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TWAS Newsletter
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"Mohamed Hassan: The Early Years of TWAS"

"Mohamed Hassan: The Early Years of TWAS"

In a new film, TWAS's longtime executive director discusses the vision of Abdus Salam and the compelling need that inspired creation of an academy of science for the developing world.

Mohamed Hassan was an ambitious young physicist, but his career had come to a crossroads.

It was the mid-1970s, and he was teaching in his home country of Sudan, at the University of Khartoum. He was yearning to take his research deeper into the realms of plasma physics, but he felt isolated and disconnected from the wider world of research in his field. Maybe, he thought, it was time to join his family's soap-manufacturing business.

In a new film, released on the eve of the TWAS 26th General Meeting, Hassan recalls how his youthful restlessness led him to Trieste, Italy, and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). There, a chance meeting would shape his career and the future of science in the developing world.  

"I remember arriving rather late in the afternoon, around 5 o'clock," he says, "and I decided to come straight to the ICTP even before checking in at the hotel. So I came, but the centre was completely empty – except for one person, and his office was wide open. 

"That person was Abdus Salam...He was astonished to see this young man, coming so late in the afternoon, with his bags and everything."

See more news from the 26th TWAS General Meeting in Vienna, Austria

A half-hour's chat that afternoon would lead to Hassan's years of close affiliation with Salam and ICTP, and later to a key role in the 1983 founding of TWAS. Those early years are recounted in "Mohamed Hassan: The Early Years of TWAS," a new film produced by Nicole Leghissa of Trieste.

The 18-minute film was shot in the spring of 2013, an interview with Hassan that would be used in the documentary "Seeds of Science", directed by Leghissa and produced with support from TWAS and the Italian RAI-TV network.

The new film was shot at Duino Castle north of Trieste, the site of TWAS's foundational meeting, and it features the full interview with Hassan. In it, he described Salam's passion for and commitment to science in the developing world. He details a 1981 meeting at the Pontifical Academy of Science in Rome that would lead to the establishment of the Third World Academy of Sciences.

"There was no mechanism to recognize that best and most accomplished scientists living and working in the developing world," Hassan recalls. "The need was very clear to everybody.... Having a forum that can mobilize the best brains that the developing world has was an immediate and very urgent need."

Hassan served as executive director of TWAS for 26 years, helping to lead the Academy in an era of global transformation. With TWAS as an influential advocate, nations throughout the developing world began to embrace science and technology as essential for economic development and human prosperity. 

He retired from that post in 2011, but continues to serve as TWAS treasurer. Among other positions, Hassan also serves as the co-chair of IAP, the global network of science academies, which works in close association with TWAS.

The TWAS 26th General Meeting and 13th General Conference opens Wednesday 18 November in Vienna, Austria.

Edward W. Lempinen