A Life in Research
The Knowledge Diagram above demonstrates that our perceptions can be faulty.
At first glance on this diagram one sees two white
lines as arms of the pentangle, but in reality the white
lines do not exist within the white squares. This is the
difference between perception and reality in knowledge.
In problem-solving, one must think and ensure that
that the problem to be solved is a real one, not a perceived
version. Perception is based on pre-conceived notions, i.e.
on prejudices which also affect our judgment of people, as
mentioned in the section
The Life in the Family.
As mentioned earlier, I was born in 1938 in Bangladesh which was then part of the British India. My father who was a school teacher died just as I entered primary school. However I was a good student and in due course I got my BSc (Hons) degree in Physics and MSc degree in Nuclear Physics from the University of Dhaka, where from S.N. Bose wrote his famous paper with Einstein in 1927. The name Boson for a type of subnulcear particles, such as Higgs Boson, comes from that paper. As for me, I gained my PhD in Particle Physics, along with DIC (the postgraduate Diploma) from Imperial College, London in1965. Subsequently I was engaged in physics research for a number of years, first in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and next in Particle Physics at the Rutherford Laboratory, England, when in early 1970 I produced my well-known Particle-Physics paper referred to below.
In April 1970, I left Particle Physics (PP) for Computer Science (CS), joining SCICON computer consultancy company, where I soon became the Director of its operations in Libya, but BP (the Holding company) decided to close SCICON Libya after BP Libya (not SCICON Libya) was nationalized by Col. Gadhafi. I was then transferred to SCICON UK (London). By then Bangladesh got its independence, and SCICON decided not to invest in Pakistan, because of its war atrocities in Bangladesh. So there was no longer any talk of a software factory in Karachi, where as a Bangladeshi I could not have gone anyway. I worked in SCICON (London) for a while, before moving in 1973 to the Computing Science Department of the University of Aberdeen. This was my database era (see below).
I left Aberdeen in 1986 to take up a Chair in Computer Science at the University of Keele, where I established and led the Data and Knowledge Engineering (DAKE) research group, when I developed some advanced courses, in addition to carrying out research in the area of DAKE, which included databases. I retired in October, 2005 as Emeritus Professor, but continued working in the DAKE area of research at Keele University for a few more years until all of my PhD students had completed their studies.
The Early Period
My interest in science research goes back to my school days when I saw in my school book a picture, in a thinking pose, of the Bengali scientist Sir J.C. Bose (1858-1937), who came from the Dhaka area and who was the first Indian to get an FRS (in 1920). I thought that research was finding solutions by thinking – an idea that I liked, with Physics at the core of my interest. I started reading books on popular sciences, including the Theory of Relativity, in the later school years, when I bored my relatives explaining the wonders of Relativity, which I am sure I did not understand. In the nationwide Matriculation examination over the whole of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan), in 1953 I got the 10th highest marks, and achieved a similar good performance in the Intermediate of Science examination (equivalent to the English Science A Level) two years later. I then entered the Dhaka University for BSc Honours in Physics, which I completed in 1958, followed by MSc in Nuclear Physics in 1959. Although I always got scholarships, my family still had to sell some of its agricultural lands to support my education, as the values of these scholarships were just enough to cover only half the subsistence cost. I had to live a simple life, and did not have any western trousers until I enrolled in the University. Even when I was presented to the Duke of Edinburgh in the Dhaka University in 1959 as a top MSc student, I wore only plain trousers and an ordinary shirt. No jacket. However, I got my clothes ironed and borrowed a tie and a watch, in order to show deference to the honoured royal guest.
PAEC and Physics Research
Soon after my MSc, I was appointed a (Research) Fellow in Physics at the University. The financially acute days were then over my family no longer needed to sell lands. The first thing I did with my first month’s pay was to buy sarees for my mother and sister and a shirt for my brother. After a year of joining the University, I got a position in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) with a scholarship to study for a PhD in Physics at Imperial College, London.
Towards the end of my PhD, I was offered a research position in an Ivy-League university (Tufts University) in the USA but I could not join as I got trapped in Pakistan after I went home to see my mother before going to the USA. All Pakistani borders were closed (except for people with special permissions), due the 1965 India/Pakistan war. The US offer lapsed after one year. Finally in 1967 I was able to leave the PAEC to join the Rutherford High Energy Physics Laboratory, now called just Rutherford Lab (RL) in England.
I spent about three years in RL, visiting many European Research centres, particularly CERN (Geneva), where its Proton Synchrotron (the forerunner of, and at present the feeder to, the Large Hadron Collider) was the main experimental machine for Particle Physics (Bubble Chamber Physics). However, I did not want to settle in Britain, as I was eager to return home (Pakistan then). So when the computer company SCICON offered me an appointment in the early 1970s, to head its planned software production company at Karachi, I jumped at the prospect. It is also true that the High Energy Physics I was engaged in was contracting at that time with many well-known physicists losing their jobs, and I was not confident that I could survive the contraction.
My High Point in Physics
The last paper I wrote on Particle Physics was on a generalised technique for analysing some subnuclear reactions. I worked on it during much of 1969, completing it in January 1970, a few months before leaving RL to join SCICON. I then made my last visit to CERN, where, as customary, I gave a copy to CERN. Within a few weeks the CERN Librarian wrote to me congratulating me on this paper and asking my permission to produce a large number of photocopies to meet the demand, saying that the paper had created such an excitement in CERN that everyone wanted a copy. I, of course, consented with joy. I wish I kept that CERN letter, which I did not. I did not even try to publish my paper as I was leaving Physics.
When I returned to England after two years in the Middle East, I was told by some of my former Particle-Physics colleagues that they had seen my work being used and referenced in some physics research papers. Professor Ian Butterworth, my former teacher at the Imperial College, my former boss at RL in 1970 and the future Director-General of CERN, told me that RL had made many copies of the paper to meet the demand, but later the RL’s master copy was stolen. That is, someone who took it from the RL’s open Library to photocopy, did not return it to the shelf. So I sent RL another copy. I knew it was my best paper in Physics. I thought that was the end.
However, in November 2013, I got an email from a researcher in a German research group, asking me for a copy of that paper, as he wanted to read the original, having seen it being referred to in some places. At first I could not believe that someone wanted a copy of my 43 year-old paper. But someone did, which implied that my paper had been relevant in Particle Physics all that time! It was a pleasant and humbling experience for me. I thought perhaps I was not as bad a physicist as I sometimes believed myself to be. However, following this request, I scanned the paper and emailed the German researcher a copy. The RL, which I contacted, also wanted a scanned copy, and hence I sent them a copy. [Appendix A at the end of this section shows that email trail, and Appendix B contains the scanned paper].