Breakthroughs by Bangalee scientists

Nilratan Halder     | Published: September 13, 2018 22:20:54

It is time the long-held notion that the Bangalees are back benchers when it comes to scientific and technological breakthroughs were changed. After two Boses -Jagadish Chandra Bose and Satyendranath Bose -hardly any Bangalee has done any pioneering work of international recognition for a long period. Geneticist Maqsudul Alam appeared on the scene with his phenomenal probing mind for gene sequencing of a number of plants including papaya and jute. Not only did he help papaya farmers in Hawaii save their crop from pest attacks but also opened up the opportunity for diverse use of jute in Bangladesh.

Zahid Hasan Tapas, a physicist of Bangladeshi origin, at Princeton University then made the whole world sit up by discovering the Weyl fermion particle, a massless wonder particle with the potential of revolutionising communications and information technology. Of the essentially two groups of particles, fermions are one and Weyl fermion is unique in that it has no mass. If fermions are the building block of matter, bosons are the force particles that hold them together. What an extraordinary coincidence that the names of two Bangalees have become inseparably associated with both particles! Satyendranath's with Boson and Zahid's with Weyl fermion.

Now Zahid Hasan and his team at the Princeton have come up with yet another groundbreaking discovery. It is the topological kagome quantum magnet. Together with Weyl fermions, the newly discovered material force opens up unlimited possibility and if used properly, this can enhance capacity of computers, and electronics 100 times more. Medical science will also greatly benefit by its use. The Bangladeshi scientist has to his credit several other pioneering works apart from the two most outstanding now listed among the world's top 10 discoveries. This gifted scientist may be the next contender for the Nobel Prize from this country for his contribution to science.

Late Dr Maqsudul Alam and Dr Zahid Hasan have done their research in the United States of America. In this context it is quite revealing that after standing first in Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations, he took admission to the University of Dhaka for studying mathmatics. He attended only four classes before leaving for the USA with scholarship. What made him take the decision to leave for study at the University of Texas, Austin in the USA is the frequent bloody clashes between student groups in those days. Thank God, this virtuoso of a scholar had the uncanny knowledge of the place where he could make use of his talent. One wonders, why students like him could not make similar marks! One of the reasons is a lack of the right kind of environment to foster the special kind of genius.

This highlights the shortcomings of higher studies in this country. Academic pursuit sans experiment and research has never really helped build up a strong base for science and technology and no wonder the country's contribution to that field has ever remained constrained. But there is no reason for undermining the scientific talents here. And the good news is that the situation is undergoing a positive change -slowly but surely.

The best example of this is the latest pioneering of a simple method by the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) for early cancer detection at a low cost. A team of researchers at the university has designed a device capable of detecting cancer within just five minutes and at a cost of only Tk 500. The device will subject blood samples to intense laser beams and analyse if the person concerned has cancer or not. This is for the first time in the world that nonlinear optics has been used for detection of cancer. Its import for the entire world is likely to be unimaginably vast. Early detection of cancer and at such a low cost means that people will subject themselves to this simple blood test to know if they carry the cancer germ in their body cells. Not only will this increase the chances of survival for patients but also reduce the cost of treatment. Clearly, the world will closely follow the development as a suitable detection device is readied. Leader of the research team Dr Yasmeen Haque expects it will get ready by next year.

Then yet another scientific breakthrough has been achieved by a team of researchers from the Bangladesh Agricultural University. In collaboration with Dhaka University, research facilities in the US and Australia, the research was conducted to map the DNA and RNA of Hilsha fish. This scholarly work will have a far-reaching impact on production of this popular fish, especially in the area of its spawning. Right now a government ban on catching the fish is imposed on a traditional assumption that during a certain period flocks of Hilsha travel to sweet-water rivers from the Bay of Bengal for laying eggs. But it has no scientific basis. Genome sequencing is likely to give answers to many probes so necessary for allowing it to breed freely.      

These are scientific works of immense value. Add to this the effort by a Bangladesh researcher now engaged in developing small modular reactor in Australia. His works can change the way nuclear power plants are devised on acres of land. Again, a robot devised by Bangladesh students is set to be flying for the Mars on an American rocket, courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the US. Clearly, inventive and probing minds from Bangladesh have started announcing their readiness to be in the endeavour of discovery and invention. Let this just be the beginning -more will hopefully follow.

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