On the 50th Anniversary of Abdus Salam’s Arrival at Imperial College

Here’s a piece in the Forward from about a month ago on Steven Weinberg’s decision to cancel a speech at Imperial College London on the 50th anniversary of Abdus Salam’s arrival at Imperial College. Salam_3The reason for the cancelation was the growing movement to boycott Israeli academia among English academics. The thrust of the article is more about the friendship between Salam and Weinberg.

Weinberg, whose father was a court stenographer, had graduated from Bronx High School of Science and studied Salam’s work in renormalization when he was a graduate student. That shared interest set the pair apart — “It was a bit out of fashion,” said physicist Tom Kibble, a contemporary of theirs at Imperial — and led to their first meeting, in 1960, at the University of California, Berkeley. Weinberg had recently become an assistant professor there; Salam, only 34, was already a member of Britain’s Royal Society.

“He had wonderful moustaches, and an Anglo-Indian accent,” said Weinberg of his elder colleague. “To me, he looked like a character in a movie about the Raj.”

The pair hit it off, and Weinberg was glad to join Salam at Imperial in 1961 as a visiting professor. As a collaborator, Weinberg’s calculated style was complementary to Salam’s flamboyance. “He was always bursting into our office to expound some new proposition,” wrote an Imperial colleague of the energetic Pakistani. Salam “loved to give names to expressions or equations — some of them risqué— and then tried to get them past the [journal] editor.”

“A little more effervescent than I was,” is how Weinberg described his friend to the Forward. “One day, he told me there was one thing he held against the Jews. I was worried what he’d say. He said, ‘The prohibition against eating pork, which you passed down to the Muslims. But every Jew I know eats the stuff.’… That kind of humor lubricated our friendship.”