Dr. N. M. Butt
Interview by Engr. Asghar Hayat.
A Pakistani nuclear physicist and the chairman and professor of Nanotechnology at Preston Institute of Nano Science and Technology, Noor Muhammad Butt better known as Dr. N. M. Butt was born in Sialkot, in 1936. Professor Dr. N. M. Butt did his M. Sc Physics (1957) from Government College, Punjab University, Lahore and his Ph.D (Nuclear/Solid State 1965) and D.Sc (Physics, 1993) from the University of Birmingham, U.K. His classical work (1963) with O’Connor established the confirmation of Waller’s theory (1923) of Phonons (a quantum of energy or a quasiparticle associated with a compressional wave such as sound or a vibration of a crystal lattice) at the Bragg diffraction peaks using diffraction of Mossbauer gamma-rays from LiF single crystals, which has been extensively cited for several decades and printed in several books including those of Cambridge University Press (U.K.) and North Holland Publishers. He has published over 160 research papers in scientific journals. Professor Butt has lectured and presented Research Papers in conferences in over 25 countries in the East and West. He is on the Editorial Boards of several National and International Journals and Member of Governing Bodies and Technical Committees of several organizations.
Dr. Butt is Fellow of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and the Islamic Academy of Sciences and has been President of a few Professional Societies of Pakistan. He is the First Joint Winner of International Kharazmi Award (KIA), Iran (1995). He was elected Hon. Member of the World Innovation Foundation (WIF). The WIF has world known Scientific and Engineering Professionals as its elected Members including about 90 Nobel Laureates. He retired in 1996 as Chief Scientist/ Director General of PINSTECH, Pakistan’s premier research Institute and he was the first to be given the position of Scientist Emeritus (Life-title) of PAEC in view of his outstanding services to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Dr Butt worked as Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation and is the initiator of Nanotechnology in Pakistan. He worked as the Chairman of the National Commission on Nano Science and Technology, NCNST (2003-2008), Ministry of Science and Technology and as a result, several laboratories in Pakistan are now engaged in Nanotechnology in Pakistan.
Engineering Cap (EC) interviewed Dr. Butt to educate its readers on “how he did it?”
EC: Tell us about your childhood and educational career.
Dr. Butt: My childhood was very simple. Although, we used to sit on mats in the class and had little facilities in the school but our teachers were very dedicated and generous. I did my F.Sc. in pre-engineering but had no means to pursue an engineering degree from Lahore. Luckily, Murray College announced admission in B.Sc. Mathematics and Physics for the first time. I topped all the colleges of my division which earned me a scholarship. This encouraged me and I went to Lahore for higher education.
EC: What was your source of inspiration which led to your interest in Nuclear Science?
Dr. Butt: Prof. Dr. Rafi M. Chaudhry, Head of Department at Government College Lahore and a PhD in Nuclear Science under supervision of Rutherford motivated me towards nuclear science. He trained us at a latest nuclear machine of the region. As I topped in M.Sc., Dr. Rafi advised me to stay at college and conduct research. Later on, I was appointed as lecturer through public service examination.
EC: How did you get selected for PhD?
Dr. Butt: In 1961, only two scholars got selected for Common Wealth Scholarship from Pakistan including myself from West Pakistan. I showed my interest in nuclear physics, hence I was admitted in University of Birmingham. I had the honor to complete my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Moon who was also a senior of Dr. Rafi and was a key player in making of the first atomic bomb of America. My topic of research was “Application of Gamma Radiations in Crystal at Atomic Level” which gave me an opportunity to deliver lectures in Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and many other countries at a young age. A theory was proposed by a scientist around forty year prior to my research but was not practically proven. My research proved that lingering theory and the results were published in many publications of the time. In 1965, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission sent me to Best Nuclear Center in Germany for a post doctorate work. I was posted at PINSTECH Nilore in 1966 and spent my career life there.
EC: Why we moved towards using Nuclear Technology for defence?
Dr. Butt: This is an important question. After the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came into power, he envisioned to make Pakistan an atomic power. He knew about India’s working on atomic bomb. The same was confirmed in 1974 after the atomic bomb tests by India. In Pakistan, Dr. Abdul Salam and Dr. I.H. Usmani the then Chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy, started their work in 1960s. They developed a group of 500 scientists for working on use of nuclear technology in health, agriculture and other peaceful purposes of this technology. After the atomic tests by India, the same manpower was tasked by Bhutto to develop atomic bomb to strengthen the defence of Pakistan. We became the atomic power due to the efforts of whole nation and specifically the trained manpower. I would give the credit to Dr. Rafi M. Chaudhry who taught nuclear science to Pakistani scientists who later contributed in making Pakistan an atomic power.
EC: How you tilted towards Nanotechnology?
Dr. Butt: After my retirement from Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, I was facilitated by PAEC for research on my ideas .I realized that new materials are also coming in the shape of bio-materials. I researched and started to give lectures on Bio materials. An American scientist Fineman came up with the idea in 1959 according to which characteristics of materials may change at smaller size levels. Nano means a billion part of a meter. One nanometer has ten atoms in it. All diseases are measured in nanometer. A DNA is around two-three nanometers in size.
EC: What was the response from Government for Nanotechnology?
Dr. Butt: When I gave the idea of starting work on Nanotechnology in Pakistan, Dr. Ata ur Rehman, the Federal Minister at that time took interest and called on me. Dr. Ata ur Rehman constituted a commission of five scientists under my Chairmanship and named it as “National Commission for Nano Science and Technology”. We funded university projects and research from government funds and work on nanotechnology started in 2003 in Pakistan.
EC: Where Pakistan stands in the world in the field of Nanotechnology?
Dr. Butt: Nanotechnology is not at a stage where it should be in Pakistan. Iran has promoted it at national level and is far ahead now. We surveyed in 2013 and found that we have 22 universities having qualified people, laboratories and materials. We handed over the report to Ministry of Science and Technology with suggestions and the way forward. However, no efforts are being done for linking it to the industry at national level.
EC: What are the applications of Nanotechnology in Pakistan?
Dr. Butt: Nanotechnology improves the quality and efficiency of products in all industries. It has its implications in civil construction, curing cancer, sports goods, energy, solar cell, water purification and textile sector. World is spending billions of dollars on nanotechnology and it is expected to become the industry of two to three trillion in 2020.
EC: What do you see the role of industry?
Dr. Butt: Research is important in all walks of life. In many countries, industry offers scholarships to students without caring for outcomes. Unfortunately, industrialists earn money but hesitate to spend it on research. For better industry-academia linkages, university syndicate should take a few industrialists aboard. Industry should share the problems and universities should resolve them.
EC: What made you reach at higher level?
Dr. Butt: Simplicity and love for my objectives are pillars of my career development. We should work with honesty and put all natural skills and efforts to attain success.