputed English medium schools in Karachi due to my disadvantaged educational background and my inability to speak in English, he added.

Eventually, he got admission in White Grammar School in Lyari and was among the first batch of students there. This was the first English medium school where young Samad could study.

Dr Samad said that after reaching the 9th grade, he realised that people were using unfair means to pass board examinations. When I discussed the situation with my father, he advised me against taking such ‘help’ and to do everything on my own, Dr Samad added. And he has followed this advice ever since.

Dr Samad went on to secure a degree in Metallurgy and Materials Engineering from GIKI after which he decided to pursue Masters and PhD degrees on developing materials and devices for energy and environmental applications.

He started working on space-based technologies after joining the Cambridge Graphene Centre as a research associate and was recently promoted to a senior scientist position by the university.

In conclusion, Dr Samad said that nano and quantum technologies along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning would become an integral part of all future technologies, including space technologies.

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